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Tuesday, Sep 26, 2023


CHRISTOPHER WOODARD Staff Reporter A plan by the L.A. Department of Water and Power to study the possible development of 1,300 acres at its empty Chatsworth Reservoir has ignited a rancorous dispute between the agency and preservationists. Opponents of development, mostly neighbors and conservation groups, say the property is home to deer, coyote, bobcats and other plants and animals and to develop it would rob the San Fernando Valley of one of its last natural spaces. Residents, working with L.A. City Councilman Hal Bernson, are pushing to have the DWP donate the land to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy at a cost of $1 a year so it can be kept as open space. But the city’s utility, led by DWP board president Rick Caruso, have held up the transfer, saying the cash-strapped department owes it to the taxpayers to at least study other options for the land. The property, unique in size in the mostly developed San Fernando Valley, may be worth as much as $50 million, Caruso said. Some of the land could be set aside as a nature preserve, but a portion of it might be earmarked for youth baseball or soccer fields or set aside for limited development, he said. “All I’m saying is before we give it away, let’s understand what we have and what kinds of uses could go on the property,” said Caruso. That suggestion, especially from Caruso a real estate developer who built the Promenade at Westlake Village and is building a similar upscale retail outlet in Calabasas touched off an angry reaction from neighbors. When Caruso’s reappointment to the Board of Water and Power Commissioners came before the L.A. City Council on Sept. 11, two dozen residents showed up to demand his ouster. The 6-4 vote in favor of Caruso’s reappointment was two short of the majority needed for a second term. However, Caruso was automatically re-appointed because it was the last day for the council to act and opponents were unable to muster the eight votes needed to win his removal. Frank Salas, an executive assistant to the DWP’s general manager, said his office is preparing to undertake a study on the reservoir that the staff intends to present to the City Council in 90 days. “What we envision is a study that will provide a look at all the options available while still preserving a pristine wildlife sanctuary,” he said. Development of part of the land will not be ruled out in the study, he said. One of the options might be to build recreational facilities, possibly even a golf course. But the thought of any development on the property, even for recreational purposes, angers Diorian Keyser, a member of a preservationist group called the Santa Susana Mountain Park Association. “We have enough golf courses and recreational facilities,” he said. “This is an incredible nature preserve that has a lot of plants and animals. It’s the last large open space in the floor of the Valley that is completely undeveloped.” Bill Allen, president of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, said as a taxpayer and a DWP ratepayer he applauds the DWP’s decision to study ways to best use the land, and he disagrees that the Valley has enough recreational facilities. “(The DWP) is looking into selling unnecessary assets to reduce their formidable debt burden,” he said. “There might be a nice opportunity to create recreational opportunities for kids.” David Fleming, chairman of the economic alliance, said in addition to setting aside land for green space, the City Council also should take into account the Valley’s need for economic expansion and jobs. Fleming is hopeful the two sides can reach a compromise. “Who knows what the possibilities are until we sit down and work it out,” he said.

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