By Michael J. ARVIZU
The city of Los Angeles Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) committee on Tuesday decided to extend the amount of time needed to reach a vote on whether or not to include the site of the former Tujunga Canyon Detention Center on the list of historical-cultural monuments.
The Los Angeles City Council has until July 3 to make a motion on the extension of the agenda item. The item will then go back to the PLUM committee on July 23 for a final vote and recommendation to the Los Angeles City Council.
At issue is the lack of cooperation between the two sides in coming to an amicable agreement on how the site could best be memorialized.
“The committee decided to continue the matter to ask our office to convene a working group in order to try to find common ground in appropriate commemoration, interpretation and preservation of the site,” said Ken Bernstein, manager of the city’s Office of Historic Resources. “There clearly has been a lack of communication between the advocates for designation and the owner and developer of the property. What’s a challenge here is how best to both preserve what remains and commemorate and interpret that history.”
In his remarks, PLUM committee chairman and Los Angeles City Councilman Ed Reyes echoed Bernstein, adding that inconsistencies and gaps have been evident in dialogue on the part of both sides as they struggle to agree on the best way to memorialize the site.
“Most us want to do the same thing, which is having an appropriate, commemorative display at this location. That is going to happen,” said Fred Gaines, attorney for developer Snowball West Investments. “We’ve already applied for it to be a California historical landmark.”
A city designation for historical status, the kind residents are hoping to have granted for the former Japanese detention center, only applies in cases where old buildings still exist, said Gaines. Since no buildings from the former camp exist, “the law that protects the structures is not necessary,” said Gaines. “There are other laws, like California historical landmarks. You identify it and mark it. You’ve seen that all over the place on signs when you drive around.”
The decision to move the vote to a later date, Reyes said, is an opportunity for “continuing dialogue to address priorities and concerns” and will allow “community representatives to hear some of the plans the owner has in mind.”
Sunland resident Joe Barrett, in a blog post on Tuesday, criticized the committee’s decision to move the vote to a later date, calling it a delay tactic.
“No vote was taken, a ridiculous committee was ordered created, and the historical significance of [Tujunga Canyon Detention Center] was swept under the rug,” wrote Barrett. “This was a shameful day for the PLUM committee and the city of Los Angeles.”
At Tuesday afternoon’s meeting, Reyes posed a direct question to advocates asking, by show of hands, how many were not aware of the exact details the developer, Snowball West Investments, has in mind for a proper memorial, and how those details might exist as prescribed by law. The majority raised their hands.
“I’m not sure if the folks here are familiar enough with the details to know what is acceptable and what isn’t,” Reyes said.
Reyes, in his remarks, also voiced his concern about possible litigation had the PLUM committee voted on Tuesday to include the site on the list of historical and cultural monuments, given that such a vote would go against the decision of the city’s Cultural Heritage committee not to recommend the site for inclusion, which was made at its meeting in April.
“I believe that this PLUM committee has an opportunity to make the decision,” said Rose Ochi, a Los Angeles resident and attorney who worked on historical recognition for the former Manzanar Japanese incarceration camp in Independence, Calif., about 40 miles south of Bishop. Ochi spoke on her own volition and does not represent either side.
“You’re worried about litigation for the city,” she said. “There should be no litigation because this is, in a way, a moral issue.”
A group of about 50 Sunland and Tujunga residents dressed in red shirts attended the meeting en force, with one group of 30 residents chartering a bus to attend Tuesday’s meeting. It was hoped, residents said, that a show of force would convince the committee to vote in favor of including the former Tuna Canyon Detention Center on the list of historical and cultural monuments.
Beginning in 1941, shortly after the Japanese Empire attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the area that is now occupied by the Verdugo Hills Golf Course was used as an internment camp for hundreds of American citizens of Japanese descent. Known as Tuna Canyon Detention Station, Immigration, and Naturalization Service, the camp was one of two in the Los Angeles area, the other being at Griffith Park.
“We really feel like it should be preserved,” said Sunland resident Franny McCartney. “Los Angeles is so famous for tearing things down and building something new. I want to remember the old stuff. I feel that if you don’t remember it, you could repeat it again. We need to preserve the history.”
The Power of Social Media
By Michael J. ARVIZU
Advocates for preserving the former Tujunga Canyon Detention Center site (see story above) have been taking to social media to spread the word.
Respective Facebook pages calling for the preservation of the Verdugo Hills Golf Course and the Tuna Canyon Detention Station have lit up in the last several weeks with comments from people in and around Sunland-Tujunga voicing their support of preservation. Comments have come in from as far away as Colorado and Japan.
As far as the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Facebook page, it is a way of “disseminating a lot of information about support letters or historical information that comes up,” said La Crescenta resident and advocate Karen Keehne-Zimmerman. “There have been a lot of things we’ve been learning just in the last two months.”
The use of social media to advocate for local issues dates back to 2005 when residents in Sunland and Tujunga were fighting to prevent Home Depot from opening a new store on the former Kmart site on Foothill Boulevard, said Sunland resident Joe Barrett.
“Before that, it had been phone trees and meetings and word of mouth,” said Barrett. “Social media is the best way to get stuff out.”
A petition on Change.org supporting preservation of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station land had 1,281 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon from people in California, Arizona, Oregon, and Washington, D.C.
Using social media, Barrett said, has allowed people and organizations to become involved.
“If you find people that are really interested in a core subject, you’re more likely to be able to take off with it,” Keehne-Zimmerman. “Social media is a very effective way of meeting people online who have common interests and goals.”