The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday afternoon authorized the sale of five acres of hilltop property in El Sereno, a move council members said they hope will provide Northeast L.A. residents greater access to natural habitat. The entire parcel of roughly 20 acres was purchased for more than $9 million; the five acres are to be sold for $636,500.
The city purchased the 20-acre swath of Highland Park adjacent hilltop land known as Elephant Hill from Monterey Hills Investors, LLC in 2009 for $9.1 million*, the result of lawsuit over the City Council's attempts to block the private developer from building on the land.
A motion passed by the Los Angeles City Council in Nov. of 2009 authorized the city to settle with Monterey Hills Investors LLC. Through the settlement agreement, the city consented to reimbursing the developers $464,068 in damages and the purchase the 20-acre property for appx. $8.5 million.
The motion passed by the City Council on Tuesday authorizes the General Services Dept. to enter negotiations with the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) for the sale of one-quarter of the property.
According an August meeting of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Advisory (SMMC) Committee, the MRCA was granted $636,500 to pay for the purchase and improvement of Elephant Hill.
According to an SMMC staff report, the city has appraised the Elephant Hill property at $495,000. The additional funds would go toward building trails and addressing drainage issues on nearby Pullman Street.
Elva Yanez--a community activist--said that assessed value of the property as open space shouldn't be compared its value as potential housing development--complete with entitlements.
"Comparing the price paid in the settlement compared to amount paid to MRCA is like comparing apples and oranges," Yanez said. "What we're achieving here is priceless."
Among the community members to question the wisdom of the deal, which sees the city flipping a quarter of the property for far less than it's 2009 purchase price, was LA32/El Sereno Neighborhood Council member Scott Johnson.
"Financial responsibility must be paramount on this issue," Johnson said.
He also criticized local Councilman José Huizar for his office's lack of outreach to the community on the impending sale.
"There's been no outreach to the Neighborhood Council on this issue, where the MRCA authority was going to come in and be the oversight agency overseeing that parcel of land," he said.
The majority of community members applauded Tuesday's vote, saying it would provide an urban oasis in "park-poor" Northeast Los Angeles.
Sarah Feldman, Vice President of Programs for the California State Parks Foundation and a Highland Park resident, urged council members to pass the motion prior to the vote.
"As a neighbor to El Sereno I know how desperately needed these improvements are to parked-starved neighborhoods, as so many of our neighborhoods in LA are," Feldman said.
Jeff Chapman, Director of the Audubon Society at Debs Park in Montecito Heights, told the council he looked forward to partnering with MRCA to create educational programs on Elephant Hill.
"In Northeast communities where parks are few and open areas are even fewer, Elephant Hill benefits both community members and wildlife," Chapman said. "This area serves as a vital biological reserve for plants and animals only found in Southern California."
Huizar, said the end of the Elephant Hill saga would "certainly add to the ability of people to go hike, enjoy nature and preserve area's open space."