The narrow, mile-long strip of vacant land lies in an unincorporated pocket of Los Angeles County between Pico Rivera and Whittier, surrounded by a neighborhood of modest, stucco homes that has been virtually unchanged for years.
Soil and rocks have replaced railroad tracks that were torn out of the 80-foot-wide strip during the summer by Southern Pacific Transportation Co. Weeds, grass and trees grow wildly on the outer edges, next to the back-yard fences of homes on Gretna and Lynalan avenues.
Despite the dirt and debris, several hundred residents in the neighborhood have launched a concerted effort to keep the strip as it is.
They have formed a homeowners' association to battle two developers, who want to build 50 homes on the railroad right of way, which stretches from See Drive near Whittier Boulevard to Washington Boulevard.
Residents contend that the development, which would include 35 2-story homes, would create traffic and parking problems, add to overcrowded schools, pose a fire hazard because of inadequate access, and generally reduce property values. The 2-story homes would create an eyesore because virtually all houses in the neighborhood are one story, they say.
"There aren't too many 2-story houses here, so that will look like the Rocky Mountains in the middle of the neighborhood," said Herman Wolf, 62, one of the homeowners leading the opposition to the development.
Developers Fred Shubin and William C. Dobrenen, however, contend that their development would increase property values because the new homes would sell for about $200,000.
"We're trying to go there and build a quality project, clean up the area and provide an economic boost," Dobrenen said in an interview.
The developers say the 2-story homes will be intermingled with single-story houses, and that the houses will have 2-car garages and guest parking for two other cars.
Their proposed project called Whittier Homes, which has been on the drawing board for about a year, has been cleared by the county's Regional Planning Department and sent to the Planning Commission, which has scheduled a public hearing Tuesday. The planning department staff decided that the proposal "meets the minimum standards of the law" and will not have a significant negative impact on the neighborhood, said Pamela Holt, supervisor of the department's subdivision section.
The developers have an option to purchase the strip from Southern Pacific, contingent on the project's approval by county officials.
Residents plan to show up at the public hearing en masse Tuesday to plead their case. The homeowners' group has chartered buses, and expects more than 100 residents to attend the 9 a.m. hearing at the Hall of Records in downtown Los Angeles, said Scott Wolf, 23, son of Herman Wolf.
Several homeowners have said they would be interested in buying the parcels of the strip from Southern Pacific, according to Scott Wolf, who lives with his parents.
The homeowners' group has been organizing opposition since the county department sent out notices of the proposed development late last month. About 400 people attended the group's meeting, Wolf said. The group has circulated petitions, and has put up posters exhorting residents to "Save Our Neighborhood."
Once the Planning Commission makes a decision, either side can appeal to the County Board of Supervisors within 15 days.
Scott Wolf said rumors of the development have been circulating for about a year.
Some residents sent petitions to Supervisor Peter F. Schabarum in May to express opposition to any development as well as interest in acquiring the property from the railroad, said one of the opposition leaders, Kathie D. Good. She said she never received a response.
Schabarum, whose district includes the site of the proposed development, has no record of the petitions, spokeswoman Judy Hammond said.
Southern Pacific would prefer to negotiate with one developer rather than several individual homeowners, said Robert L. Stacy, who is in charge of the company's real estate operations in Southern California. He said it would be impractical to negotiate with more than 100 homeowners individually.