The Verdugo Mountains Controversy: Luxury Homes vs. Nature’s Sanctuary!

October 2, 2023
2 mins read
Verdugo Mountains

‘Canyon Hills’ is not just a proposed luxury gated community; it’s a looming shadow over 300 acres of the pristine Verdugo Mountains in Sunland-Tujunga. With 276 lots in the blueprint, the project’s vastness is evident, with some residential lots sprawling over 55,872 Sq.Ft. Flashback to 2003, a private developer envisioned ‘Canyon Hills’, and by 2005, the L.A. City Council gave it a nod. Yet, for 16 years, the project lay dormant, perhaps nature’s way of breathing a sigh of relief.

But the winds changed when the developer recently applied for a grading permit, hinting at the dawn of construction. The grading plan? A staggering relocation of approximately 3,998,100 CY of earth. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, in a heartfelt plea in May 2023, stated, “The very soul of the Verdugo Mountains ecosystem is on the line.” NO CANYON HILLS, a beacon of hope, has unveiled the rich biodiversity of the project site, identifying over 350 species.

Among these, the Southern CA Rufous-crowned Sparrow flutters, its existence hanging by a thread. Verdugo Mountains, a green gem at the northeastern edge of the San Fernando Valley, is a mosaic of chaparral vegetation, oak woodland, and coastal sage scrub. The ‘Canyon Hills’ site is alive with streams, each a lifeline for diverse wildlife. Nature’s palette here includes black sage, California lilacs, and towering trees like western sycamore. NO CANYON HILLS’ discoveries shine a spotlight on special status plants like Davidson’s bush-mallow.

A petition, a clarion call for environmental justice, emerged on February 11, 2023. The petition, a collective outcry, delves into the environmental concerns that have haunted the project since 2005. Whitebird Inc., the developer, seems to be racing against time, with ambitions to kickstart construction. But at what cost? Grading scenic hillsides, altering ridge-lines, paving over mountain streams, and felling ancient Coast Live Oak trees.

Nature’s defenders, botanists, and wildlife advocates have rallied, amassing over 5,000 signatures in a fortnight. The 2003 Environmental Impact Report (EIR) now feels like a relic, especially with recent evidence of mountain lions in the Verdugos. Nature’s whispers have been loud and clear, with sightings of mountain lions and bears. Memories of the 2017 La Tuna Canyon Fire, which scarred over seven thousand acres, serve as a grim reminder.

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The project isn’t just about land; it’s about the sacred Fernandeño Tataviam and Gabrieleno Tongva ancestral land. The GoFundMe campaign, “NO Canyon Hills: Save the Verdugo Mountains”, is a testament to collective will, raising over $13,004. The campaign is a rallying cry against the outdated EIR and the looming threat to wildlife. Organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity have joined the chorus, amplifying the campaign’s voice.

The funds are a war chest for NO Canyon Hills, aiding their legal crusade under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Carstens, Black & Minteer LLP, champions of environmental and land use law, stand with the opposition. NO CANYON HILLS’ website is a clarion call, emphasizing the Verdugo Mountains’ ecological significance. The organization’s plea is clear: donate, demand a fresh EIR, amplify the message, and champion land conservation.

The ‘Canyon Hills‘ site is more than just land; it’s the unceded territory of the Fernandeño Tataviam and Gabrieleno Tongva Band of Mission Indians. The Verdugos, despite history’s trials, remain a vibrant ecosystem, home to the majestic mountain lion, #LaTunaPuma. This region, a symphony of life forms, stands at a crossroads.

In an era marred by biodiversity loss and climate upheavals, Emma Kemp’s voice resonates with urgency. Kemp, with unwavering conviction, states that ‘Canyon Hills‘ seems out of step with the city’s environmental ethos. She paints a vivid picture of the impending devastation, displacing countless animals and endangering residents. Kemp’s concern is palpable as she speaks of the single access route in a high fire risk zone. Memories of the LaTuna fire serve as a grim backdrop to her narrative.

While the developer’s attorney sees reduced fire risks, Kemp and her team demand a fresh environmental survey. Kemp’s retort to the attorney is poignant: “Once you start cutting these trees, destroying this habitat, it’s gone forever.” Kemp’s spirit is unyielding; she and her team are ready for a legal battle to ensure a comprehensive environmental review. Her dream? A Verdugo Mountains untouched, preserved, and celebrated for its unparalleled beauty. This isn’t just a fight for land; it’s a crusade for legacy, life, and a deep-rooted love for the environment.

Govind Tekale

Embarking on a new journey post-retirement, Govind, once a dedicated teacher, has transformed his enduring passion for current affairs and general knowledge into a conduit for expression through writing. His historical love affair with reading, which borders on addiction, has evolved into a medium to articulate his thoughts and disseminate vital information. Govind pens down his insights on a myriad of crucial topics, including the environment, wildlife, energy, sustainability, and health, weaving through every aspect that is quintessential for both our existence and that of our planet. His writings not only mirror his profound understanding and curiosity but also serve as a valuable resource, offering a deep dive into issues that are critical to our collective future and well-being.

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