Development History in the Western Verdugo Mountains
As I’ve written about many times in past columns, we are privileged to have the mountains on both sides of our valley largely undeveloped. In contrast, two mountain ranges nearby, the San Rafaels above La Cañada and the Hollywood Hills, have seen significant development. They are both transected by numerous residential roadways and both contain large landfill operations. The Verdugos are similar in topography to those two urban mountain ranges, yet have no roads across them, no landfills, and very limited housing development. But that wasn’t what was planned. City and county master plans in the past show that the Verdugos were slated for massive development in the ’60s and ’70s.
Glendale’s plan I’ve written about before, a system of roadways through the Verdugos and mountaintop communities for 15,000 residents. That plan was fought to a standstill by several grassroots community groups.
In 1969, the City of Los Angeles formulated a similar plan for its half of the Verdugo Mountains. That half stretches from the Verdugo Hills Golf Course west to Sun Valley, both sides of La Tuna Canyon, and north to Sunland/Tujunga – 12 square miles. Since the 210 Freeway from Lowell Avenue to Sunland Boulevard was at that time being bulldozed through the mountains, L.A. planners naturally assumed ambitious development would occur in the Verdugo Mountains on both sides of the freeway. They planned for tens of thousands of homes to be built.
Plans were drawn up for Oro Vista Avenue in Tujunga to be extended south through the Verdugos, intersect with the 210 with a dedicated offramp, and continue to La Tuna Canyon Road. At the 210 offramps for both Oro Vista and La Tuna Canyon, large retail shopping centers were envisioned. The housing was to be in clustered developments, in tune with the many large private properties in the Verdugos owned by a variety of landholders. The land around La Tuna Canyon was the area expected to be developed first. Their lowest estimate of future population in the Verdugos was 32,000, with a high range estimate of 72,000, all by 1990.
Their plans did propose approximately half the 12 square miles to be dedicated open space, in four separate parks with equestrian and hiking trails, picnic areas and institutional camps. But the planners acknowledged the difficulty of acquiring the land, as it was nearly all in private hands. They were pessimistic about that part of their plan, for as the housing developments progressed the surrounding privately owned open space prices would rise well above the reach of public funding. Nonetheless, visionary planners still encouraged the city to begin acquiring open space now, before the land rush. In the 1969, document it was stated:
“Two Basic choices are apparent. The majority of the land can be preserved in its natural state through the establishment of a large publically owned conservation area, or the area can be developed for residential use accompanied by smaller, privately owned open spaces.”
Fortunately for us, it was the former prospect that came to pass. Starting in the 1980s, a state agency, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, began purchasing large undeveloped properties around urbanized Los Angeles as dedicated open space. One such purchase was 1,200-acre La Tuna Canyon Park on the south side of La Tuna Canyon, and the adjacent 565-acre Verdugo Mountain Park to the west, which has been enlarged by the City of Los Angeles as recently as 2007. On the north end of the Verdugos, Rosemary and Charles Fond, through the Fond Land Preservation Foundation, purchased 500 acres in 2007 as dedicated public open space.
That brings the planners’ original vision of significant open space in western Verdugos closer to reality – about three square miles of the 12 square miles total. As for their plans for residential development, that hasn’t happened – yet. The hundreds of homes in the Canyon Hills development on the north side of the 210 has only been delayed by the economy, and the Verdugo Hills Golf Course has a similar development proposed.
For now the Verdugos are still a beautiful wilderness. We’ll see what the future brings.