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Valley Perspective

County Should Turn Over Canyons for Use by Public

Sites could be incorporated into Topanga State Park

November 17, 1996

The Los Angeles County Public Works Department took the right step last week by dropping three canyons in the Santa Monica Mountains from its list of potential garbage dump sites. Mission, Rustic and Sullivan canyons long had been on the county's list to develop as solid-waste landfills. Although the canyons were in no immediate danger of being buried in garbage, the threat nonetheless hung over them like a cloud and aggravated neighbors and environmentalists who wanted them preserved.

At one time targeted to handle trash from the city of Los Angeles, the canyons were dropped from serious consideration in 1992 after the county abandoned its plans in the face of opposition from homeowners, environmentalists and elected officials. But the environmental impact reports remained on file, ready to be dusted off and updated if the political mood ever changed or if the much-feared but never realized "trash crisis" ever befell the county. By taking the canyons off the list, the county adds one more bureaucratic step to the process of developing them as dumps.

A good effort, but still not enough. County officials now should move as quickly as possible to get the land off the books and into the hands of a parks agency that can ensure Sullivan, Rustic and Mission are never developed--as dumps or anything else. Why? One county official described the land as a "big fat pinata" waiting to be broken open by developers and even by some within the county's bureaucracy. As some of the few undeveloped or unprotected canyons left in the Santa Monicas, Sullivan, Mission and Rustic hold obvious value as home sites. Because the land is now surplus, the county could easily offer it for sale on the open market and reap profits well above what it paid for the property in the late 1950s.

But the same qualities that would make Sullivan, Rustic and Mission desirable places to live also make the canyons perfect as public parkland. The three canyons lie entirely within Topanga State Park and already are used regularly by residents from all over Southern California for hiking, biking and horseback riding. Incorporating the canyons into the park, once and for all, makes sense.

State law gives the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy the first right of refusal on purchase of the land. Since the land is already in public hands, the county ought to find a way to make a transfer to the conservancy at as low a price as possible. If the cash-strapped conservancy is unable to come up with the money, however, the county should still make every effort to get the land into the hands of a resource agency that will protect the canyons forever. Sullivan, Mission and Rustic do no one any good just sitting on the county books. They should be turned over to the public to enjoy and protect.

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