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After more than a decade, a park's entrance is finally resolved

Neighbors living near Deervale-Stone Canyon Park in Sherman Oaks have for years been in dispute over the park's entrance. L.A. parks officials have come up with a solution, but it may not make everyone happy.

April 05, 2011|By Ann M. Simmons, Los Angeles Times
  • Stephen London walks his dog in Deervale Park. He now faces a near two-mile drive up winding streets to gain entry.
Stephen London walks his dog in Deervale Park. He now faces a near two-mile… (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles…)

Deervale-Stone Canyon Park has one of the area's most spectacular views.

But for more than a decade, the Sherman Oaks park was a local secret. The few who were in the know about the 80-acre spread would venture in to walk dogs, hike and bike. One shrewd vagrant managed to find a home amid the untamed oaks and shrubs.

But in effect, the park — though officially open to the public — was reserved for deer and coyotes.

There was no sign, no parking lot, no gate. Confusion reigned over how to get inside. Even parks officials weren't sure where exactly the entrance was. They suggested would-be visitors would have the choice of navigating a steep cliff, scaling the mountainside or hacking through brush.

Differing views on how to get into the park pitted neighbor against neighbor in this upscale Sherman Oaks enclave.

For years, some seeking access to the park used a driveway next to the property. The owners objected. An agreement with the city for another entry point on Deervale Place seemed to have gotten lost.

"I am just furious," said Stephen London, who lives across from the paved path that many people thought was a public easement to the park. Unbeknownst to them, they had been trespassing for years. "The city has been unbelievably derelict in its responsibilities. How could they have allowed this to happen?"

Asked about the problem by a Times reporter, city officials last week took steps to solve it.

The saga began in 1999. The city bought the lush property for a park, ending a 20-year fight to stave off development there.

Residents said officials assured them they would have access to the park. But the city failed to purchase additional parcels of land that would have connected the park to a city road.

Instead, a right-of-entry agreement was made with a property owner whose land sits next to the park at Deervale Place.

But years went by and somehow this agreement appeared to get lost in the woods. Documents apparently went astray. People who knew about the planned entry moved on. Memories dimmed.

People began inventing their own entrances. A particularly bitter fight erupted over a driveway on Valley Vista Boulevard.

London, and others who knew about the driveway, were convinced it was a public easement because "it's been used for generations," London said. "People have been going up that driveway forever."

But Jill and John Weiser insisted the land belonged to them and a couple of neighbors. They complained of litter and dog droppings. They erected a tall fence around their yard. They fretted about liability.

"We pay taxes on this land," an angry John Weiser recently said. "The city provides no services. There is no public record of an easement."

Tempers flared and shouting matches erupted between those who said the driveway is theirs, and those who believed the public had the right to pass. Last year, the Weisers erected signs barring entry to the path. But someone tore one down.

Those who knew about the park and managed to get in tramped down a trail nearly a mile long. Mountain bikers carved mounds for jumps. Dog-walkers marveled at a resident tribe of deer, coyotes and the occasional bobcat.

"It's one of the last remaining open space areas here," said Elke Heitmeyer, chairwoman of the Deervale neighborhood committee, who chose her Sherman Oaks home for its proximity to Deervale Park. She would use the driveway off Valley Vista to get there.

"It contributes to the health of our population," Heitmeyer said. "They have easy access to nature. I have a need for nature."

Cid Macaraeg, director of real estate for the L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks, was initially uncertain when asked by The Times to pinpoint the entrance.

Permission to use the Valley Vista driveway was revoked by a property owner years ago, city records show. Only city maintenance workers are permitted to enter the park there, Macaraeg said.

He said he believed the entry at Deervale Place was also off-limits.

The Times then contacted former L.A. City Councilman Mike Feuer, now a California assemblyman. He recalled the 2001 right-of-entry agreement that granted access to the park at a cul-de-sac on Deervale Place.

Contacted again with this information, Macaraeg was able to confirm the permit.

But the resolution may not satisfy everyone.

Residents such as London, who lives yards from the park boundary, now face a near two-mile drive up winding streets to get entrance to the park. Space for parking is scant.

Marshall Long, chairman of the Sherman Oaks Homeowner's Assn. land-use committee had been hopeful that access could be granted to "allow people to get in at both ends."

On Friday, Long got at least half his wish.

The new sign erected by the Recreation and Parks Department on Deervale Place reads: "Public Access To Deervale-Stone Canyon Park Through Private Property Next 250 feet."

Below, it adds: "Please Stay On Walking Trail."

Ann.simmons@latimes.com

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