LOS ANGELES (March 3, 2009) – In a crucial attempt to protect a densely populated Latino neighborhood in Los Angeles, today, environmental justice advocates and community residents filed an appeal in court, seeking to overturn a decision to build luxury homes on a fragile hillside in El Sereno. The development on Elephant Hill would endanger residents and strip the community of its last open space, according to experts involved in the case.
“The community of El Sereno needs parks and open spaces, not McMansions,” said Tim Grabiel, project attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Elephant Hill is a greedy project pushed forward by developers at the risk of jeopardizing the health and safety of residents and the environment.”
Four El Sereno residents and the Latino Urban Forum are represented by NRDC and Chatten-Brown & Carstens as intervenors in a lawsuit filed by Monterey Hills Investors against the City of Los Angeles in July 2007 for requiring additional environmental review of the development.
“This development is a recipe for disaster,” said James Rojas of the Latino Urban Forum. “It not only wreaks irreparable damage to the hillside and sensitive habitat areas, but seriously threatens public safety. We’ve already seen what development can to do an already unstable hillside, just look at Monterey Hills condos and the millions in liability fees paid to residents when their houses crumbled.”
At issue is 110-acre Elephant Hill, one of the last undeveloped hillsides in the region, where Monterey Hills Investors is seeking to build two dozen 3,500-square-foot houses and extensive infrastructure. Originally planned in the mid-1980s to cover 13 acres, the project footprint has since doubled in size. The developer plans to strip existing ridges down to bedrock followed by extensive fill -- on land with an underground stream and unstable geology.
“Under no circumstances should the City Council approve the building permit for this project,” said Hugo Garcia, El Sereno activist and intervenor. “Two years ago, it was a backhoe that fell into a sinkhole. What if next time, instead of heavy equipment, it’s a car with a local family and kids in the back seat? The City can’t knowingly take that risk.”
The geology of the Northeast LA hillsides makes them prone to subsidence and landslides. In 2006, workers installing fencing on Elephant Hill created a large sinkhole. In 2005, a worker was buried in a hillside slide in El Sereno.
Residents of Elephant Hill are concerned history could repeat itself if developers are allowed to cut and fill the hillside in a manner similar to what caused the Monterey Hills condos to collapse 25 years ago. The slide cost the City more than $65 million in settlement costs to 700 homeowners, but they have a new opportunity to protect the public.
“There are plenty of models for creative solutions to problems like Elephant Hill,” said Doug Carstens of Chatten-Brown & Carstens. “The Cornfield and Taylor Yard are just two examples of the City’s heroic leadership in resolving land use conflicts in a manner that benefits the entire community and affirms Los Angeles as the greenest big city in the U.S. It is time to bring this leadership to bear in El Sereno.”