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An Update on the La Vina Trail Access Lawsuits

Marietta Kruells, one of the litigants in restoring trail access to La Vina, provides an update.

Editor's note: Since 2005 there have been three lawsuits filed over restoring public access to land and trail areas surrounding the La Vina development in northwest Altadena.  One of the lawsuits, brought by county officials against the neighborhood association was resolved in favor of the county, though details of the settlement are still being worked out.

We asked Marietta Kruells, one of the other litigants, for an update on her case, and she explains here why she is still going forward with the suit even though the county was successful in its case.

From Marietta: This is my memory of a process that I have actively participated in from the beginning.    The long saga of the La Vina development continues to slowly grind along. 

Since its inception back in the '80's, many Altadenans participated in the ritual of Environmental Impact Reports.  This was part of the CEQA process which was further complicated by the fact that much of the 200 acre+ property was in the National Forest boundaries containing blueline streams, rolling hills, stately oaks and historic public access. 

This coupled with other zoning issues allowed this bucolic hillside to build 29 homes.  In order to swell the number to 271 homes and a private school, the developer had to address many issues including quality of life for not just the development but the surrounding community and ultimately for the environment.  These became part of the conditions of approval and permeated every aspect of the development's history, documents and obligations.  

Over time, construction created partial closures for "safety" reasons but for those who participated in this process there has never been any doubt that, when the dust cleared and the development built, the public hiking and equestrian trails would be there as promised, and further, the open space that horseshoes around the development would be safely tucked into the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) or the USFS for the enjoyment of the public. 

When it became clear that no amount of community effort would achieve that goal, I decided to seek legal advice and file a lawsuit to address these issues.   The County's lawsuit only addressed a truncated version of these trail obligations and, although the County won its lawsuit in court and later through appeal, the actual trail layout continues to be wrangled over. 

There is an additional trial scheduled to start in October to resolve the two remaining lawsuits against La Vina, mine and one by the Save the Altadena Trails (STAT) organization.  The community and the developer worked a long time on all of these public access issues and this is what Judge Devanon will be addressing in the fall.   

Many of my friends in the community will be applauding as they read this, especially those with whom I hiked, rode and stood in the trenches, but I have learned to temper my enjoyment.  Time marches on and I, now, have many loved ones and good friends that live in La Vina. 

Since they did not participate in the history of this development, they have been thunderstruck by all of this.  It has been an uneasy realization as the facts of the development have unfolded.  I caution all to tread lightly and only remember the facts as they are.  There is no need to inflame this situation any further and I ask my friends from the days of Friends of La Vina, and you know who you are, to respect my request.  Stay tuned...

Steve Lamb February 12, 2011 at 03:38 PM
It seems there is nothing conditional in a Conditional Use Permit (If you are a major developer who has made campaign donations..Its certainly all mandatory for people like Danny's Farm...). The LAVina Developers were required to maintain access through the property to the Angeles Forest and rebuild long extant trails in order to get approval for their project. This was because so many Altadenas had proscriptive easement rights across the property. The County and Developer repeatedly in public hearings and before the courts in the Friends of LaVina lawsuit represented that these trails would be built, that access would be through the project and that a ring of land around the project would be donated to a conservancy
Steve Lamb February 12, 2011 at 03:42 PM
But "Somehow" the County of Los Angeles just failed to remember to enforce these conditions. Just a mistake, everyone forgot, look away dont worry we will give you a trail to the forest nearby...We just forgot....They could not have just forgotten. Supervisor Antonovich got letters from myself, Camille Dudley, and others on this issue throughout the building of the development. So now in order to get the trails access and the trails that were the major reasons this hideous project was imposed upon our community, community members are burdened with suing. This is outrageously unjust.
michele Zack February 12, 2011 at 06:57 PM
We all owe Marietta (and STAT) a debt of gratitude for being the public memory, and acting to hold the developers accountable for promises they made to this community in order to get the go-ahead to build La Vina. These promises we accepted in good faith. Although the County won its lawsuit to have a VERY LIMITED version of what was promised delivered, even now La Vina's HOA has failed to show good faith to community to which they belong — as they wrangle and wiggle to do the least possible by offering inferior trail routes to those that Altadenans have enjoyed since the 19th century. So let's just go back to the clear public record and require that La Vina fulfill all of the obligations of its Special Use Permit. It's so simple — and fair to all parties.
Steve Lamb February 12, 2011 at 07:37 PM
Michele- Yes totally reasonable and fair. Not what the LaVina HOA and the County have in mind, however.
Lori Paul February 13, 2011 at 06:51 PM
The time, effort and money that individuals have been forced to spend on "healing the wound" created by a gated subdivision, which was built on top of beautiful habitat once favored by the USFS for a new Angeles Forest District Office, is regrettable, but necessary. 29 homes ballooned by "zoning variance" in that project to 271. That outrageous circumvention of good land use planning has been forgotten by many. Of course, Altadena was expected to shrug and "move on" without the promised 108 acres of open space as mitigation for the destroyed oaks and chaparral, without the promised school, without the new fire station upgrade, and with public access to the Millard Cyn trail blocked by "No Trespassing" private property signs. Failure to restore the historic Altadena Crest Trail around the development is unacceptable. Without the stubborn courage of Marietta & STAT, along with the County's after-the-fact lawsuit made necessary by an intransigent HOA that refused to work with this community, Altadena would be left with no public trail across the "La Vina Gap" and less public open space. Years have passed. It is now time to restore the Altadena Crest Trail around the perimeter of the La Vina development.
Lori Paul February 13, 2011 at 06:55 PM
My husband and I were at the post-judgement mtg with the current HOA, County & Sapphos Environmental. At that mtg the County said the east side trail would be built as originally approved on the La Vina tract map. That's fair, since that trail went thru a rigorous CEQA process. Only a few adjustments for oaks or eroding slopes would be made. The Altadena Crest Trail Restoration Working Group (ACTRWG) steering committee has waited literally years to walk that tract map route with County Parks & Rec. Instead, it appears only the La Vina HOA, who lost the case, has been out there having a say about the trail on the ground, which appears to be rerouted significantly away from the approved tract map. Why would the County bargain with the losers of the case and not also walk the proposed trail with Altadena trail constituents? Also, why has a private citizen had to sue to get the promised 108 acres of mitigation open space transferred and protected in perpetuity for Altadena by the Santa Monica Mts Conservancy, who has prior claim to that land? Altadena has won, but not won. La Vina residents are our neighbors, we can certainly work together; however, Altadena should not accept the short end of the stick. This is not about the nice folks living in those homes now. This is about fairness, fulfilling the court judgement, and keeping commitments made to the public for trails and public open space in this park-poor community.
Bev A Huntsberger February 14, 2011 at 01:25 AM
I agree with Marietta, Steve, Michele and Lori. I want to add that after 10 years working on Altadena Trails issues as well as many other community activities, I am convinced that L. A. County government is too big to care a twit about us. Beyond simple benign neglect, the individuals in there often make things worse. Sending the worst representatives into our community, time and again, they actually created more antagonism between neighbors, when we probably would have solved these problems by now, if not for their so-called help. I have such bad memories of hours of meetings, where neighbors tried to find a way forward, only to be frustrated by the obnoxious, entrenched attitudes of indifference, superiority and contempt from people getting fat salaries from the rest of us! I watched the few decent County employees get run off by those who remain - the very same ones who caused and created the problems. The rest of the world seems to know how to restore democracy through peaceful protest. Might we also someday learn how to create a responsible County government? We need to elect supervisors who believe government can work for the voters.
Steve Lamb February 14, 2011 at 04:18 PM
Dr. Paul- No La Vina residents are NOT our neighbors. They are clearly NOT a part of our community. They have no intention to honor the obligations that allowed their hideous homes to be built. They are thieves, plain and simple. As long as they insist upon haviong their ill gotten gains they can never be a part of our community and never be consider other than thieves and invaders. ruffians, pirates, highwaymen, but NOT NEIGHBORS. Bev- The answer for Altadena, the only way to ever be treated as free women and men is the revolution of cityhood. Otherwise we will be stuck with people like Takada who think and act like they are regents of the Emperor.
Leslie Aitken February 14, 2011 at 05:37 PM
Wow.....I wonder how I would feel if I were a person who innocently thought that I was buying a home in a gated community.....only to find out that I would later be labeled "thieves and invaders. ruffians, pirates, highwaymen, but NOT NEIGHBORS." Gee Steve, you definitely have a flair for high drama!! Most of the people who live there had NOTHING to do with allowing what you call their "hideous" homes to be built.........they just bought them after they were built, because of the price and the fact that they are in a gated community. Most of them had nothing to do with the trail arrangements, those were made by the developers who were involved. I don't know what is to be gained by alienating a group .......EVER.
S. Roja July 18, 2011 at 01:49 AM
Curious to know if anybody knows anything about the developer's plan to build 20 more homes (attached homes?) on the lot of the school that was promised and cited in the Environmental Impact Report prior to construction of La Vina? Is this something that the developer can do and change the original plans? Shouldn't folks be given notice/more information about this besides those in La Vina?
Steve Lamb July 18, 2011 at 01:13 PM
S. Roja- the plan always included the possibility of up to 35 homes if the school was not built. Of course the entire Altadena community was promised the school would absolutely happen, blah blah blah. Then the developer went to tremendous lengths to discourage every single school operator, and the HOA has declared they ONLY WANT A SCHOOL if it ONLY services LaVina kids and no outsiders. (OH if the rest of the community could only do that with 5 acres and the Sycamores!) SO between the lust for profits and exclusivity, I expect the extra dwellings will be built and not a school. Of course NO PROMISE ever made by a developer to this community is EVER upheld.
SteveB July 18, 2011 at 06:11 PM
Here's a 1988 LA times article which mentions the school at the end of the article - at the time, it was proposed that the site be a new home for the Ribet Academy. http://articles.latimes.com/1988-07-24/news/ga-10308_1_la-vina-plans
Steve Lamb July 18, 2011 at 06:13 PM
Yep.
Steve Lamb July 18, 2011 at 06:20 PM
But who was that Alla person? I attended ALL the public hearings on this issue. The possibility of converting the school site to residential was NEVER raised until the last hearing in front of the BoS and Andrew Oliver more or less whispered it and then went on to say that it would not happen and the school would be built. It only appeared in the very last draft of the EIR and it was actually SUGGESTED BY ANTONOVICH'S OFFICE to the developers (the documentation exists in the Friends of LaVina files in the Altadena Historical society- I xeroxed the original in discovery two years before it entered a EIR) In case the school didnt go through. What we have to understand is that all the dense developments proposed by Cantwell-Anderson and others later were in response to costs inposed by the County. originally C-A wanted to do 60 ranchette's there but it was the COUNTY CODE that drove the size of the project, NOT the developers.
Steve Lamb July 18, 2011 at 06:22 PM
And since the project was built I have had many many long conversations with both Mr. Anderson and Mr. Cantwell. They statrted off owning a piece of land they wanted to do a very sensitive development on. IT WAS THE COUNTY, who write the regulations that drove the numbers. It's also the COunty who gets a lot more money out of 272, or 303 units than it does out of 60...
Peter Jones July 19, 2011 at 11:05 PM
You know honestly, everybody on this blog sounds like a bunch of crying babies. There are thousands of trials. Go hike one that doesn't have a house on it. Then when you're up there, go eat your wheat grass, smoke your erb and opine on how smart you all are. Really? Really? Proscriptive easements??? If every piece of land that someone walked on throughout history had a proscriptive easement written on it, we would have a single piece of developed land. I'm sure somewhere at some time, some native indian walked right through one of your backyards, but you see them suing you!!!!! Get over it, move on with your other hobbies and just generally F-OFF!
Steve Lamb July 20, 2011 at 12:02 AM
Dear Peter: those houses only exist because there was a trade made. The trade was the public keeps one of its three 100 year old major access points tot he forest and the developer gets to build his insanely overly dense development. Now what do you call it when someone makes a deal, takes delivery of his portion of goods and then doesnt pay? In normal life thats called THEFT, and one isn't a cry baby fpor not getting what is owed, one is a person who has been done wrong to. Are you one of the Squatters sitting in one of the homes that has never paid the public what was owed them in order for it to be created? Are you even an Altadenan? And BTW- sorry you dont like the California Proscriptive easement LAW, but it is the law, GO F YOURSELF.

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