Tuesday

Rally to Celebrate Elephant Hills

Today we celebrate the next step in the permanent preservation of our beloved Elephant Hills with a rally for our Honorable Councilman Jose Huizar. Join us Tuesday February 17th 2015 at 10:00 AM at the foot of the hills where Harriman Ave meets Pullman Street (see flyer)

Wednesday

Open Space not Condo's for Elephant Hills

Wednesday, November 4, 2009
City Council Agrees to Buy Elephant Hill from Developer and Preserve It As Open Space
by Damien Newton on November 4, 2009

Open space not condos for Elephant Hills.

Yesterday, a twenty-five year battle between the Los Angeles City Council and the development group Monterey Hills Investors may have reached the end of the road. The Council agreed to pay a settlement of $9 million for the land known as Elephant Hills. Instead of housing a 24-home subdivision as MHI planned, this twenty acres of green hillside in El Sereno will be preserved as open space.

At issue was the quality of the environmental documents for the project, that were consistently opposed by residents, environmental groups and city leaders. When the project was first proposed in 1984, it was a 13-acre project. As time passed, the project continued to grow to its current 24-acre size. The complaints against the project alleged that the developer's plan to strip existing ridges down to bedrock followed by extensive fill would endanger both the El Sereno community and workers constructing the site. The ridges rest on seemingly unstable geography and an underground stream. The Natural Resources Defense Council reports that in 2006, workers installing fencing on Elephant Hill created a large sinkhole. In 2005, a worker was buried in a hillside slide in El Sereno.


For those opposed to the Elephant Hill Development the settlement is a clear victory for the city's efforts to preserve this land as open space. The settlement comes after the Council voted in August of 2008 to require the developers to undergo an extensive environmental review, despite advice from the City Attorney that they did not have the power to do that. In January of this year a judge agreed with the developers that the Council over-stepped its powers. The developers counter-sued the city alleging that the lawsuit caused a delay which caused MHI to lose $8 million dollars while the city appealed the decision.

All of that may have come to an end yesterday. While an attorney for MHI notes that the agreement wasn't finalized, yesterday's decision by the Council was hailed as a victory by all opposing the development and fighting for their community and open space.


Elva Yanez, the Elephant Hill Campaign Coordinator, released a statement hailing the settlement. Via the Latino Urban Forum:


This is a huge victory for the residents of El Sereno and the coalition of community and environmental organizations that waged a long and hard fought struggle. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to Councilmember Jose Huizar for his steadfast leadership as he championing residents' public safety and environmental concerns related to this development.

The residents of El Sereno have been afforded the environmental protections that are rightfully theirs. We are thrilled that this poorly planned project is not moving forward and environmental justice has prevailed!

Environmental Justice was also a theme of a quote by local Councilman Jose Huizar that appeared in today's Times. Meanwhile, the NRDC senior attorney David Pettit praised the El Sereno Community for their role in this long-coming victory:

Collective efforts of residents, community-based organizations and elected officials to protect public safety and require developer accountability succeeded in preserving one of LA's few remaining open spaces benefiting public health and the environment for years to come.

While it's a good day for El Sereno and supporters of Open Space, I can't help but note that it's a good thing that Monterey Hills Investment didn't have a Governor and Legislature in its back pocket.

EGP Article 'Battleground to Playground'

‘Elephant Hill’ Battleground Turns Into Playground
By Paul Aranda Jr., EGP Staff Writer

El Sereno residents have won a 25-year-long effort to halt the development of 24 luxury homes in the local hillside property known as “Elephant Hill” after the City Council voted Tuesday to approve a settlement that will allow the city to acquire the 19-acre site for $9 million. There were plenty of applauses and salutes during a small gathering at the hillside Wednesday morning as Councilman Jose Huizar (CD-14) and local residents and supporters celebrated the settlement.

“This is a win-win for everyone,” said Huizar. For the residents they can keep this beautiful open space, the city gets prime land and the developer gets money back on their investment he said.

The legal settlement puts an end to a lawsuit filed after the developer, Monterey Hills Investors, contested the city’s 2007 request for a supplemental environmental impact report (EIR). The request followed a 10-month long examination of the issue by the council after residents raised concerns over unstable geology, an underground stream and other environmental impacts not covered in the developer’s original EIR completed in 1993.

One resident on hand at Wednesday’s hillside ceremony received much accolades. Huizar called Elva Yanez, “a hero among heroes,” for her efforts that included a two-hour Elephant Hill debriefing of a then-city council candidate Huizar in 2005.

“This settlement vindicates every resident, activist and politician who called for a supplemental EIR,” Yanez said.

Originally proposed in 1984, the Elephant Hill project drew immediate concerns from residents when a similar large-scale development project in nearby Monterey Hills caused widespread subsidence and property damage, according to a Huizar press release. The Eaton Crest project triggered a 10-month trail that ended when the city paid $65 million to settle with approximately 700 property owners.

The 19-acre allotment acquired by the city is a small portion of the larger 110 acres that makes the area known as Elephant Hill. The hillside is geographically part of the Repetto Hills, a low but steep range that extends from the Los Angeles River to the Montebello Hills.

For now the property will remain as open space. Huizar said the site could eventually become a city park. He said he plans to work with State Assembleyman Kevin De Leon’s office to secure state funds to build the park.

If a park never develops, that will be just fine with local residents. One local woman who has lived at the base of hillside for the past 48 years was at the ceremony. She said she loves the hillside as it is and would not mind if it remained that way. The 85-year-old said everything is good now. “We like the hills,” she said. “I could sit on the patio and just look at the hills all day.”

Tuesday

CITY BUYS ELEPHANT HILLS !!!

Subject: City of LA Acquires Elephant Hill property as part of settlement


On Tuesday, November 3, 2009, the Los Angeles City Council voted to settle a lawsuit filed by developer Monterey Hills Investors (MHI) in 2007 after being required to undertake additional environmental review of a controversial development of 24 luxury homes on Elephant Hill in El Sereno. As part of the settlement, the City agreed to pay MHI $9 million to acquire approximately 20 acres of hillside open space.



This is a huge victory for the residents of El Sereno and the coalition of community and environmental organizations that waged a long and hard fought struggle. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to Councilmember Jose Huizar for his steadfast leadership as he championing residents’ public safety and environmental concerns related to this development.



The residents of El Sereno have been afforded the environmental protections that are rightfully theirs. We are thrilled that this poorly planned project is not moving forward and environmental justice has prevailed!



Councilmember Huizar will be holding press conference on this victory at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, November 4th at the foot of Elephant Hill (near the intersection of Pullman and Harriman Ave., off of Collis Avenue). Please attend.



Additional thanks are in order – first to the hundreds of residents and allies who took action to demand equal environmental protections for our community. To Doug Carstens of Chatten-Brown & Carstens and Tim Grabiel and David Pettit of NRDC for their exceptional, pro-bono legal services. To the board of the Latino Urban Forum and the four residents who intervened in the lawsuit filed by the developer against the City: Hugo Garcia, Casey Reagan, Geneece Perez and Vanessa Yanez. To the more than 60 leaders of environmental, community-based and EJ organizations that lent their good names to our efforts during the 10 month legislative phase of this campaign in 2007. To the LA-32 Neighborhood Council that took an early stand against this development in 2004. To Martin Krammerer, PhD, for his awesome hydrological study. To the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy for its technical expertise. And, last--but certainly not least—to the entire City Council that voted not once, but two times to require additional environmental review on this flawed project and again today to acquire this property.



Please stay tuned for more details on the settlement as they emerge. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Monday

Appeal notice with my two cents..

Groups Appeal Elephant Hill Ruling in LA

Hillside Development Exposes Local Community to Public Safety Risk



LOS ANGELES (March 3, 2009) – In a crucial attempt to protect a densely populated Latino neighborhood in Los Angeles, today, environmental justice advocates and community residents filed an appeal in court, seeking to overturn a decision to build luxury homes on a fragile hillside in El Sereno. The development on Elephant Hill would endanger residents and strip the community of its last open space, according to experts*1 involved in the case.



“The community of El Sereno needs parks and open spaces, not McMansions,” said Tim Grabiel, project attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Elephant Hill is a greedy project pushed forward by developers at the risk of jeopardizing the health and safety of residents and the environment.”



Four El Sereno residents*2 and the Latino Urban Forum are represented by NRDC and Chatten-Brown & Carstens as intervenors in a lawsuit filed by Monterey Hills Investors against the City of Los Angeles in July 2007 for requiring additional environmental review of the development.



“This development is a recipe for disaster,” said James Rojas of the Latino Urban Forum.*3 [i said this in 1992] “It not only wreaks irreparable damage to the hillside and sensitive habitat areas, but seriously threatens public safety. We’ve already seen what development can to do to an already unstable hillside, just look at Monterey Hills condos*4 [i've been testifying before plum and city council since 2000 about this exact issue] and the millions in liability fees*5 [judgements] paid to residents when their houses crumbled.”*6 [they sank about a foot into unstable fill causing condemnation]



At issue is 110-acre Elephant Hill, one of the last undeveloped hillsides in the region,*7 [the largest remaining in the city] where Monterey Hills Investors is seeking to build two dozen 3,500-square-foot houses and extensive infrastructure. Originally planned in the mid-1980s to cover 13 acres, the project footprint has since doubled in size*8. [nearly tripled] The developer plans to strip existing ridges down to bedrock followed by extensive fill* [75,000 cubic yards]—on land with an underground stream and unstable geology.



“Under no circumstances should the City Council approve the building permit for this project,” said Hugo Garcia, El Sereno activist and intervenor.*10 [as has casey reagan also a named intervenor representing hundreds of el sereno residents with his group 'save elephant hills mr reagan has spent hundreds of hours researching this project and has closely followed it through the process since its inception in the 1980's attending countless plum and city council meetings distributing literature, documenting the entire process in writing on his blog www.saveelephanthills.blogspot.com and on video and speaking against the project before the south pasadena city council, los angeles city council and the planning and land use management {PLUM}Committee] “Two years ago, it was a backhoe that fell into a sinkhole.*11 [Three years ago next month a bulldozer sank into subsiding topsoil created by an underground spring not previously recognized by the city planning dept nor the developers but spoken of extensively during public hearings by mr reagan, as a concerned resident and organizer of the group 'save elephant hills] What if next time, instead of heavy equipment, it’s a car with a local family and kids in the back seat? The City can’t knowingly take that risk.”



The geology of the Northeast LA hillsides makes them prone to subsidence and landslides*12.[Official California Geological Survey Documents submitted to the city by mr reagan showing liquefaction hazard areas were submitted as early as 1999 to the BOE, Planning Dept, dept of Public Works city council and plum committee] In 2006, workers installing fencing on Elephant Hill created a large sinkhole. In 2005, a worker was buried in a hillside slide in El Sereno*13 [caused by a broken water main].



Residents of Elephant Hill *14 [there are no residentsof elephant hills, it remains the largest area of UNDEVELOPED land in la] are concerned history could repeat itself if developers are allowed to cut and fill the hillside in a manner similar*15 [virtually identical] to what caused the Monterey Hills condos to collapse 25 years ago*16 [subside into the unstable landfill]. The slide cost the City more than $65 million*17 [the subsequent lawsuits cost the city almost 130 million dollars in damage claims and attorneys fees] in settlement costs to 700 homeowners, but they have a new opportunity to protect the public.



“There are plenty of models for creative solutions to problems like Elephant Hill,” said Doug Carstens of Chatten-Brown & Carstens. “The Cornfield and Taylor Yard are just two examples of the City’s heroic leadership in resolving land use conflicts in a manner that benefits the entire community and affirms Los Angeles as the greenest big city in the U.S. It is time to bring this leadership to bear in El Sereno.”



Related Links:

http://clkrep.lacity.org/onlinedocs/2004/04-1413_misc_03-30-92.pdf

http://www.nrdc.org/media/2007/071024c.asp



# # #

And The Appeal...

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE



Groups Appeal Elephant Hill Ruling in LA

Hillside Development Exposes Local Community to Public Safety Risk



LOS ANGELES (March 3, 2009) – In a crucial attempt to protect a densely populated Latino neighborhood in Los Angeles, today, environmental justice advocates and community residents filed an appeal in court, seeking to overturn a decision to build luxury homes on a fragile hillside in El Sereno. The development on Elephant Hill would endanger residents and strip the community of its last open space, according to experts involved in the case.



“The community of El Sereno needs parks and open spaces, not McMansions,” said Tim Grabiel, project attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Elephant Hill is a greedy project pushed forward by developers at the risk of jeopardizing the health and safety of residents and the environment.”



Four El Sereno residents and the Latino Urban Forum are represented by NRDC and Chatten-Brown & Carstens as intervenors in a lawsuit filed by Monterey Hills Investors against the City of Los Angeles in July 2007 for requiring additional environmental review of the development.



“This development is a recipe for disaster,” said James Rojas of the Latino Urban Forum. “It not only wreaks irreparable damage to the hillside and sensitive habitat areas, but seriously threatens public safety. We’ve already seen what development can to do to an already unstable hillside, just look at Monterey Hills condos and the millions in liability fees paid to residents when their houses crumbled.”



At issue is 110-acre Elephant Hill, one of the last undeveloped hillsides in the region, where Monterey Hills Investors is seeking to build two dozen 3,500-square-foot houses and extensive infrastructure. Originally planned in the mid-1980s to cover 13 acres, the project footprint has since doubled in size. The developer plans to strip existing ridges down to bedrock followed by extensive fill—on land with an underground stream and unstable geology.



“Under no circumstances should the City Council approve the building permit for this project,” said Hugo Garcia, El Sereno activist and intervenor. “Two years ago, it was a backhoe that fell into a sinkhole. What if next time, instead of heavy equipment, it’s a car with a local family and kids in the back seat? The City can’t knowingly take that risk.”



The geology of the Northeast LA hillsides makes them prone to subsidence and landslides. In 2006, workers installing fencing on Elephant Hill created a large sinkhole. In 2005, a worker was buried in a hillside slide in El Sereno.



Residents of Elephant Hill are concerned history could repeat itself if developers are allowed to cut and fill the hillside in a manner similar to what caused the Monterey Hills condos to collapse 25 years ago. The slide cost the City more than $65 million in settlement costs to 700 homeowners, but they have

a new opportunity to protect the public.



“There are plenty of models for creative solutions to problems like Elephant Hill,” said Doug Carstens of Chatten-Brown & Carstens. “The Cornfield and Taylor Yard are just two examples of the City’s heroic leadership in resolving land use conflicts in a manner that benefits the entire community and affirms Los Angeles as the greenest big city in the U.S. It is time to bring this leadership to bear in El Sereno.”



Related Links:

http://clkrep.lacity.org/onlinedocs/2004/04-1413_misc_03-30-92.pdf

http://www.nrdc.org/media/2007/071024c.asp



# # #

Then there's this...

Developer wins suit against L.A. over El Sereno housing tract project
A judge rejects the City Council's demand that Monterey Hills Investors, which sought to build 24 homes on a hillside, do a new environmental report. The developer will seek to recoup losses.

By David Zahniser
January 8, 2009

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-lawsuit8-2009jan08,0,4361008.story

A real estate developer has won its legal battle to build 24 homes on a vacant hillside in the Los Angeles neighborhood of El Sereno -- and is now looking to recoup its financial losses from City Hall.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant ruled Monday that the City Council had no authority to order Monterey Hills Investors LLC to perform a new environmental impact report on its proposed subdivision of single-family homes.

Ignoring the advice of its lawyers, the council voted in 2007 to demand the additional review, effectively blocking the developer from moving dirt and building new roads in the area nicknamed Elephant Hill.

Monterey Hills Investors, which claimed in its lawsuit that the city's actions cost it more than $8 million, will now seek "substantial" damages, said attorney Ben Reznik.

"This was the biggest waste of taxpayer money, because it's such a frivolous action by the council," he said Wednesday. "They had to hire outside counsel because their own city attorney was telling them they were violating the law."

Reznik, a lobbyist with dozens of City Hall clients, said the council had already approved a tract map and environmental impact report for his client's project. He accused Councilman Jose Huizar of blocking the work in an effort to placate constituents who wanted to see the hillside remain open space.

Huizar, whose district includes El Sereno, said in a statement that the fight to save Elephant Hill was "the right thing to do. . . . And while I'm disappointed to hear about the judge's ruling, I am as committed as ever to protecting the safety of our hillside residents."

Although he played a key role in the Elephant Hill case, Huizar issued a separate, seemingly unrelated news release Wednesday calling for greater oversight of the city's legal expenses. "In these tough economic times . . . we simply cannot afford to keep throwing money at these unnecessary and extremely costly lawsuits," the councilman said.

Reznik, in turn, said Huizar's own actions spurred a costly lawsuit. "He created one, and that's painful," he said. "Taxpayers are going to bear the burden here."

Opponents of the project received legal help from the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that said the 15.7-acre site should be preserved. The city's environmental review found that grading would ultimately affect 85% of the site and result in an "irreversible environmental change to the topography," according to court documents.

Nick Velasquez, spokesman for City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, had no comment on the ruling. But a transcript included in the court file showed that Assistant City Atty. Susan Pfann disagreed with the environmental group's legal arguments regarding Elephant Hill.

The group maintained that the permit sought by Monterey Hills Investors was a discretionary action, and therefore governed by the state's environmental laws. Pfann told the council that she believed the permit was ministerial and not covered by those laws, according to the transcript.

Natural Resources Defense Council lawyer Tim Grabiel, who appeared in court in the El Sereno case, could not be reached for comment. Reznik said damages could rise considerably higher than $8 million because the city's efforts caused his client to lose its financing.

"We may not be able to get a construction loan because the market has collapsed" since the council's vote, he said.