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Council Agrees to Preserve Canyon

June 14, 2003|George Ramos | Times Staff Writer

Open-space advocates, environmentalists and others on Friday applauded a decision by the Los Angeles City Council to set aside $550,000 to preserve an empty canyon in Mt. Washington as an open-space park.

Wednesday's council action will block the construction of 18 homes and a parking lot in a 4.5-acre bowl-like parcel known as Moon Canyon in northeast Los Angeles. The canyon, which features grassland and California black walnut trees, is adjacent to a 19-acre natural habitat purchased last year by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

"I'm thrilled," said area resident Sharon Roesler, a member of a group opposing the project. "I couldn't be happier because the canyon will be left open. We don't have enough of these places to go to in Los Angeles."

Stan Sosa, former president of the Mt. Washington Homeowners Alliance, also cheered the council action.

"We are delighted that the city has confirmed what we thought all along," said Sosa, who has lived there for 28 years. "The canyon ... should be preserved as open space."

The action was taken at the behest of outgoing Councilman Nick Pacheco, who recommended obtaining the funds from another account within his Eastside district.

Pacheco could not be reached for comment Friday, but he told several Mt. Washington residents in an e-mail that the money had been earmarked so that Antonio Villaraigosa, who defeated him for the council seat earlier this year, can move forward with an eminent domain proceeding.

"This should preserve the space as open space," he wrote in the e-mail.

Eminent domain allows government agencies to take property for the public good; agencies must pay a fair-market price to the owner for the property.

After the mayor approves the plan, an eminent domain action can be instituted.

In the case of Moon Canyon, the city, pushed by opponents, has been talking about buying the land from Pasadena housing developer Denis Hann, who purchased the parcel last year for an estimated $450,000. If an agreement over a purchase price isn't reached, the matter would go to court.

Hann and partner Al Nunez proposed to build 13 homes around the rim of Moon Canyon along San Rafael Avenue and five more at the base of the canyon. In addition, they sought to build a lighted parking lot for 13 cars in the canyon.

Reached Friday by telephone, Hann said he was unaware of Wednesday's action. "I don't know anything about it, to be honest," said Hann, who acknowledged that there has been talk about using eminent domain to preserve the canyon.

Hann said he wasn't necessarily opposed to selling the land to preserve it, but added, "We'll continue to proceed with the subdivision plan until an agreement is reached [on a selling price] or the project is completed."

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