Calling it one of the most difficult decisions of their political careers, members of the Glendale City Council on Tuesday voted 3 to 2 to permit a developer to scrape off the top of a prominent ridge in order to fill in a hole and complete a controversial subdivision in the Verdugo Mountains.
The action gives Gregg-Gangi Development Co. of Glendale permission to cut up to 70 feet from a ridge to obtain a quarter-million cubic yards of earth needed to complete the Oakmont View subdivision.
The grading project will avoid the only alternative seriously considered by the council--trucking in the dirt needed to fill the hole, which would have disrupted the quiet hillside neighborhood of expensive homes for at least 1 1/2 years, according to city officials.
"I don't think that I have ever agonized over a decision as much as I have agonized over this one," said Councilman Larry Zarian, who was the first to announce Tuesday that he would vote for cutting the ridgeline rather than trucking in dirt.
Council members Ginger Bremberg and Dick Jutras also voted to approve the grading project. All three said they support the city's stringent ridgeline protection laws but that the grading project--which affects a secondary ridge, rather than a primary ridge--is more acceptable than trucking in dirt.
Mayor Jerold Milner and Councilman Carl Raggio dissented.
"We have gone far enough in cutting ridges and destroying natural ridgelines," Milner said. "That is something I do not wish to do."
'Creating a Problem'
Raggio said grading the hillside is "creating a problem to solve a problem." He predicted that the scars will be visible for 10 years as "a reminder to me that that was not the thing to do."
The vote ended more than a year of debate among council members on how best to resolve the issue.
City officials said the developers miscalculated how much dirt they needed to complete the 197-lot subdivision of exclusive view homes above the Oakmont Country Club. The project, approved in 1976, lacks about 25,000 truckloads of dirt needed to fill in a six-acre hole to create the final 25 lots, worth at least $5 million, city officials said.
Ever since it discovered the shortage in 1986, Gregg-Gangi has proposed to cut down a ridge that separates the Oakmont View and Oakmont Woods subdivisions in the Verdugo-Woodlands area.
City officials have warned that the grading project will create "a highly visible scar" that will be seen from La Crescenta Valley and Verdugo Canyon.
Hundreds of residents protested after they learned about the developer's plans last year. In the wake of the outcry, the council in July ordered the city engineer to withhold a grading permit for the project.
The developers, in turn, threatened to sue the city, charging that the city was unfairly holding up the project even though the developers had complied with all the city's laws and ordinances.
The original project required the developers to obtain all of the dirt they needed from within the 65-acre subdivision. The developers blamed the shortage of dirt, in part, on a county requirement that they build two flood control channels in an earlier subdivision.
Some homeowners, however, have accused Gregg-Gangi of deliberately planning the shortage of dirt. The grading project approved this week will open a roadway to 91 acres owned by the developers on the north side of the ridge.
"The developer in this case is not an amateur," said homeowner Al Hoffman. "No one but a rank amateur would have wound up with a hole in the ground like this one." He called the hillside grading proposal "part of a deliberate plan" to open the Verdugo Mountains to further development.
Trucking in Dirt Opposed
After the two-hour session Tuesday, however, the majority of council members said they prefer grading the ridge to trucking in dirt.
The grading project will require the developers to contour the ridge and landscape it to resemble a natural hillside.
In addition, homes on the last 25 lots are to be built by Gregg-Gangi and their architectural design approved by a city review board.
Developers John L. Gregg and Salvatore F. Gangi declined to comment Tuesday on how soon they expect the grading project to get under way.