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Chatsworth's Last Stand

Residents Opposed to Deerlake Ranch Project Join Forces to Save What's Left of Old West Lifestyle

July 29, 2002|PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Some in semirural Chatsworth see time running out.

After deferring a decision three times, the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission will meet Aug. 21 to decide if Presidio Chatsworth Partners will get to build Deerlake Ranch, a development of more than 400 upscale homes on a wild, unincorporated swath north of the 118 Freeway.

For almost a year, concerned residents have argued that the project would destroy the Old West character of the area and overwhelm local schools, police and other city services to the south of the project. But with the Planning Commission's decision only weeks away, opponents have geared up for a last-ditch effort to dramatically reduce the project, if not derail it.

Activist Anna Rapagna Cox said the fate of Deerlake Ranch will probably determine the area's future.

"This is the beginning of the rest of the building in these mountains," she said.

Two weeks ago, groups opposed to the development formed the nonprofit Save Chatsworth Inc.

According to its mission statement, the organization aims "to ensure that all future housing development remains consistent with the existing rural character and heritage of Chatsworth: We support development that is family-oriented, low in density, equestrian-friendly and environmentally sensitive."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday August 06, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 10 inches; 375 words Type of Material: Correction
Chatsworth development--In some editions July 29, a story in the California section on opposition to the Deerlake Ranch development in Chatsworth omitted comments from Hans Giraud, a consultant to the developer. Giraud said that the developer's figures on how much traffic the project would cause had been vetted by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, Caltrans and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works. He added that "we've met every legal and technical criterion put before us."
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Cox, the group's president, said her Chatsworth Homeowners Alliance for Mountain Preservation and other anti-development organizations hope to make all Chatsworth residents aware of the effect the massive project could have on their way of life. She said the new group hopes "to create a common cause."

Cox, who trains animals for the entertainment industry, lives with her husband in Twin Lakes, a tiny community on Deerlake Highlands closest to the 230-acre planned development.

The developer has proposed scaling back the project from 484 to 424 homes, including 30 on large lots where horses could be kept. But even with a reduction, Cox said, the development will threaten a local breeding pair of mountain lions and other wildlife, and, she fears, turn the area into a densely developed Porter Ranch South.

"Porter Ranch is coming over the hills," she said. "I can see it from my deck.... It's just a flattened hill. It's disgusting. I just can't imagine more of that."

The new group has several hundred members, Cox said, and plans to go door-to-door in Chatsworth to inform residents about increased traffic and other negative effects that opponents believe the development will have.

Save Chatsworth has raised almost half of the $15,000 it needs to pay its environmental consultants and has hired land-use attorney Philip Hess of Los Angeles, Cox said.

In a letter last week to the Regional Planning Department, Hess argued that a revised environmental impact document for the project, released earlier this month, requires a 45-day period for public comment, more than the 30 days scheduled.

The planning department was closed Friday, and no one was available for comment.

Jerry England, an equestrian activist who rides in the highlands almost every day, is one of the most vocal members of the new group. Long before its formation, he had been using his computer to get out the message that old Chatsworth is precious and endangered.

"What is truly unique about Chatsworth is that, while it is in the city of Los Angeles, it has a rural, almost sleepy, small-town feeling about it," England said. "It is steeped in Western history. It's the home of the original stagecoach trail between the San Fernando and Ventura missions, its rocky scenery is the backdrop to thousands of Western movies and it's home to a huge equestrian population."

England, who puts the area's equine population at about 700, added: "We don't have a shopping mall, a college or even a hospital. We do have a cowboy bar, two feed stores, one silversmith who also repairs saddles, and dozens of horse-boarding facilities--and that's just the way most of us residents want it to remain."

Marty Woll, a retired certified public accountant who has helped the new group back its position with numbers, said he and his wife don't keep horses, "but we enjoy having them around. It's part of the attraction of the area."

Woll said he is especially concerned about the strain on city services that the development could cause.

"There are many more people affected south of the freeway than north of the freeway," he said. The project's size worries him, even if it's slightly reduced. "That density loads our schools, our streets, without any significant mitigation," he said.

Woll has recalculated the projected traffic that the development could generate, using numbers that reflect Los Angeles' known heavy reliance on cars rather than national averages. As a result, he said, "I think, easily, we could be looking at 6,000 vehicle [trips] a day," instead of the 4,000-per-day figure the developer has used.

Woll is particularly concerned about what increased traffic would do to Canoga Avenue, now "a little two-lane street" used by almost everyone seeking access to the canyons of Deerlake Highlands, including hikers, riders and their horses, and artists with sketchbooks in hand.

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