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Conservancy to Seek 315-Acre Parcel for Park : Land use: Palos Verdes group hopes tax incentives will lead to a deal to preserve the oceanfront property known as Filiorum.

July 21, 1994|JEFF KASS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When bids were recently invited for one of Los Angeles County's last pieces of undeveloped oceanfront land, a local conservancy with few assets took notice.

And with a federal agency now moving to dispose of the 400-plus bluff-top acres, The Palos Verdes Land Conservancy says it is seeking to make a deal to turn some of the private acreage into public parkland.

The conservancy says it is not interested in acquiring the parcel known as Long Point, 105 acres overlooking the Pacific and approved for 450 hotel rooms and a nine-hole golf course. But the conservancy is interested in the parcel known as Filiorum: 315 nearby acres plagued by landslides and strapped with a building moratorium. Conservancy officials say the land would be ideal for a park.

By acquiring Filiorum, the conservancy would vastly increase its holdings; it now controls about 40 acres on the peninsula.

But the conservancy must monitor the fate of both Long Point and Filiorum because the same bank note controls the two properties. So to obtain Filiorum, the conservancy would have to cut a deal with whoever buys the bank note. The conservancy's top two officials say it does not have the intention--or money--to buy the bank note itself.

Technically, Arizona-based developer James A. Monaghan) owns Filiorum and Long Point. But he filed for bankruptcy in December, 1992, and the Resolution Trust Corp., a federal agency responsible for liquidating the assets of failed savings and loans, oversees the bank note. The RTC values the note at $24 million.

Monaghan bought the two properties in 1987. Publishing giant Harcourt Brace Jovanovich previously owned Long Point, for which it paid $23.4 million. Details of the sale to Monaghan have not been disclosed.

Observers estimate that Long Point alone--once fully developed--could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. And it is anyone's guess what interested parties will bid for the bank note.

Long Point is peppered with weeds and cracked concrete. A sign on a guard station reads: "Sorry, We're Closed."

Filiorum, by contrast, is acres of green and gray hills with ocean views. The cries of peacocks can often be heard.

For the conservancy, last week's request for bidders was another reminder of the pending Sept. 13 auction, and officials say they stepped up efforts to ensure that Filiorum lands in the conservancy's hands.

"It's certainly warming up a bunch," Bill Ailor, the conservancy president, said without elaborating.

Ailor said the conservancy has $100,000 to $200,000 in reserves, but that the money is not set aside for land acquisitions.

But the conservancy may not need a lot of money to acquire Filiorum.

Officials note that whoever buys the note would have some incentive to cut a deal because the individual or company would pocket a tax break--probably reaching into the millions of dollars--by donating Filiorum or selling it to the conservancy at below-market rates.

If the conservancy is forced to pay for Filiorum, it could ask for funds from a bond measure that sets aside money for acquiring open space. The city of Rancho Palos Verdes and the county would have to approve the conservancy's use of the money. City Manager Paul D. Bussey valued the Measure A money at $4.3 million.

The conservancy conducted a study showing that some peninsula residents would favor a tax to acquire open space. Ailor estimated that such a tax could net the conservancy $5 million to $10 million.

But attorney Andrew Sargent, president of the Coastal Conservation Coalition, is skeptical of public support for a tax. A frequent critic of the Palos Verdes conservancy, Sargent said it is one thing to express support for a tax and another to vote for it.

The conservancy could turn to the Nature Conservancy, a Virginia-based organization. Michael Schindel, who reviews RTC California property for the group, said the Nature Conservancy has no plans to buy the bank note but is talking with The Palos Verdes Conservancy and trying to broker a deal to preserve Filiorum from development.

Schindel did not identify the other players he is speaking with for fear of jeopardizing negotiations. But he hinted that a deal could be in the works.

"Conservation makes strange bedfellows sometimes," he said.

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