Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Valley Perspective

Plans to Resolve 7-Year Soka Dispute Deserve Speedy OK : Open space preservation is worth price of expansion

September 29, 1996

Nearly seven years after it began, the noisy fight over Soka University's scenic Calabasas campus is drawing to a quiet close. Last week, the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission approved the university's proposal to more than double the size of its small mountain campus--part of a compromise reached this spring to end a legal battle between the school and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, which wanted to seize the site through eminent domain and use it as a public park.

As admirable a goal as public ownership of the site was and is, the Board of Supervisors should follow the Regional Planning Commission and approve Soka's expansion plans without unreasonable delay when it takes up the matter later this fall. By approving Soka's expansion, the supervisors would allow the school to hike its enrollment to 650 students and build an additional 360,000 square feet of classrooms, dorms and other facilities.

That's the environmental downside. The upshot is that the bulk of the school's historic 598 acres at the corner of Mulholland Highway and Las Virgenes Road would remain open space. Soka would be permitted to build on just 135 acres, and the rest would either be donated to the conservancy as a public park or preserved as private open space.

Critics of the conservancy labeled the deal a failure and have protested the county approvals. Their rhetoric falls flat, however, since many knew of the conservancy's financial situation and did nothing to help find a solution. And although the conservancy indeed had no reasonable choice except to settle, it was not an unmitigated loss. As the lawsuit wound its way through the courts, Soka dropped its enrollment from the 3,400 proposed in 1991 to the current 650 and agreed to other concessions to reduce the effects of traffic and noise on its neighbors. In the end, the public got a pretty good deal.

It will take months--maybe years--for the wounds cut by the fight for Soka to heal. Both sides have a lot of mending to do. For its part, Soka must honor the spirit and the letter of the agreement if it wants to make peace with neighbors and environmentalists. With another campus in Orange County well underway, the school should recognize the environmental value of the Calabasas site and tread carefully.

Bruised and broke, the conservancy also should heed the lessons of the last four years. Eminent domain is the most powerful and emotional weapon a government agency like the conservancy can wield. If the goal of the Soka case was to seize the property outright, then the conservancy should never have spent itself into a corner. If, however, the case was merely a ploy to force Soka to scale back its project, then the lawsuit was a violation of the public trust. The Soka case marked the first time the agency exercised its power of eminent domain. It should also be the last.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|