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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

MCRA Acquires 612 New Acres of Parkland in the Santa Monica Mountains

• South Side of Ladyface Mountain and Escondido Canyon Property Once Earmarked for ‘Yurt Resort’ Join SMMNRA

BY BILL KOENEKER

A 86-acre property located on Latigo Canyon Road in Upper Escondido Canyon, once slated for a hotel/resort complex comprised of yurts and other amenities, including swimming pools, tennis courts, fitness facilities and meeting rooms, was one of three major parkland acquisitions made by the Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority.
The resolution authorizing the acquisition was approved at MCRA’s February meeting.
The park purchase was announced last week by Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
The Latigo Canyon Road property was previously owned by Richard Weintraub, who along with Ron Goldman, wanted to build the upscale yurt resort in the canyon where there was once a nursery.
According to the Yaroslavsky, the county board of supervisors last week approved the MRCA acquisition of the property, which contains a creek, a stand of redwoods and alders and dense riparian cover on the undeveloped land made up of 34 separate parcels.
The purchase is being funded by what are called third district funds generated by Prop A, a measure approved by county voters in 1992 and 1996, according to the supervisor's office, which represents the third district.
In an irony that Yaroslavsky points out, the county had given approval for the yurt hotel and retreat before residents in the area were even aware of what was planned.
Yaroslavsky overruled staff and insisted the project needed an Environmental Impact Report.
At that time, the media reported that Weintraub purchased the land from Irwin “Red” Lachman, who had obtained many of the approvals.
Weintraub purchased the land with an approved building plot plan that went along with it for $1.45 million and planned to spend another $7 million to turn the bucolic canyon into a spiritual retreat for up to 400 people housed in the 95 yurt-like tent cabins.
After neighbors got wind of the plans and pending building permits, protests ensued. The supervisor’s office received a tremendous amount of pressure and a homeowners association hired attorney Frank Angel before the application was withdrawn.
Recently the land was offered on the open market for $8 million, until the government stepped in to purchase the acreage.
Some neighbors say they privately worry that the problems of access, parking and overuse of the canyon will disrupt their rural lifestyle much like the complaints that have surfaced from Winding Way homeowners, who say that lower Escondido Canyon is “being loved to death,” by the public creating immense parking problems on Pacific Coast Highway, access problems and littering.
“Have you been to the falls, lately?” asked one homeowner, who declined to give her name. “It is a trash heap. They say they don't have the money to take care of their parks they have, so why are they acquiring new parkland?”
Others expressed enthusiasm that the property, which was once home to the McCoy Christmas Tree Farm in the 1960s and '70s, owned by canyon pioneer Thurlow McCoy, who planted many of the non-native trees, will be preserved.
The purchase also includes the acquisition of 525 acres on the south side of Ladyface Mountain off of Kanan Dume Road in unincorporated Cornell, near Agoura Hills.
The distinctive mountain located at the top of Kanan has been on the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area's priority acquisition list for many years. The 525- acres will protect almost the entire southern face of the mountain.
“In terms of interior, non-coastal acquisitions, there hasn't been anything this big in a long, long time,” said Paul Edelman, chief of natural resources and planning for MCRA, in a press release.
“Preserving the Ladyface Mountain property…means that a huge bloc of wildlife habitat will remain unaltered by development or other human activity. “It will always be there,” Edelman said. “It’s something we can count on.” The iconic views of the property, with its dramatic rock outcroppings, will continue to dominate the vista seen by those who travel along Kanan Dume Road.
“Beyond the unspoiled beauty of the landscape itself, placing the property under public ownership opens up vast new possibilities for how visitors will be able to use it,” Edelman said.
“It creates a trail opportunity that few people have ever even dreamed of,” he said. For the first time, he said, the Pentachaeta Trail in Westlake Village will be able to connect across Triunfo Canyon and into the heart of the mountains.”
“When this latest acquisition by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority is completed, the vast majority of land around the mountain will be in public hands and immune to any such development proposals in the future,” the press release concludes.
The purchase of both properties, at a total cost of $8.3 million, is being funded by 3rd District funds generated by, among other sources, Proposition A.

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