By Jason KUROSU
Plans to develop approximately 28 acres of single-family homes on the current site of the Verdugo Hills Golf Course have drawn noticeable backlash since the development was proposed.
Gerald Gubatan, planning deputy for L.A. City Councilmember Richard Alarcon, provided some updates on the current status of the development at a recent Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council meeting on Oct.10.
The City of Los Angeles Planning Department is set to re-circulate some portions of the golf course’s draft EIR (Environmental Impact Report), a document which details the positive and negative environmental impacts of a proposed development.
It is unknown when the EIR will be officially revised and re-circulated, but after that time, there will be a 45-day period when public comments may be submitted.
“There is no statutory time frame on when this should be released because the developer is, in a sense, in the driver’s seat,” said Gubatan. “The developer has the discretion to direct its consultants to prepare these documents and submit them to the city. But it’s the city planning department who has to be satisfied that the documents are ready to be released.”
After the 45-day comment period, there will not be any other time to comment on the draft EIR. However, Gubatan did note that the developer, Snowball West Investments, is requesting a zone change from an agricultural zone to a multiple unit residential zone, a request which would necessitate public hearings when comments could be voiced.
Gubatan said that only three areas of impact will be revised on the latest draft EIR: aesthetics, recreation and open space, and gas house emissions, leaving many who attended the meeting disappointed that the traffic section of the EIR would not be re-circulated as the 224-unit housing development has prompted concerns over increased traffic.
Among the methods for preserving the golf course is Proposition O, a 2004 bond measure that funds projects which benefit the environment and public health, such as improving water quality or increasing open space.
Gubatan provided some examples of Prop O projects, such as the Griffith Park parking lot that has been redesigned with “bio-swales” which help filter pollution from surface runoff water. Gubatan also mentioned Echo Park Lake, which is currently being rehabilitated to improve the lake’s overall water quality.
The Bureau of Sanitation’s concept report for a Verdugo Hills Stormwater project was “an excellent step” towards turning the golf course into a Prop O project according to Gubatan, because it “quantifies all the benefits of acquiring the golf course and creating these features that will not only create open space, but also clean the water.”
Some of these benefits include the project’s ability to “maintain [the site] as a public recreational facility, incorporate features to capture, cleanse and store stormwater, provide flood protection, increase water conservation, enhance habitat protection and preserve open space.”
Another avenue for preserving the golf course would be the recognition of the land as a “Historic-Cultural Monument.” Records have revealed that the site of the course was formerly the “La Tuna Canyon Detention Center,” which housed more than 2,500 individuals during World War II, including Japanese-Americans, Germans, Italians and Japanese Peruvians.
A draft motion by Councilmember Alarcon for preserving the space states, “In recent years, the proposed redevelopment of the site (commonly known by local residents as ‘the Verdugo Hills Golf Course’) with a residential subdivision has threatened to degrade the site’s historic value, remove natural open space and eliminate an opportunity to commemorate a significant historical resource.”
The California Environmental Quality Act examines whether a proposed project will adversely affect the environment of a particular space, or in this case, the historical significance of a site. Should the golf course attain “Historic Cultural Monument” status, it may reduce the potential to develop the housing project if the development in some way alters or destroys any physical characteristics which convey the site’s historical significance.