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Wary of Parkland Buy

May 05, 1991

Your article, "$48 Million in Plan Would Go to Buy Parkland" (April 25), regarding Gov. Pete Wilson's plan to fund Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and other parkland projects, sounds great on the surface. However, I have trouble with the possible abuses of the conservation process by special interests.

Besides the large, easily identifiable tracts of land you mention in your article, there are hundreds of smaller plots in the Santa Monica Mountains surrounded by housing developments and individual homes. Many of these tracts are east of the San Diego Freeway along Mulholland Drive near Fryman Canyon. Unlike Fryman, many of these parcels have not been previously used for hiking, and they aren't readily accessible to the public. And yet the conservancy is interested in buying them.

When public funds are spent, I expect the benefits to flow back to the public. In many cases, however, this is just not true. That many conservancy purchases benefit homeowners adjacent to the conservancy land is not by accident. Often, homeowner groups see the conservancy as a tool to prevent otherwise legitimate and reasonable residential developments from being approved. By interjecting the conservancy into any development dispute and calling upon its considerable influence at City Hall, the construction permit process can be stopped cold. When and if the conservancy offers to buy their property, it is usually far below the market price. The result is that public funds, earmarked for the purchase of parkland, are in fact benefiting a few fat-cat landowners who don't want their views spoiled.

I'm all for the preservation of California's open spaces, but I hope we know what we are doing and who's really pulling the strings at the conservancy. The last thing we need is a repeat of the shady deals that have plagued the L.A. Community Redevelopment Agency. There are too many opportunities for insiders to manipulate the city planning process and use the conservancy to protect their own dubious environmental interests at the public's expense.

SEAN McCARTHY

Los Angeles

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