Despite the mayor's insistence that inner-city residents want — and need — denser housing developments in their neighborhoods, the locals in one Northeast Los Angeles neighborhood shut down a monstrous housing wart planned for the top of a picturesque hill in their area. In it's place, they're getting 20 acres of open space.

Local activists helped to shut down a 24-house luxury development on the top of Elephant Hill in El Sereno by pushing for an extra environmental review report. The developer, Monterey Hills Investors, sued the city over the extra EIR requirment, but it backfired: A settlement just approved by the city council means the hill remains unblemished and the city gets control of 20 acres of open space.

“After a long and hard fought struggle, the residents of this community have been afforded the environmental protections that are rightfully theirs,” community organizer Elva Yañez said. “We are pleased that this poorly planned project is not moving forward and environmental justice has prevailed.”

The deal flies in the face of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's vision for development in Los Angeles. He has always said more housing, denser buildings and mixed-use (retail) projects, especially if they're built near transit, are better for L.A.'s inner-city needs (and, likely, for his campaign contributors' needs as well). But in this case, the push back from El Sereno residents, who wanted the last open hill in the area preserved, was too much for development interests to overcome.

Councilman and Villaraigosa ally Jose Huizar took up the cause and helped to put the EIR stop sticks under this low speed chase (the development was first planned in 1984) after residents complained that what was slated for 15 acres suspiciously became a 26-acre project.

“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, an attorney for residents allied against the project. “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 playground for all time.”

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