By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Driving up the 210 from the Eastside to Lakeview Terrace, you get that suddenly-I'm-lost anxiety. Just where am I? And just where is this place? The foothills between La Canada and Tujunga Wash seem as grand, vacant and imposing as any mountain range. Thanks to El Nino, they're still wearing that late Southern California spring green, shot with the bronze and purple highlights of wildflowers.
All this within our city's widespread limits? Even the house-studded Verdugo Hills around Tujunga (for all their sinister name - meaning "executioner") were paradisiacal in their April green. But a few more miles down the freeway, the politics of the long-stalled Red Tail golf course in the Tujunga Wash were all too down-to-earth.
As you may recall, the City Council last July voted 10-4 to shelve the 400-acre east Valley project. Ecological considerations were the given reasons; another was the vivid opposition to the project by Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Union Local 11. No, this had nothing to do with Local 11's protesting future plans to use nonunion cooks and waiters at the Red Tail's 19th Hole. What drove the union was a simmering feud with Japan's Kajima Corp., with which it's been brawling over the organization of the New Otani Hotel staff since what feels like the first Roosevelt administration. Although the local's leadership professed last year that their opposition to the golf course was on behalf of the environment, Kajima has a lien on Red Tail. So, just as the local opposed another Kajima project, the Belmont Learning Complex, blocking Red Tail meant striking a blow at Kajima. Which injury Kajima sustained when the council turned the project down July 22.
As sometimes happens, however, things bounce back. Last week the council - convening in one of its peculiar field-trip hearings at the Lakeview Terrace Recreation Center - again voted on the golf course, and again the vote was 10-4. But this time, it voted the other way - for approval.
Now, as potential ecological disasters go, Red Tail looks like a good project. After much patient negotiation via the offices of Council Member Joel Wachs, the actual size of the course was reduced to 160 acres. It is to be surrounded by a 242-acre nature habitat with trails for walking and riding. The rare and endangered slender horn spine flower gets a special reservation area of its own, in the middle of the other preserve. Remains of an ancient Native America village will get saved. Nearly 80 other conditions were met by the developers.
Opponents, however, say that the Tujunga Wash's near-natural state would be ravaged by turning so much of it into fairways and sand traps. Also questioned was what the tons of pesticides and chemical plant foods needed to nurture the course's sod might do to the life of the surrounding preserve. These are key environmental questions, and since the Tujunga Wash represents so substantial a chunk of Los Angeles' remaining natural landscape, you might have expected to hear some Sierra Club members at the meeting, making a protest. Of course, Tujunga is pretty far from the Westside, so maybe they got lost. Come to think of it, even the officials of that nature-loving old Local 11 didn't say anything this time around.
It's all moot, now. Unless the Army Corps of Engineers files a late objection (because heavy rains have changed the course of the local stream since the site plan was originally drawn up), golf has come from behind to win the day.
Here's how that happened: Late last summer, the developers responded to the council rejection by filing a $215 million illegal-taking claim against the city for denying their right to develop. Then the developers won the first round in court. So the city attorney and council - recalling the $4 million loss the city sustained in the similar Warner Ridge case - began to chicken out. Another factor in the switcheroo was the likelihood that if the developer's plans were rejected, the wash's next developer might not be so ecologically friendly. A further goad was that, unlike last July, the majority of the public present at the April Lakeview Terrace meeting was strongly pro-golf course.
You had to be there to appreciate just what created so much fresh local support for the project. It certainly wasn't a sudden local vogue for golf. I may have missed something, but I don't recall any proponent's saying he or she wanted Red Tail built because it would make it easier to tee up. In fact, many of the proponents, far from being golfers, belonged to the local horsy set (the meeting site was surrounded by public corrals, and in slow moments, your attention was called away by the sight of all those handsome fillies, flicking flies with their tails).
It didn't take long to get the drift: The local gentry were boosting the project, not despite the damage it would do to the wash, but because of it. Red Tail would indeed eradicate much of Tujunga's present wilderness. And this was okay with them, because those scrublands, in addition to accommodating lots of birds and wild animals, are now habitat for a number of homeless individuals, of whom the equestrians are seriously frightened.