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Pacific Palisades Parkland Deal Announced


Ending a five-year stalemate, a church group has tentatively agreed to sell its historic Pacific Palisades conference grounds to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy for use as parkland, a conservancy official said this week.

Joseph T. Edmiston, the conservancy's executive director, said the agency has agreed to pay $4 million to acquire the 140-acre Presbyterian Conference Center from the Presbyterian Synod of Southern California and Hawaii by the end of this month.

"This is extremely significant, and we're elated that it's finally happening," said Edmiston, adding that "minor details" were to be worked out.

A spokeswoman for the synod, which represents about 300 churches, had no comment on the sale agreement. She referred questions to Rafael Aragon, the synod's executive director, who was unavailable.

A source familiar with the negotiations, however, said that church officials decided to sell the property at Sunset Boulevard and Temescal Canyon Road rather than proceed with a costly lawsuit to try to force the state to build a roadway onto parkland next door to its property.

The church group has long contended that the state is obligated to build the road, considered vital to the synod's long-stated intention to develop its property. During the 1980s, the synod had expressed interest in building a new meeting and lodging facility to hold 1,000 people. Faced with community opposition, it had scaled back its plans.

Environmentalists have long coveted the rugged property--bordered by parkland on three sides--as the last remaining link in the effort to connect Temescal Gateway Park with Topanga State Park and the extensive Santa Monica Mountains trail system beyond.

The conference center began in the 1920s as a place where Methodists held summer religious gatherings. The Presbyterians, who bought the property in 1943, have used it as a retreat center and church youth camp.

To buy the property, the conservancy will use Proposition A funds administered by Los Angeles County, including $3 million earmarked for an outdoor camp program for at-risk youths. County supervisors approved the use of the funds last week.

The church group filed its lawsuit against the state and the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1989. The district had acquired the property from the synod by condemnation in 1968 to build a school, but sold it to the conservancy in 1992 after plans for the school were scrapped.

The synod contends that it was assured by the school district that the road would be built on the property and that the synod could share it. The synod insisted that the conservancy inherited the obligation to build the road as a condition of its purchase.

The decision to sell the property comes as the synod faces a Nov. 30 deadline imposed by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to either proceed with the lawsuit or have it dismissed.

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