By Charly SHELTON
After more than 13 years, the Final Environmental Impact Report for the area formerly occupied by the Verdugo Hills Golf Course has been released. Originally compiled in 2005, the first draft was released in May 2009 and then recirculated twice to include public comments. Now the final report has been released, with the draft and the recirculated updates, which addresses all the questions and concerns from the public.
The point of producing this study, under the California Environmental Quality Act, is to evaluate what the negative effects of developing the golf course land would be to the surrounding environment and to the quality of life for those living near it. These negative effects are measured in impacts and their solutions are measured in mitigations.
“Obviously, any time you add 200-plus new homes to an area, you are going to have significant impacts. The Final EIR seems to feel that all of these impacts can be mitigated. We obviously disagree,” said Marc Stirdivant, chairman of Glendale-Crescenta VOICE – Volunteers Organized In Conserving the Environment.
VOICE has been against the development of the VHGC since the issue was first suggested, and the group is behind the bright yellow and red bumper stickers seen all over town emblazoned with “Save the Verdugo Hills Golf Course!”
The plan for the land is to develop the currently open space into 211 single-family homes with an additional 18 homes to be built further to the north, between the Verdugo Wash right-of-way on the west and Tujunga Canyon Road to the east.
For many years, the fight to save the land has called upon its historic significance to protect it. The site was most famously Tuna Canyon Detention Station, a Japanese internment camp during World War II from 1941-1943. It housed families from all over Southern California, as well as immigrants shipped in from around the country, who were deemed “enemy aliens.”
Prior to the TCDS, it was reportedly a Native American village. As stated on the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition website, which in turn quotes “The First Angelinos” by William McCawley, “the Tongva village of Wiqangna was located at the west end of the Verdugo mountains.” This area more likely refers to the area of Las Barras Canyon and La Tuna Canyon approximately where the Verdugo Hills Golf Course is presently located, and the site of Vernal Springs.
This report is corroborated by mission records, personal accounts from Tongva people at the local ranchos and even a 1947 article in the Montrose Ledger, referring to the area as the site of a former “Indian camp.”
Despite the rich history, the site is not eligible for protection as a National Registered Historic Landmark because all of the original buildings have been demolished and it has lost its “integrity,” or well-kept resources that can be used and appreciated by future generations. Even an application to the city for declaration as an Historic-Cultural Monument in 2013 was denied due to lack of integrity.
The EIR does mention the historical significance but suggests a commemoration rather than protection.
“Because of the significance of events associated with the property, the [Cultural Resources Management firm] SWCA Evaluator (in 2005) recommends commemoration of the site through designation as a California Historical Landmark,” the report states. “Such an additional designation would not be intended to preserve the present resources at the Verdugo Hills Golf Course, but to commemorate associated events through interpretation at the site, to encourage sensitive development of the overall landscape, and to accommodate visitors to the site through ease of parking, observation and meditation.”
An archaeologist will be on-site during ground excavation in the event that any resources, historic or prehistoric, are disturbed by the construction process and work needs to be halted. But during the field test excavations, no artifacts from the Tongva village site were found.
With no extant historic resources to impact, the negative impacts were found to be only aesthetic; namely, scenic vistas and resources, existing visual character, oak trees and recreation impacts. Development of “an urban housing development of parallel rows of large homes on small lots” would significantly impact the rural charm and open space of not only the neighborhood, but also the scenic highway of I-210 and La Tuna Canyon Road. In addition, the land to be developed is home to 303 oak trees and 18 western sycamores, of which 85 oaks and 11 western sycamores will be removed, with a further 31 oaks encroached upon.
The negative impact on the trees will be mitigated over the next decade, with the planting and growing of new trees. The recreation spaces impact can be mitigated through paying Quimby fees, which go to the city for development of new park spaces. The scenic vistas and resources, or the beautiful views of open space, cannot be mitigated without changing the project plan.
This big, wordy chunk of EIR is just a fraction of the 2,051-page Final EIR that the public is welcome to read before the next Planning Commission meeting, where further comments will be taken.
“The City seems intent on moving forward with the project,” Stirdivant said. “Our understanding is that the next step will be a public hearing, probably in November, followed by a Planning Commission hearing early next year. This will be an opportunity for the public to once again make their feelings known to the City about the project.”
There is still ample time for anyone to voice concerns, for the first time or reiterating a previous comment, over the project or the EIR that has been published. Stirdivant, who has been following this issue since the beginning, has a few issues with the Final EIR.
“We don’t believe that all of the comments were adequately addressed in the Final EIR. There were 221 comment letters submitted on the original Draft EIR and 226 letters submitted on the two recirculations,” Stirdivant said. “We invite those who commented to review their original letters and then let the City know if they feel their comments were adequately responded to.”
The Final EIR can be found under the “6433 La Tuna Canyon Road (Formerly Verdugo Hills Golf Course) Project” at http://planning.lacity.org, by clicking the Environmental Review tab at left, and then Final EIR.