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Battle Over Dirt Road Complicates Park Plans : Santa Monicas: The preserve may improve mountain access. But some fear it would result in paving a section of Mulholland Drive.

March 14, 1991|MYRON LEVIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The politics of pavement in the Santa Monica Mountains are complicating the planning of a 1,000-acre park on state land along Mulholland Drive overlooking the San Fernando Valley.

The new preserve, whose working name is Mulholland Gateway Park, has been stitched together from several parcels acquired from developers in recent years by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. Featuring a large sandstone cave and panoramic views from the Mulholland crest, the proposed park is expected to improve visitor access from the Valley side of the Santa Monica Mountains.

But park planning, under way for several months, has become entangled in the emotional politics of the dirt portion of Mulholland--a stretch of roughly eight miles from Woodland Hills to a point in Encino about two miles west of the San Diego Freeway. It is a road whose future is a matter of fierce debate among environmental and neighborhood groups.

As many as 300 residents are expected to tour the area this weekend as guests of the conservancy, a state parks agency. The free, guided tours are an effort to involve residents in deciding what features the new park should include. Up to now, planners have heard mainly from local activists whose position on roads in the mountains shaped their views of what the park should be.

"It always boils down to a discussion of the roads," said Marcia McNally, a partner in Community Development by Design, the Berkeley-based firm that the conservancy hired to plan the park.

"There's no question this park is a pawn . . . in resolving a lot of other issues," McNally said.

The proposed park straddles Mulholland on the northern frontier of what planners call "The Big Wild"--a 16,000-acre wildlife area that includes 10,000-acre Topanga State Park and public lands at Encino Reservoir and in Rustic, Sullivan and Mission canyons.

At a minimum, the gateway park is likely to include trail markers and interpretive signs, trash cans and parking. It may also include restrooms, drinking water, a grassy picnic area, an equestrian staging area, an interpretive center with exhibits and maps, new trails and a bus drop-off area for visiting groups.

Although it is considerably east of the gateway park, planners are considering the old Nike missile site on Mulholland as a potential site for some of these amenities. The site, owned by the city of Los Angeles, bristles with radio antennas and rusting metal from the old missile installation. Although known as San Vicente Mountain Park, it was never developed as a recreation site. The conservancy is talking to the city about leasing or acquiring it.

McNally said a community workshop on design of the park will be scheduled in April, with the draft plan to be finished, it is hoped, in May.

The area already is visited by hikers and equestrians and those willing to risk their vehicles' suspensions on the dirt portion of Mulholland. On any weekend, mountain bikers and equestrians take in the scenery on Mulholland, while hikers enter from trail heads in the Valley, Pacific Palisades and Topanga Canyon.

To some environmentalists and hillside residents of Tarzana, this shows that the park already gets substantial public use and should be left the way it is. They argue that the property is really an extension of Topanga State Park and does not need a separate name or development plan. The more developed the park is, the more likely it will require paving of access roads or parts of Mulholland itself. This, in turn, would encourage housing tracts or even trash dumps in currently inaccessible areas of the mountains, say those who favor minimal park development.

On the other hand, some Encino hillside residents want road improvements as part of the park to solve a neighborhood problem. Some of these homeowners--banded together as the Encino Traffic Safety Committee--are essentially pinned in their driveways at rush hour by cars traveling neighborhood streets to get to the paved portion of Mulholland and the San Diego Freeway.

The traffic safety committee wants Mulholland paved all the way to Topanga Canyon Boulevard in Woodland Hills to siphon San Diego Freeway-bound traffic away from Hayvenhurst Avenue. If the new park includes some paving, the group says, it would be financially and politically easier for the city to finish the job of converting Mulholland into a paved thoroughfare.

Others argue that the park should provide for people who don't ride or hike but who still want to enjoy the mountains.

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