A developer got fined $6 million for blocking a hiking trail

With its striking “skull rock”, wildflowers in bloom, and panoramic views of the Pacific coast and distant skyscrapers, the Temescal Canyon Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in the world. Favorite in Los Angeles.

Far less beloved, however, is a sleazy trailhead establishment nestled among multimillion-dollar homes in the Palisades Highlands neighborhood. Privately owned, the 12-car parking lot is popular with locals for its scribbled poop and bathrooms, locked and untaxed gates.

Now, after years of complaints, the California Coastal Commission has fined the website developer, Headland Properties Inc., with a hefty $6 million fine.

Commission Chairwoman Donne Brownsey said recently: “It is a disgrace in a civilized country that property owners expect members of the public and their children to experience the worst possible outcomes. there.

The action, taken at a committee meeting last week, follows a complicated history of lead ownership, as well as multiple failed attempts to move assets to the city. During that time, the commissioners said, Headland violated the access rights of countless hikers seeking enjoyment in the Santa Monica mountains.

The commission’s chief executive, Jack Ainsworth, said: “This is a very serious breach and the public has been deprived of a trace of it for many years. “It will only be for the lucky ones who can afford to live in this place.”

While property owners have benefited from the privatization of the coast, the burden is “disproportionately borne by low-income, minority and disabled communities”, the analyst said. enforcement Heather Johnston told committee members.

To protect his company, Chief Executive Edward Miller told the commissioners that the problems were the result of disorganized tax storage and misplaced records. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company – now Headland’s parent company – owns hundreds of properties and simply cannot keep track of them all, he said. They do not know that the leading property has even defaulted.

Miller told the commissioners: “There are still parcels here that we have no clue where they are. “Sometimes they’re sold for taxes and sometimes they’re here lying wild.”

The facility’s troubled history dates back to the 1970s, when Headland Properties asked for permission to build more than 2,000 homes in the undisturbed wilderness next to Topanga State Park, according to Coastal Commission employees. . At that time, the coastal government asked the developer to preserve thousands of acres of land for open space.

They also asked them to create and maintain a first facility for public access to the Temescal Canyon trails, with the request that they eventually turn the facility over to the city or a nonprofit organization designated by the government. approved by the coastal commission.

In 1995, the city agreed to take over the parking lot and toilets, but a smudged notary seal got in the way. The county records office deemed it invalid and did not record the transfer.

Although Headland was notified of the stamp issue, they stopped paying property taxes and handed the keys to the city, beginning to maintain the facilities for public use.

The property defaulted in 2000 and was eventually sold to a buyer, who quickly recognized it as a public property and reversed the sale.

Headland Properties claims they tried to give it back to the city in 2001, but the transaction was not recorded. Coastal Commission enforcement officers said Headland actually attempted to give the property to the neighborhood’s homeowners association.

Headland eventually transferred the property to one of its affiliates in 2010, essentially maintaining ownership under a different name. But the company still doesn’t pay taxes on it.

When it fell into tax default again in 2013, it was acquired by 1205-1207 Wooster Street LLC and completely locked down at one point.

Three years later, Wooster reopened the parking lot after Coastal Commission enforcement officers said it violated the Coastal Act.

But by 2021, still unable to use the property he paid for $350,000, Wooster filed a lawsuit against the city and county of Los Angeles, California and Headland.

At its meeting last week, the Coastal Commission unanimously approved a cease-and-desist order and administrative penalties against the Headland development company at the request of its employees.

The penalty includes a $6 million fine, with the option to reduce it to $5 million if Headland takes immediate action to make amends, including paying for the cleaning and restoration of the restrooms and creating conditions for transferring assets to the city as original. Must do. The money will be used for coastal restoration projects.

Wooster’s role was not mentioned at the hearing, as it cooperated in trying to find a solution with the Coastal Commission, the enforcement officer said. Lawyers for the company said they are in the process of negotiating to settle the case with commissions, but that no other parties are involved.

“I consider this… one of the most serious violations I have witnessed during my time on the commission,” said Commissioner Caryl Hart. “The idea is that Headland can’t tell what’s going on while simultaneously making over $300,000 in profits, it’s clear to me… what they’re doing is on purpose.”

Community members said they were eager for a solution to the problem.

“It was absolutely essential because it is one of the main entrances into the Santa Monica Mountains,” said Temescal Canyon Assn. President Gilbert Dembo. “There are many trails in the Highlands – this is not the only one – but this one has baths. When you have thousands of hikers in the mountains, you need facilities.”

On a recent visit to the trailhead, a reporter found the parking lot open, though only one of the facility’s two graffiti bathrooms was unlocked. On the floor lay a blanket full of human debris and waste.

Less than a quarter of a mile away, up an inverted fire path, the Temescal Canyon Trail begins. Surrounding the path are drought-tolerant California sage, whose small fragrant white flowers have earned it the nickname “cowboy perfume,” and small manzanita plants with skin-colored oval leaves. Occasionally, obnoxious yucca stalks pop out from the asterisk sword-shaped leaves.

Hikers Brian and Tobi Coughlin hiked along the trail, which they visit weekly.

“It’s a way to think about the work I’m doing without staring at the computer,” says Brian Coughlin, a 60-year-old documentary filmmaker. “It’s a great road, it changes every year.”

Tobi Coughlin said: “It is rewarding to be out here. “It’s great for mental health and physical health.”

While hiking earlier that week, the husband and wife took a picture of a lynx.

Two people said they knew about the trails in the vicinity of the Palisades Highlands but had never used the bathrooms because they were damaged. They were disappointed to hear its return story.

“It didn’t sit well with the community, people wanted to have access to the trailhead,” Brian Coughlin said.

https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2022-05-18/a-developer-got-fined-6-million-for-blocking-a-hiking-trail A developer got fined $6 million for blocking a hiking trail

Edmund DeMarche

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