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.”

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