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Saturday, Sep 23, 2023

A Call for L.A. River Open Space

Weddington Golf and Tennis is once again being threatened by development. This site represents the last 16 acres of unprotected open space along the L.A. River in the San Fernando Valley from Canoga Park to the 170 freeway. Enjoyed by generations of families from all over Southern California for decades, cherished by golf and tennis enthusiasts and open space lovers, and eyed by the L.A. River Revitalization community as critical to the overall improvement of the Los Angeles River, this precious space is in grave danger of being lost forever. This property in Studio City is privately owned by the Weddington family. It has been open to the public for over 50 years, but in recent years the property has repeatedly been up for sale. Over the years, multiple development plans have been proposed, none with any success. The current proposal on the table by the Weddingtons is to demolish all 16 tennis courts, replacing them with 200 senior condos in six four-story buildings with 635 parking spaces. In 1971, the Weddingtons voluntarily down-zoned the property from R3-1(Multi-residential) and R-1 (Residential) to A1-1XL (Agricultural) to substantially reduce their property taxes. A major obstacle for prospective buyers and developers has been the need to up zone the property to allow development. The all-volunteer non-profit organization Save LA River Open Space, affiliated with the Studio City Residents Association, along with groups of community activists, golf and tennis players, appeared in a huge turnout at a Sept. 8 Studio City Neighborhood Council Special Meeting. A crowd exceeding 350 with an overflow outside heard the development presentation. Attendees also included representatives from the U.S. Tennis Association Southern California, Community Conservation Solutions, Friends of the L.A. River, L.A. River Revitalization Corp., schools, tennis pros, real estate companies and many more. Opposition comments included the impacts of loss of open space, loss of tennis courts, increased traffic and noise. The proposed development would block public access to the river and to the new L.A. River Greenway Trail that runs adjacent to the golf and tennis site from Coldwater Canyon Boulevard to Whitsett Avenue. Of note, a Neighborhood Council board member stated that in her many years on the council, she had never seen a project presentation where not one person, including a large group of local seniors, spoke in support of the project. Other board members concurred with this comment. The goal of Save LA River Open Space and its supporters has been to purchase the property by seeking government funds coupled with private donations. Unfortunately, budget challenges at all government levels over the past recession has delayed this possible purchase. However, as the financial climate becomes more favorable, the goal is to purchase and pursue the creation of an alternate “green” vision for the site, the Los Angeles Natural Park . This vision includes the creation of a river-oriented park with wetlands habitat, 12 tennis courts, a driving range and a golf practice area. Additionally, a natural water treatment complex to capture polluted storm water runoff from over 200 surrounding acres, clean it before discharging it into the river, and recharge the aquifer would preserve resources and have a positive effect on climate, temperature and environment – all consistent with the L.A. River Revitalization Master Plan. This vision is well-supported by elected representatives at all levels of government and the river revitalization community. It is listed in the Draft Environmental Impact Report as Alternative D. The site promises an opportunity for unparalleled public access to the river, a key component of the river revitalization movement. Alternate D is the best use for the property with lasting benefits over the years to the overall public and our environment. This option must be considered by city planning, then by the City Council when making the proposed zone change decision. One overreaching concern of Save LA River Open Space is that up zoning will lead to the eventual development of the entire property resulting in the loss of this open space forever. In fact, this possibility is referred to in the draft environmental impact report: “Tentative Tract Map to subdivide the Project Site in order to create two functional parcels (Lots 1 and 2) for FUTURE DEVELOPMENT and management, as well as for residential condominiums on Lot 2.” Save LA River Open Space is leading the effort to purchase this property, thereby preserving this “crown jewel of Studio City” as environmentally friendly, public recreational open space in perpetuity. Laurie Cohn is a Studio City resident and vice president of Save LA River Open Space. – How to reach us GUEST OPINIONS: Op-ed pieces must be 700 to 800 words and on topics about the San Fernando Valley business community. Please submit op-ed ideas to editor@sfvbj.com.

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