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Settlement Puts an End to Controversial Elephant Hill Development in Los Angeles

by Elva Yanez Friday, Nov. 06, 2009 at 7:33 AM

Settlement between City of LA and Monterey Hills Investors LLC puts an end to the controversial residential development of 24 luxury homes on Elephant Hill in the community of El Sereno in Los Angeles.

Settlement Puts an E...
elephant_hill_east_view_2.jpg, image/jpeg, 1818x1228

Los Angeles (Nov. 3, 2009) -- The Los Angeles City Council approved a legal settlement that puts an end to the controversial development of 24 luxury homes in El Sereno’s Elephant Hill. As a result of the settlement, the City will acquire approximately 20 acres of hillside open space in this low-income community located in Northeast LA. The agreement resulted from a lawsuit filed against the City by developer Monterey Hills Investors after the Council required additional environmental review of the project before it would issue building permits.

Elephant Hill is the largest undeveloped hillside remaining in Northeast LA. Located on the border with South Pasadena, the110-acre area commonly known as Elephant Hill is geographically part of the Repetto Hills, a low but steep range that extends from the LA River to the Montebello Hills.

“After a long and hard fought struggle, the residents of this community have been afforded the environmental protections that are rightfully theirs,” said Elva Yañez, the El Sereno resident who organized the coalition that waged the campaign to secure additional environmental review of the project. “We are pleased that this poorly planned project is not moving forward and environmental justice has prevailed.”

“The community of El Sereno is grateful that Councilmember José Huizar championed residents’ public safety and environmental concerns related to this development,” said Hugo Garcia, president of the LA-32 Neighborhood Council, referring to a sinkhole that enveloped workers in a backhoe on the site in April 2006. In 2007, under Huizar’s leadership, the City Council engaged in a 10-month examination of this complex land use matter and then required the developer to undertake additional environmental review.

The settlement is the latest development in a saga that began in 1984 when this development was first proposed by the previous owner. Over the intervening years, resident opposition grew; concerns included unstable geology, an underground stream and other environmental impacts that were not addressed in the original environmental impact report (EIR). More recently, environmental agencies, community-based organizations and environmental justice organizations extended their support to the residents.

“This settlement vindicates the residents and organizations that called for equal environmental protections under the law when it became known that this project had unlawfully expanded from 15 to 26 acres—post-final approval, without further review” said Doug Carstens of Chatten Brown & Carstens. “I look forward to the day when kids from everywhere can play together in the open space that is created through this settlement and what has been a battleground up to now turns into a natural playground for all time.” Carstens’ law firm and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) represent four El Sereno residents and the Latino Urban Forum as third party intervenors in the lawsuit filed by Monterey Hills Investors against the City of Los Angeles after the Council required the supplemental EIR.

Had it not been for the determination of these residents, the leadership of Councilmember Huizar and the courage of the City Council, a vastly expanded development would have wrecked extensive environmental havoc on this hillside and the surrounding neighborhoods. NRDC attorney Dave Pettit said, “Collective efforts of residents, community-based organizations and elected officials to protect public safety and require developer accountability succeeded in preserving one of LA’s few remaining open spaces benefiting public health and the environment for years to come.”

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