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Flawed Arguments in Parkland Swap

June 24, 1990

Siegfrid Othmer's answers in the Point/Counterpoint interview (Times, June 3), opposing the so-called land swap to obtain public ownership of 5,700 acres of superb parkland now owned by Bob Hope, are well argued. The only difficulty is that his arguments, which focus on blocking development of Jordan Ranch by the Hope interests, are based on seriously flawed premises.

I find it curious that The Times chose a representative of the proposed developer of Jordan Ranch as the proponent of public acquisition of the 5,700 acres, rather than a member of one of the well-established environmental organizations that support the acquisition, such as the Sierra Club, the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council, the Rancho Simi Parks and Recreation District, Equestrian Trails Inc. It is not surprising, on the other hand, that Mr. Othmer represented the opposing position, since he is the spokesperson for the primary group opposing acquisition, an ad hoc group whose focus is almost exclusively on Jordan Ranch rather than on the broader picture.

The flawed premises in Mr. Othmer's answers include the following:

Flawed premise No. 1: Parks officials should act to restrict landowners' ability to develop property of park value that they are unable to acquire.

It is a primary function of the National Park Service, the California State Parks Department, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and other public park agencies to acquire high-quality parkland. It is not their function to block development. If a representative of one of these agencies was to state that his aim was to block development, as Mr. Othmer favors, all hell would break loose, and he would soon be out of a job.

Flawed premise No. 2: Since Palo Comado Canyon (where Jordan Ranch lies) is on the acquisition list of the National Park Service's Santa Monica National Recreation Area, Jordan Ranch should be given top priority for acquisition, by whatever means.

There is much land of high quality in the national Park Service's Santa Monica Mountains zone. That's precisely why the National Recreation Area was established. Jordan Ranch rates inclusion, but not priority over all else. As a matter of fact, many of those who would like to see the SMMNRA fulfill its potential feel that more attention should be paid to acquisitions in the Santa Monica Mountains, with less emphasis on the Simi Hills, where Jordan Ranch is located. It is predominantly the Santa Monica Mountains for which the National Recreation Area was created.

Flawed premise No. 3: The power of condemnation is a suitable and desirable means of acquiring Jordan Ranch from the Hope interests.

Condemnation is out of the question. The idea was broached once before in a case of much less visibility, where the property owner was much less prominent and influential than Mr. Hope (the Murphy Dunn property on the high point of the ridge between Zuma and Trancas Canyons in the Santa Monica Mountains). That effort backfired drastically, bringing down the wrath of important politicians and setting back progress in the National Recreation Area. Furthermore, does Mr. Othmer really believe that the Hope interests would be willing to enter negotiations for Corral Canyon, China Flat and Runkle Ranch with condemnation proceedings on Jordan Ranch threatened? Ridiculous!

Flawed premise No. 4: Trying to decide what is high-quality parkland and what is of lesser quality is a "muddy area we have no business touching."

The matter of deciding on priorities is what this discussion is all about. I have no difficulty whatever in deciding that the 59 acres, now in National Park ownership, to be given up for the 5,700 acres, is of no great concern. The 59 acres in contention is completely outside the Cheeseboro Canyon watershed (not "in Cheeseboro Canyon" as stated in the Times "background" material), and would never have been missed if those acres had not been included in the Cheeseboro acquisition. They are included purely by accident of property boundary lines.

It is precisely the lucky accident that those 59 acres were acquired, in what turned out to provide a viable access to Jordan Ranch, that makes them the key that, if all goes well, will unlock the acquisition of 5,700 acres of wonderful parkland, to the great benefit of us all.

DANIEL M. POPPER

Pacific Palisades

It is a primary function of the National Park Service, the California State Parks Department, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and other public park agencies to acquire high-quality parkland. It is not their function to block development.

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