By Michael J. ARVIZU
At Saturday afternoon’s candidate forum held at North Valley Neighborhood City Hall in Tujunga, the four residents vying for the District 7 seat on the Los Angeles City Council presented their plan to preserve the Verdugo Hills Golf Course.
Jesse “David” Barron, Nicole Chase, Krystee Clark and Felipe Fuentes will be four of the names San Fernando Valley voters will get to choose from during the city’s primary nominating election on March 5 and general municipal election on May 21.
And while each candidate, if elected, will have to tackle a wide range of issues in a district that stretches north to Sylmar, for residents of Sunland, Tujunga, as well as nearby La Crescenta, razing the Verdugo Hills Golf Course to make room for development is a major point of contention.
The golf course sits on the southeastern fringes of District 7 territory, about half a mile from the Tujunga/La Crescenta border. The land’s historical significance lies in its use as a detention camp for American citizens of Japanese descent beginning in the 1940s. Known as the Tuna Canyon Detention Center, it was one of two in Los Angeles and opened shortly after the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor.
In framing the question of how the candidates would go about preserving the area, Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council President Mark Seigel, during the forum’s community questions portion, called the site “an incredible natural resource for history and recreational purposes.” Seigal was one of five neighborhood council and community group representatives who posed questions to the candidates.
“This is a very historical place for our community,” said candidate Clark, who is an actor and community volunteer. “This is a place where people have suffered. This is a place that we must protect, and we must be sure that future generations can come here and hear the stories.”
Clark promises to protect the site – a “unique circumstance” for the community, she said – using either Proposition O water bond money or money that would be allocated to the site if it were to become a historical monument.
Fuentes, a former California state assemblyman, believes that preserving the Verdugo Hills Golf Course is “going to be a really long conversation.” Calling it the “best shot” to preserve the site, Fuentes, too, suggested using Prop O money. This would help preserve the open space the golf course sits on which, in turn, would help mitigate storm water runoff, he said.
“With the obesity levels that we got in the northeast San Fernando Valley – rivaling some of the worst in the state – it’s a great opportunity for passive and active recreation,” Fuentes added.
It was Fuentes who, in 2008, sponsored AB 212, an ordinance that would have made it possible for MWH Development to construct a 229-unit housing development on golf course land. Opposed by then-Councilmember Wendy Gruel, the bill was later scrubbed.
Fuentes addressed that bill briefly Saturday calling it a “really bad idea.”
Barron, a housing inspector and activist who throughout the forum was not afraid to hold back his staunch criticism of Los Angeles City Council members and Sacramento legislators, supports the golf course staying in place.
“We don’t want that development because it’s going to negatively impact our neighborhoods,” he said.
Chase, while visiting the Verdugo Hills Golf Course a month ago, began a conversation with a guest there who told her about the community’s efforts to preserve the site. Chase, an education advocate, found it absurd that someone would, referring to the golf course, “create legislation to take that away from you and not even engage the community.”
“I support the storm water project that’s going to turn it into an even better location – a recreational area for families and young children,” Chase said.