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Setting Limits on Soka Expansion

July 13, 1993

* I support the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy's efforts to acquire the King Gillette estate, which is presently owned by Soka University. This appears to be the only viable option for preserving the Santa Monica Mountains, an area recently described by Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt as "an incredibly diverse and irreplaceable natural resource . . . like a rain forest."

In 1986 the Park Service was actively negotiating to acquire the property when Soka came in and effectively bought it out from under them. The Park Service is prohibited by law from paying more than the appraised value for parkland; Soka suffers no such limitations. Since then, Soka has purchased at least 350 additional acres adjacent to or near its original purchase. In each case, Soka paid well above the market value for the property. Many of the parcels purchased have limited potential for development because of the terrain and other limitations.

So why did Soka buy it?

The answer may be found in Jeff Ourvan's most recent letter to The Times (June 27). According to Mr. Ourvan, Soka will now seek reimbursement not only for the King Gillette estate, but for all of its holdings. Land speculation at the public's expense is nothing new, but it is particularly alarming in this case because of the players and the resources at their command.

The single-minded, obsessive nature of Soka's quest borders on fanaticism. Clearly it is determined to build its edifice no matter what the cost, and in total disregard for the desires and needs of the people of Los Angeles and the impact on a fragile and irreplaceable natural resource.

Thank you, Joe Edmiston, for having the guts to go up against this Goliath.

LISA ROSEN

Calabasas

* In the public debate regarding the condemnation of Soka University's land in the Santa Monica Mountains, Soka has tried to defuse the real issues. Soka tells us we should be more concerned about the economy and education than parks.

* Regarding the economy and jobs: 1. There will be just as many jobs created when the university is located in a more suitable area. 2. If properly sited, workers will be able to travel to and from work, rather than being stuck on a winding, two-lane mountain road.

* Regarding education: California does not need another second-rate junior college. We have plenty. Soka fails to explain how this small college, which originally was designed to cater to wealthy students from abroad, will significantly improve education in California.

* Regarding parks, the economy and education: It's times like now that we need our parks the most. During the near term, when our economic outlook is poor, Californians need recreational outlets that are close to home and affordable. In the long term, we have a responsibility to our grandchildren. There are fewer and fewer wildlife habitats remaining, especially in Southern California. Will our grandchildren have an opportunity to study in nature's classroom?

* Regarding the economy and the Park Service: Soka supporters frequently make misleading statements about the Park Service's ability to maintain the property. They compare Soka's beautifully maintained park-like setting with the litter-strewn park across the street.

The park they refer to is not across the street, but Tapia, a county park a mile south of Soka's property. The park across the street is Malibu Creek State Park, which is a spectacular property maintained by the state as part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. During the continuing county budget crisis, the county parks will continue to deteriorate, and the need for federally funded parks in California are even greater.

The real issue is not whether the property should be used for a university, as a visitor center for the National Park Service, or both. The issue is which alternative will best preserve the Soka property and the surrounding parkland in which the public already has invested millions of dollars.

The visitor center will be housed in existing structures on the property. Soka's plans, although ever-changing, clearly will introduce a totally incompatible urban center into the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. It does not matter whether they dedicate 70 acres or 500 acres to the Park Service. That donation will not adequately mitigate the adverse impacts on the surrounding parkland.

The King Gillette estate must be acquired by the public. That is the only way to protect it from developers like Soka!

MELINDA MERRYFIELD

Calabasas

* The editorial "Santa Monicas Dream Still Worth Pursuing" (May 16) calls for a "reasonable medium between future development and environmental interests in order to preserve more vital acreage for the park."

Based on responses from Jeff Ourvan, Alexis Byfuglin and Deborah Brenner in recent editions, my guess is that a reasonable medium will never be found with Soka. The opponents and proponents of the Soka expansion simply do not speak the same language.

Soka's proponents ask us to accept a 3,400-student campus in the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. If we do, they will donate 71 of their university acres, build and maintain for us a visitors' center and park headquarters. They are amazed and dumbfounded that we do not accept their generous offer.

They refuse to face the fact that a 3,400-student campus in the heart of the ecologically sensitive recreation area will destroy the very park they are offering to build a headquarters for. They can't understand why Soka's opponents view their offer as adding insult to injury. They are convinced that bad planning on top of bad planning will equal good planning.

Then again, Soka's proponents view Malibu Creek State Park as a "graffiti-filled, fire-hazard, weeds-up-your-nose, pay-to-enter-government-owned park" (Letters, June 9).

DEBBIE PEARCE

Calabasas

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