Zoning Change Denied at Tuna Canyon Site

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Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition President Nancy Oda addresses a hearing of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee. Behind her are coalition board members June Aochi Berk, James Okazaki and Nancy Hayata.

RAFU STAFF REPORT

A zoning change for property that includes the site of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station was denied by city’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee on Dec. 10.

Fred Gaines, attorney for Snowball West Investments.

The matter was to be brought before the full City Council on Dec. 11.

The change had been sought by developer Snowball West Investments, which is proposing to build 215 housing units on the Tujunga site that was once the Verdugo Hills Golf Course. The zoning change would allow for higher-density development.

Opponents to the zone change included Councilmember Monica Rodriguez, who represents the area.

Paola Bassignana, speaking on behalf of Rodriguez, asked the committee to deny the zoning change, noting recent devastating wild fires and the area’s proximity to a fire hazard severity zone.

Fred Gaines, an attorney representing Snowball, noted that the City Planning Commission had unanimously approved the zoning at a hearing in May and that no appeals were filed at that time.

Liliana Sanchez, president of Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council.

“No exception, no variance. That’s the only decision in front of you. Are you going to change the plan to match the zone as is legally required or are you not? Because the politics of the day and the roar of the crowd is that you should not do that. The law is absolutely clear,” Gaines stated.

More than 60 members of the public attended the hearing, including members of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition. The group wore matching black T-shirts, to honor the late Marc Stirdivant, an advocate for open space and member of the coalition, who passed away in August.

From 1941 to 1943, more than 2,500 “enemy aliens” — Japanese, Japanese Americans, Germans, Italians and Japanese Peruvians — were detained there following Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor. They were later transferred to other camps.

“Voices long opposed this project and sought to have this site remain open space,” Claudia Culling, a board member of VOICE (Volunteers Organized in Conserving the Environment), said in a statement read by Kay Oda. “However, we very much appreciate that Snowball West has agreed to sell some of the project to MRCA (Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority) for a park.We also appreciate the city’s historic status for a small oak group on the property.”

Members of Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition at City Hall.

Donna Sugimoto, whose grandfather Shinsuke Sugimoto was an incarceree at Tuna Canyon, said, “We all know of its existence. Our ancestors and their stories deserve to be properly honored on the original site where they walked behind barbed wire.”

The TCDS Coalition issued the following statement after the City Council took up the issue:

“On Dec. 12, 2019, the Los Angeles City Council denied Snowball’s application for a zone change on the property.

“Snowball has an agreement with the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority (MRCA) that it conditioned on the city’s approval of the proposed development. That agreement was going to provide park space and a fund that would go to the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition for development of a memorial in the park. The purchase of the parkland anticipated in this agreement requires the MRCA to raise funds to purchase the park property. Not all of that funding is in place.

“At this time, we do not know what Snowball’s position will be regarding the agreement inasmuch as the city did not approve the project.

“The MRCA, VOICE and the TCDS Coalition will all be working to keep the agreement in place even though the city denied the zone change and will, of course, continue to try to negotiate an even better deal.”

Photos by MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo

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