By Michael J. ARVIZU
The Los Angeles City Council on Friday morning approved a motion that would allow a no less than 1-acre oak grove on the former site of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station to be placed on the list of the city’s Historic-Cultural Monuments.
The City Council will continue the agenda item for a final vote at its meeting on June 25. Although a final decision has not been made, it is hoped by advocates that the City Council will formally declare the oak grove — which has stood since the detention center existed — a Historic-Cultural Monument at that time.
A three-pronged “working group”— comprised of seven members of the community. historians and members of the Japanese-American community; developer Snowball West Investments; and Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcón, who will chair the group — organized by the city’s Planning and Land Use Management committee (PLUM) at its meeting on June 11 will meet beginning next week to discuss the oak grove’s specific boundaries and recommend to the city council the best way to commemorate the historical and cultural significance of the site, located less than a mile from the La Crescenta/Tujunga border.
“We’re going to designate one acre,” said Alarcón. “When the working group comes back in 60 days, it may change. They may make it larger, but they can’t make it smaller.”
The working group will also recommend ways to educate the public on what occurred on the site through the use of plaques, signs, and other devices.
“In 2011, when we took over the project, we redesigned the project to save the oak grove,” said architect for the developer Janek Dombrowa. “We were aware of the history of the site. The trees are probably the best living memorial that we could leave for these people.”
The City Council’s motion on Friday overrides a decision by the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission, and Planning and Land Use Management committee, which earlier this spring denied Historic-Cultural status for the former United States Japanese internment camp where thousands of American citizens of Japanese decent were sent after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. Their decision by the two committees was made on the basis that no buildings from the old camp exist, as such, they said, no historic declaration is needed.
The Los Angeles City Council, however, argues there is precedent for declaring a site historically and culturally significant, even if no buildings exist.
“What was more interesting and disappointing to me was that the historic commission said that, because there were no structures, that this site was not significant,” said Alarcón, who in 2012 set forward a motion to begin preservation efforts. “That’s a complete misunderstanding of the history. If we believe that you need to have structures, then we simply do not understand history.”
According to a list provided by the city clerk, 19 historical sites in Los Angeles no longer retain their original facades; other structures have been built in their place. Sixteen sites contain trees or other landscape features.
“What we have an objection to is the council overriding the recommendation of the planning staff and the unanimous recommendation of the cultural heritage commission,” said Fred Gaines, attorney for developer Snowball West Investments. “We ask that you support your PLUM committee, your Cultural Heritage Commission and your city planning staff. What you’re being asked to do today is skip that, don’t follow the law, make findings that no historic expert has made, and put us into a law that doesn’t apply in this circumstance.”
Historical status will allow for federal funds to trickle in that will be earmarked for a possible memorial on the site and interpretive displays, said Sunland resident Joe Barrett.
“The city recognition gives us that go-ahead to make that application for the funding,” he said. “That’s what made it all that important to do.”
“As far as I’m concerned, I thought they could have voted on it today,” said Tujunga resident Sheri Smith. “But if they are concerned about it and they want some more definition on the boundaries before committing, I understand; that is the city attorney’s recommendation.”