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Effort Made to Head Off Plan for Golf Course

Conservancy: Aiming to preserve Big Tujunga Wash, the Santa Monica Mountains group offers to buy 350 acres.

May 21, 1997|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hoping to save sensitive plant habitat, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy made an offer Tuesday to buy 350 acres of land in Big Tujunga Wash--an area now planned for development as an 18-hole public golf course.

Conservancy leaders declined to provide details of their meeting Tuesday with the Foothill Golf Development Group, which plans to build the project. But a spokesman for the golf developer said a sale is unlikely.

"The property is not for sale," said Mark Armbruster, a land-use attorney representing Foothill Golf Development.

After the meeting, Armbruster said he would pass along the conservancy's offer to the developers. But he added: "I know that they want to build a golf course there."

Nonetheless, conservancy officials said they felt obligated to try to negotiate a deal in hopes of preserving the wash, and protecting the endangered slender-horned spineflower that lives there.

"This is an opportunity to mitigate some damage before it is done," Joseph Edmiston, executive director of the conservancy, said before the meeting.

Edmiston declined to say how much the conservancy would offer, but said he hopes some of the funding for the land can come from Proposition A, the $540-million bond measure approved by voters in 1992 for county parks.

Neither side could provide an estimate of how much the land is worth.

The 350 acres is owned by Cosmo World Corp., a company headed by Japanese golf magnate Minoru Isutani. For nearly a decade, Cosmo World has struggled with federal and local officials to win approval for a golf course on the dry, barren land.

After running into several roadblocks, Cosmo World leased the property last year to Foothill Golf Development, which drafted a plan for a $12-million public golf course covering about 350 acres, including 190 acres of undeveloped open space with horse trails and a preserve for the spineflower.

Although the latest development was designed to address complaints from environmentalists, it continues to generate heated debate in the northeast San Fernando Valley.

A hearing on the project last week before the City Council's Planning and Land Use Committee attracted nearly 100 people, most of whom lived around the wash and supported the project.

Supporters said the project will beautify what they called a rubbish-strewn wash, provide a much-needed recreation facility and create commerce in the northeast Valley.

Opponents argued that the development would ruin sensitive plant habitat and lead to an "ecological disaster."

A decision on whether to approve a special permit to allow the golf course development is pending before the City Council.

But the key decision maker on the project will be Councilman Joel Wachs, who represents the wash area. He has yet to decide on the project.

On Tuesday, Wachs said he does not know the details of the conservancy's land purchase offer. But he said: "I am happy to hear that the conservancy is trying to negotiate a deal, so I'm anxious to hear the outcome."

The city Planning Commission has already given the golf course proposal a thumbs-up, recommending a permit be approved. The decision has been appealed by the state Department of Fish and Game, the Angeles chapter of the Sierra Club, and five other groups.

Besides the Fish and Game Department and the Sierra Club, the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy oppose the golf course plan.

Wachs promised to make a final decision by June 10, the date the City Council panel will meet again on the project.

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