Bill Boyarsky
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Ramirez Canyon: The fight goes on

The Ramirez Canyon saga, involving Barbra Streisand’s old Santa Monica Mountain estate, was called “the gnarliest local land use fight in California” by the political blog Calbuzz. Now this classic Westside saga has entered a new phase.

In one way or another, this issue has been going on for 18 years. As Calbuzz noted, what makes the fight of interest beyond the mountains is that it shows “the maddeningly minute complexities woven through the budget” and how each item “apparently comes equipped with its own fierce band of special interest sponsors and rooters.”

I’ve been writing about the mountain conservation fights for a long time and I got interested in this one after my daughter Robin Smith told me about it. Robin works for the Mountain Recreation and Conservation Authority, part of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

Streisand donated her 22-acre place in Ramirez Canyon to the conservancy, which has acquired thousands of acres in the mountains, saving it from developers. The conservancy is the legacy of the late Los Angeles City Councilman Marvin Braude, who started a movement to save the mountains many years ago. The conservancy is beloved by mountain preservationists, hikers and other nature lovers who have a lot of political clout.

The conservancy, which has its executive offices on the Ramirez Canyon property, wants to make the canyon a park for disabled campers hikers and for visits by poor children and the old. Park backers also say the park would provide a key link in the Santa Monica Mountains trail. They warn that if the property were sold, the new owners would bar the public.

A group of Ramirez Canyon area residents oppose the plan, saying it will clog a narrow road into the canyon and increase fire danger. They fear the park will be rented out for parties. They also say a public agency shouldn’t occupy offices as fine as one of the Streisand homes. And, they say, the state needs the money—up to $15 million—it could get from the sale.

In his recent budget, Gov. Jerry Brown sided with the residents and proposed the sale.

Digging around, I found the Brown plan is in deep trouble in Sacramento, maybe near death. The chairman of the Assembly budget committee, Bob Blumenfeld, a San Fernando Valley Democrat, sent me a statement indicating the sale plan has been dropped:

“At my request, the Legislative Counsel evaluated the governor’s plan to place Ramirez Canyon on the surplus property list as a precursor to selling it. They concluded that this would be illegal… I am pleased the governor has suspended his efforts to authorize the sale of Ramirez Canyon through the budget. I know the natural beauty and ecological importance of this property from first-hand experience. I remain committed to keeping it as an environmental treasure for public use for generations to come.”

Generations to come might be too big a promise for a legislator in this term limit era. But as long as Blumenfeld, who once was the conservancy’s director of governmental affairs, is around, don’t count on the property being sold. Another opponent of the sale is Democratic Sen. Fran Pavley of Santa Monica who said “the sale of state part or conservancy land for a short-term budget fix or to pay down state debt sets a dangerous precedent.”

Ramirez Canyon area residents who favor the sale are set to go on fighting. I talked to Steven A. Amerikaner, attorney for the homeowners’ group, the Ramirez Canyon Preservation Fund. He sent me material detailing the many years of the dispute and assured me the residents would continue to make their point in court and in Sacramento. The fight goes on.

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