Progress or NIMBYism in Sunland Tujunga? I Say Let’s Make a Deal

MY TURN-For decades Los Angeles has had a reputation for being a series of bedroom communities with no City Center. Sidewalks wrapped up at 9 pm and if you wanted a late snack or a cocktail, the places to go were few and far between. That began to change once Staples built its downtown complex. But now we hear complaints about too much congestion, too many dogs and too many cars. 

Los Angeles is taking the next steps toward becoming one of the world's great Cities. We run on international commerce and technology, as well as entertainment. But like any growth spurt, (check with your teenagers,) it hurts...and can cause problems...and worst (or best) of all, it produces change – sometimes thought of as a dreaded of human occurrence! 

Yes, tourism has reached a new high but we can't be a city for just tourists -- Las Vegas learned that bitter lesson. So how do we balance all these technological and physical advances while holding on to our unique ambience as a city? Short answer: We don't! Although “gentrification” has become a dirty word, we must incorporate the changing face of Los Angeles into our planning. 

I certainly do not hold myself up as an expert in land use, real estate design or development. And I can’t provide magical answers to what seems to be a "mishmash" of City planning. But I have a lot of questions.

Various articles and opinions pieces in CityWatch and other local newspapers and websites, as well as conversations I’ve had with members of city commissions and agencies, have provided little practical consensus. The Planning Commission has a new Manager; the Department of Transportation is busy adding to the metro lines; General Services can't keep track of the real estate owned by the City; and the mayor wants to build 100,000 new housing units. The end result seems to be that no one is happy; there are so many “anti” groups that it’s hard to determine what any group is for. 

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which may be headed toward the November 8 ballot, professes to be for something – but that “something” is more of a negative. People backing the NII want to stop all new development requiring zone variances for a period of two years. RE-Code LA is the five-year plan this is, (surprise, surprise) already behind schedule. It’s a plan to try and get our city codes in some kind of order; to define what is needed whether building a single family home or a twenty-story office complex. And the requirements all vary depending on the area. 

Many LA City plans have conflicting codes and are often more than fifteen years old. It would make sense if each department involved in infrastructure and real estate would appoint a representative to each of the various official planning groups. This would ensure that all involved would have the same information. But maybe that is too much to hope for…. 

So back to NIMBY... the anachronistic term for "Not in My Back Yard." My colleague Dick Platkin, an expert on city planning or the lack thereof, thinks "NIMBYism is an epithet used by real estate speculators to disparage local residents who oppose their projects.

I was invited by Karen Zimmerman from the Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council and the force behind the "Savethegolfcourse.org.” The golf course in question is the Verdugo Hills Golf Club on Tujunga Canyon Blvd, a privately owned public golf course which has been part of the community for years. 

The current owner is considering building over 200 homes in a gated-community with all the amenities. According to Sunland Tujunga homeowners, aside from losing a beautiful green area, losing the golf course would make the already terrible traffic on Tujunga Canyon Boulevard much worse. I noticed large banners around the neighborhood saying, "This Traffic Sucks." They are wondering how the Department of Transportation could justify issuing permits without major changes. 

One of the homeowners, Theresa Weinzirl, who has lived on Tujunga Canyon Blvd all of her life, invited me to view the traffic as she tried to get out of her driveway. The game of "chicken” is alive and well. Residents are concerned that the current infrastructure will not support the additional density. Even with an increase in the number of accidents, they can't even get a stoplight or stop sign in this dangerous area.   

I felt like a tourist going through the Northeast Valley with its miles and miles of rolling hills, trees, wildlife. It is like being in another world. Housing run the economic gamut from apartments to small original bungalows to spacious single family homes. The problem is that, even with all the lawsuits and injunctions against projects in Hollywood, it’s hard to get that kind of attention in the rural part of the valley. 

Another builder wants a permit to build 250 homes in the Tujunga Wash, which becomes flooded and filled with mud and debris every time it rains. In addition, there is also only one way in and out – a situation that is very dangerous. There has been and continues to be a homeless encampment in the wash that some of the NCs are working to clean up on weekends. This hardly sounds like the best place for so many new homes. 

Meanwhile, Lake View Terrace is seeking more business development. Now that the Cube Museum is open and Hansen Dam has water, they feel their community could provide great family activities for valley residents. But the problem is lack of eating facilities, too many liquor stores, no banks and no US Post Office. Residents in the area must leave the neighborhood to purchase basic items. 

On top of all of this, the High Speed Rail Line has tentative plans to go through Shadow Hills and the City of San Fernando. David De Pinto, President of the Shadow Hills Home Owners Association, has helped form a growing opposition group called SAFE Coalition and has a well-run grassroots campaign underway. It might be moot if HSR decides to finish the Central Valley to San Francisco route first instead of connecting now to Burbank – chances are few of us will be here when they get finished with that! 

So, now what? The best compromise, is always something in which each side is satisfied and neither side is ecstatic. I think it behooves the groups that are fighting all these changes to take a realistic approach to the situation and come up with plans A, B and C. They need to include a wish of things – whether it be a community room, a park, or an athletic field -- that will make the community more livable. In exchange, they will have to agree to something on the developers’ wish lists. 

Let's face it. Even with all of growth and congestion that exists in LA, we still have acres of greenbelts, hills and mountains. We desperately need housing that middle and lower income people can afford. We need more facilities for veterans and more reasonable housing choices for seniors. But most of all, we need a plan that must have input from all relevant people involved. It should be vetted with an eye to insuring against future droughts, earthquakes, fires and other gifts from Mother Nature. 

And in the end, we can't fight progress. Do you recall the fight against freeways? Does anyone remember incinerators? Where can you buy a buggy whip? 

We’ve all seen the deadlock that occurs when parties fail to compromise -- what happens when, for instance, bond issues fail to improve schools and infrastructure. We’ve seen what happens when people don’t listen to each other. 

So above all, we must be practical, making sure that everyone benefits from our joint decisions -- the business community, our politicians, and most importantly, the people of Los Angeles. 

When it comes to planning for our City and finding the best possible outcome, we should all join forces. I say, “Let’s make a deal." 

As always comments are welcome.

 

(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: Denyse@CityWatchLA.com) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.