TUJUNGA GOLF COURSE GETS OK.
Flip-flopping in the face of legal threats, the Los Angeles City Council ended a 12-year dispute Tuesday by approving an 18-hole private golf course for the Tujunga Wash.
Faced with the prospect of rejecting the controversial golf course and being forced to pay as much as $20 million to buy it - or consider an even more intense development - council members voted 10-4 in favor of the Red Tail Golf and Equestrian Center.
The vote came in front of some 400 residents in a meeting at the Lake View Terrace Recreation Center after nearly four hours of debate that divided residents over the future of the 400-acre site.
Most of the opposition came from residents of the Shadow Hills area, who were joined by environmentalists from other parts of the city who worry about the loss of open space and the potential flooding danger if there are brush fires.
Supporters, however, included many Sunland-Tujunga residents who complained about the present conditions with illegal dumping and those who hope for an improvement for the business community.
Still others came merely to watch the council in action.
``It's good they came out here and we could see how they act,'' said Ken Adkins, publisher of a monthly newsletter called ``What's Doin'.'' ``But you have to wonder about all the energy that goes into putting this on.''
The session was one in a continuing series of meetings held outside City Hall to allow the council to meet more directly with residents.
Apparently sensitive to past criticism of delayed starts and a limited participation by council members from other areas of the city, all but one of the council's 15 members appeared at the Valley meeting. Only Councilman Richard Alatorre - recuperating from stomach surgery - was a no-show. And the meeting began only 10 minutes after its scheduled 10 a.m. start.
Because the golf course plan directly affects the area, the council agreed to consider it at Tuesday's meeting.
``This is the best deal the city could get,'' a triumphant Councilman Joel Wachs said after the vote. ``We are getting 240 acres as open space and structures on only five acres of land. Ninety-eight percent of the project will be green and open. I don't know how anyone could have got a better deal on this.''
The council, which overwhelmingly rejected the same proposal in July 1997, acted after a court settlement forced members to reconsider their action.
Wachs and officials of the City Attorney's Office said refusal to approve the conditional-use permit for the course could result in legal action requiring the city to pay up to $20 million to buy the property.
Now the owners of the proposed Red Tail Golf and Equestrian Club will need to get approval from the Army Corps of Engineers.
The corps recently wrote city officials that it wanted to review changes made in the river course through the property as a result of the El Nino storms.
Red Tail spokesman Mark Armbruster downplayed the impact of that, saying engineers have estimated that the change in course involves 1.3 acres.
``We're talking about moving something 30 yards,'' Armbruster said.
But attorney William Eick, representing environmental groups opposed to the course, said the Army Corps of Engineers approval will not be easy to obtain.
``I predict there will not be one golf ball ever teed up in the Tujunga Wash,'' Eick said. ``The (El Nino) storms this year were nothing. Wait until there are fires, followed by floods. Then we'll see what happens.''
The original council opposition to the project came about through a rare coalition of unions and environmentalists, who were opposed to providing any benefit to Kajima International Inc., which holds a lien on the property. The unions are upset with Kajima's refusal to allow organizing of workers at its New Otani Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
However, Wachs said the union arguments did not carry as much weight as the potential costs to the city if it was determined that the city was not allowing the land to be developed.
``I think council members looked at the potential liability and decided it wasn't work the risk,'' he said.
David Heuber, who as president of the Foothill Golf Development Group has been working on the project for more than two years, said he has been working closely with the Army Corps of Engineers and does not expect major delays.
``In a best-case scenario, we will start construction in 1999 and be able to open in the spring of 2000,'' Heuber said.
The 10 council members voting in favor of the project were Wachs, Richard Alarcon, Hal Bernson, Laura Chick, John Ferraro, Michael Feuer, Cindy Miscikowski, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Rudy Svorinich and Rita Walters. Opposing the development were Ruth Galanter, Jackie Goldberg, Mike Hernandez and Nate Holden.
Goldberg and Galanter said they are concerned about the potential future liability if flood problems develop on the golf course or other properties. In addition, Goldberg lamented the loss of open space.
``Driving out here for today's meeting made me realize how valuable this property is,'' she said. ``We don't have enough of it in Los Angeles.''
PHOTO Some of the 400 residents at a City Council meeting in Lake View Terrace follow the proceedings.
Hans Gutknecht/Daily News