In a significant victory for local residents earlier this month, the Los Angeles City Council voted to protect Elephant Hill, the largest open space northeast of downtown Los Angeles, ending a 25-year-old battle.
The City Council agreed to purchase the land as part of a $9 million settlement with Monterey Hills Investors, a developer which had hoped to build new luxury homes on the site. Now, the 20-acre property will provide a nature preserve in a community with one of the lowest parkland-to-people ratios in the city.
Twenty-five years ago, local residents prevented a proposed develop on the site because of concerns that the project would cause landslides and flooding in the community of El Sereno. In 2003, Monterey Hills bought the land, and a year later they were given approval for a 24-lot development project.
Local community groups organized to oppose the project because the flooding and landslide issues had not been addressed. However, instead of responding to community concerns, Monterey Hills expanded the proposed project to 56 lots, increasing the threat to El Sereno.
Despite doubling the size of the project, Monterey Hills refused to update their environmental review documents as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
The City Council joined forces with the local community groups, the law firm Chatten-Brown and Carstens, and the Natural Resources Defense Council and demanded Monterey Hill complete an environmental review of the impacts on the expanded project. However, instead of complying with the law, Monterey Hills sued the city.
This settlement is an important victory for local residents and a reminder of vital roll CEQA plays in ensuring that communities are protected from the negative environmental impacts of poorly planned development projects.
Traci Sheehan is the Executive Director of The Planning and Conservation League, a statewide, nonprofit lobbying organization. For more than thirty years, PCL has fought to develop a body of environmental laws in California that is the best in the United States.
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