Thousands of off-road vehicle enthusiasts may finally get a place to race--but it could mean having to haul their bikes and buggies to the outermost reaches of Los Angeles County, just five miles short of the Kern County line.
Bowing to unrelenting political pressure and a new staff report, County Supervisor Mike Antonovich has shifted his crucial support for a large off-road park to the most remote of 57 locations considered by the county: the Hungry Valley off-road facility run by the state in Gorman.
Antonovich's proposal to build a $6-million facility in a portion of Hungry Valley known as Quail Canyon--about an hour's drive north of the San Fernando Valley--infuriated off-road enthusiasts, who had counted on him to support a park closer to Los Angeles.
"Hell will freeze over before I let this happen," said Ed Waldheim, president of the California Off-Road Vehicle Assn., which represents more than 5,000 enthusiasts.
But it came as a partial relief to residents of Baker and Hume canyons in the Santa Clarita Valley, who had vigorously opposed development of the off-road park there. Residents were still worried, however, because Antonovich's proposal also calls for the county to develop a much smaller, trails-only park closer to the city, and Hume Canyon is on the list of possible locations.
County officials also are considering three areas near Castaic and a site they formerly dropped from consideration called Bee Canyon off Soledad Canyon Road in the Santa Clarita Valley.
"It's a better idea all around to put it in Hungry Valley," said Susan Kachelek, a Baker Canyon resident. "But I'm still very concerned that Hume is being considered at all."
Prior to Antonovich's proposal, the Baker and Hume canyon property had topped the list of possible sites for the park, which would have included at least two motocross tracks, a flat track, caretaker's facilities, a bicycle motocross facility, storage space, wash racks for vehicles, a pro shop, training areas and trails.
But Antonovich said Monday that developing the larger park in the Hume-Baker property faces "considerable hurdles," including local opposition, high acquisition costs and potential legal challenges.
"Hungry Valley is relatively free of these types of obstacles, and is therefore the best alternative," Antonovich said.
The 537-acre Hume-Baker property is owned by Watt Industries, a longtime Antonovich campaign contributor, which would make about $10 million on the sale if the land were sold to the county for the off-road park.
Don MacAdam, a spokesman for the company, pointed out that the property is already heavily used by off-road enthusiasts and said supporters of the closer park regard Antonovich's proposal to shift it to the far northern county as "a double-cross" that the supervisor will ultimately lose.
State officials may raise a few obstacles of their own at meetings with county representatives this week.
"Los Angeles should be more active in finding an alternative site," said Jerry Johnson, deputy director of the off-road vehicle division of the state Department of Parks and Recreation. "Hungry Valley may not meet the need for an urban riding area."
The county has spent 11 years and about $750,000 trying to find a site for the proposed off-road park, said Jim Park, head of planning for the county parks department. In 1988, for instance, opposition to a site in Whitney Canyon by the Disney Co. and the city of Santa Clarita forced the county to shelve that proposal after spending tens of thousands of dollars on a master plan.
"We've had opposition from environmentalists, residents and corporations," said Peter Whittingham, Antonovich's parks deputy. "An off-road park isn't quite in the landfill category, but it's getting up there in terms of potential opposition."