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Default Endangers Agoura Park Plan : Property: Conservancy misses its payment deadline because the county has frozen funds while debating restrictions on their use.

September 17, 1993|TRACEY KAPLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A state parks agency has defaulted on an $18.5-million loan used to buy the former site of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Agoura because county supervisors failed to release park funds approved by voters nearly a year ago.

The 320-acre property, with magnificent oaks and views of nearby peaks, could be auctioned on the open market unless the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy makes a final $9-million payment on the loan by the end of the year.

Several Los Angeles County supervisors were working Thursday on a compromise proposal that would release at least $29 million of the park fund money next week, more than enough for the conservancy to pay off the loan.

"There's an urgency here" because of the default, said Carrie Sutkin, planning deputy for Supervisor Gloria Molina.

The $9-million payment was due early this summer, but Union Federal Bank of Brea extended the deadline twice while the Board of Supervisors haggled over conditions for the conservancy's use of $40 million from Proposition A, which was approved by county voters last November.

The funds have been held in limbo as the supervisors debated restrictions proposed on their use by Supervisor Deane Dana. Critics say the plan would allow more development in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Union Federal Bank officials finally warned in a Sept. 7 letter to the conservancy that it "cannot and will not grant any further extension of this loan" and instructed the agency to make the payment by this past Wednesday.

The conservancy choose to default rather than dip into funds it has set aside for other land acquisitions--including property near Calabasas owned by Soka University, which the conservancy is fighting in court to take by condemnation.

Under the foreclosure procedures, the agency has until the end of 1993 to make good on the Agoura loan or it will lose both the land and more than $8 million it has already sunk into it, said Steven Randall, the bank's asset manager.

"It would all go down the toilet," said Belinda Faustinos, the conservancy's deputy director.

The situation has left some nearby community groups angry at supervisors. They supported the conservancy when it wrested the land from builders last year by buying delinquent loans on the property and then foreclosing on a development firm that was millions of dollars in arrears.

Under an approved tract map, a private owner could build 150 luxury homes on the property, which was part of the historic Paramount movie ranch and which hosted the popular Renaissance Pleasure Faire for 25 years, through 1988.

"The people wanted parks, and to have someone on the board subvert Proposition A is very, very distressing," said Louise Frankel, president of the Tarzana Property Owners Assn.

Proposition A, a property assessment measure, passed by a 64% vote. Under its terms, the conservancy's acquisitions must be approved by the Board of Supervisors and are subject to a host of conditions. For example, the conservancy cannot use the parks funds to acquire land--including the Soka University tract--from unwilling sellers through eminent domain.

Dana, taking advantage of the board's power to set additional conditions, proposed in August--before the Sept. 15 due date on the loan for the old Renaissance Faire site--that the conservancy be required to allow roads to be built across any parkland bought with the funds. He also said the conservancy should be required to pay the entire price of parkland at the time of purchase, meaning it couldn't make merely a down payment--thus potentially restricting the number of parks that could be developed.

Responding to Dana's motion, the board postponed an Aug. 24 hearing on release of the funds until Tuesday, after the loan came due. Dana has once again asked the board to delay the vote until he returns from a civics convention in Montreal on Sept. 28. But it appeared unlikely Thursday that other supervisors would agree.

Supervisors Ed Edelman and Yvonne Brathwaite Burke have worked up a compromise proposal under which $29 million of the park funds would be released and future projects would be weighed on a case-by-case basis.

A spokesman for Dana said the supervisor was unaware until this week that withholding the Proposition A money would put the conservancy in arrears. But unless supervisors can agree on a compromise that suits Dana, his proposals stand, the spokesman said.

Dana wants to prevent the conservancy from blocking road construction proposals because he is concerned about traffic congestion, Don Knabe said.

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