DEEGAN ON LA-Movie producer Michael Costigan (“Brokeback Mountain,” “A Bigger Splash”) and his wife Linda are about to give Los Angeles County $98,241 -- but for what? The County’s Notice of Public Hearing says it’s for 3,275 square feet of mostly unusable, steep mountainside land adjacent to the Costigan’s Outpost Canyon home. The County operates on a $30 billion annual budget and doesn’t really need the money.
And the Costigans really don’t need the land they would receive from the County in return for their cash -- their property abuts the County-owned Hollywood Bowl property which protects their privacy, their view and the threat of any development outside their living room window.
The County Supervisors will consider this proposed transaction at their July 25 board meeting during which a majority of the Supervisors must approve the sale.
The Costigans would not comment on specifics, except for Linda Costigan’s suggestion that CityWatch should “speak to Parks and Rec.” A spokesperson for the County of Los Angeles Department of Parks & Recreation tried to clarify inquiries about the purchase for CityWatch but ended up adding to questions concerning the need for the purchase, especially since it will prohibit any future development.
Terry Kanakri, Park and Rec’s Public Information Officer, explained: “The proposed sale expressly prohibits the construction of any structures on the parcel, pursuant to a deed restriction. Accordingly, there should be no impact on wildlife in this broadly mountainous setting.”
Sales of public property like this can be challenged. According to Paul Edelman, Deputy Director for Natural Resources and Planning for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, “The County is obligated, by state law, to offer the property, as a first right of refusal, to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, at the County’s original acquisition price.” He added that “the County did not take that step; however, this particular sale to a private party provides some permanent development prohibitions and about ninety percent of the sale area is already adopted backyard or has considerable steepness. The Conservancy does not intend to insert its rights in this case.”
Nevertheless, Edelman pointed out, “The permanent conversion of even small swaths of public open space into private yards in the ever-shrinking eastern Santa Monica Mountains ecosystem should never be taken lightly. For all such future public-to-private land transfers in the hills, any wildlife impermeable fencing should be permanently prohibited on the former public land, and at least fifty percent of the proceeds should go into a fund used exclusively to protect land in the general vicinity where the loss occurs. As structured, the deal provides no funding for habitat acquisition.”
It makes you wonder why this non-tax-deductible transaction with the County makes any sense at all, except maybe that it allows the homeowners the personal gain of a small backyard strip that the County told CityWatch the Costigans have already “encroached” on -- although, after the sale, they would own. Unknown is whether the County asked for restitution or if the Costigans offered it.
Alternatively, the Costigans could become “habitat heroes” by using their $100,000 to provide one-quarter of the remaining funds needed to help close the financing gap for the “Let’s Buy A Mountain” campaign that is just $400,000 away from its goal to purchase 17 acres, located two miles away from Outpost Canyon as the crow flies. This area would become a nature preserve within a habitat linkage zone in the Santa Monica Mountains, a zone that stretches from the 405 freeway to Griffith Park.
In addition to programmatic support, the Costigan’s donation to “Let’s Buy A Mountain,” a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, could earn them a tax deduction, say, against profits from future movie income, perhaps the Jennifer Aniston vehicle “Dumplin” that Michael Costigan is now producing.
The Costigans would be joining 254 other donors to the “Let’s Buy A Mountain” campaign that are supporting the Laurel Canyon Association in coordination with Citizens for Los Angeles Wildlife (CLAW) in an agreement to purchase and protect a sizable portion of the mountain that had formerly been proposed as a solar farm or a housing development. This land will be maintained as open space by the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority in coordination with CLAW and the Laurel Canyon Land Trust.
For years, this coalition of groups has been working together to “buy a mountain.” The campaign, now in the homestretch of meeting its fundraising goal, has the strong political support of County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl (SD3), Councilmember David Ryu (CD4) and Councilmember Paul Koretz (CD5). The County Supervisors are additionally committing $100,000 in matching funds contributed by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl from Los Angeles County’s Proposition A. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy also supports the campaign.
The Let's Buy A Mountain Fund Raising Preservation Project property sits between Lookout Mountain Avenue and Stanley Hills Drive, and includes one of the highest points in Hollywood Hills, a 1400 foot crest that offers views of Catalina and all the way to the Sierras. The goal of the acquisition of this very large piece of LA's greenbelt is to forever remove it from the threat of development. The Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority (MRCA) has agreed to maintain the land as a nature preserve.
It looks like a happy Hollywood Hills ending for the “save a mountain” campaign may be in sight to meet the fundraising goal. Support from the Costigans could sharpen the focus on the project and help bring about a budget resolution. And this would encourage others looking to make a hillside investment to donate the money they might consider spending on land in the Hollywood Hills – then they would be taking a leading role – along with the Costigans -- in a real-life narrative, casting them all as heroes.
(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.