By Michael J. ARVIZU
The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday on a motion that would bring the former Tuna Canyon Detention Station site closer to achieving historical monument status.
At their Tuesday morning meeting at Los Angeles City Hall, the council members voted 14-0 on a motion that would prepare an application to include the site on the city’s list of historic and cultural monuments. The city’s planning department will prepare the application and submit it to the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission for review. Upon review, the commission will report its findings to the city council.
“We have a lot of data to collect and a lot of information to get so that the report will go through with flying colors,” said Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council President Mark Seigel. “We feel that there are enough facts so that it will be designated in the future.”
Tuesday’s vote marks the start of another chapter in the battle to preserve the site that, beginning in the 1940s, was used as a detention camp for American citizens of Japanese descent. It was one of two in Los Angeles, and opened shortly after the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor. Stakeholders also wish to preserve the open space and ecological resource provided by the Verdugo Hills Golf Course that today sits on the site.
“We should not believe this is the final vote in the process,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcón, who authored the motion. “The developer is still moving forward with an environmental impact report to demolish the entire site and build housing. I’m sure they’re going to be even more aggressive. This is something the community has to continue to be vigilant in.”
Fred Gaines, attorney for Snowball West Investments Inc., said Tuesday’s unanimous vote is another roadblock for his client’s efforts to develop the site and build 224 single-family homes. Snowball West, Gaines said, is fully aware of the site’s historical significance.
“This issue of the historic nature of the site has been fully analyzed in the environmental impact report,” Gaines said. “It already sets forth what the appropriate mitigations would be.”
Snowball West will take steps to minimize the impact of development, according to the draft environmental impact report’s cultural resource analysis conducted in October 2005. This would include erecting signage and plaques that would identify the area as a historic site. To preserve the site’s open space, Gaines said, a meditative garden will be constructed on the site’s west end, an area that was not graded when the golf course was built.
“The mitigations that he [Gaines] speaks of are related to a state designation for the heritage site,” said Alarcón.
Tuesday’s vote, Gaines said, is part of a long process “in an attempt to cost us money and take time in hopes that it advances their opposition to the project.”
“If they designate the site, that means that, in order to develop that area, you have to do an environmental impact report. We’ve already done an environmental impact report,” said Gaines. “This makes us go through several hoops. We go through several hoops and we get to the same place.”
Currently, a draft environmental impact report is under review. Once finished, the final report will be opened for public review and comment, according to a letter from Gaines to council members.
Gaines was called out by Alarcón after the lawyer failed to describe it as a draft during the public comment portion of the vote.
“The developer is obviously going to have issues, as he did today,” said candidate for city council District 7 Krystee Clark. “He’s interested enough in trying to develop that area, which it should not be.”
The Verdugo Hills Golf Course sits on the eastern fringes of District 7, about a half mile from the Tujunga-La Crescenta border.
Calling it “absolutely outrageous” and a “denial of due process,” Gaines went on to say during public comments that his client was not aware the motion would be voted on by the council Tuesday; thus, his client was unable to prepare fully ahead of time. His office, Gaines said, also was not aware that the city’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee had considered the motion during its Jan. 29 meeting.
“The developer has never approached me to tell me what he plans to do with the site,” Alarcón shot back. “So I think it’s disingenuous for them to say that I’m not going to them when they haven’t come to me to tell me what their plans are.”