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Verdugo Hills Golf course deal reached

Compromise will preserve grove of oaks at site of Tuna Canyon detention facility.

June 21, 2013|By Daniel Siegal, daniel.siegal@latimes.com
  • In 1933, a Civilian Conservation Corps camp, named "Tuna Camp," opened for nearby La Tuna Canyon. On Dec. 8, 1941, the camp was commandeered by the Dept. of Immigration to serve as a detention area for "enemy aliens." Prisoners, mostly civic leaders, members of the clergy, teachers and martial arts instructors from the Japanese-American communities of Los Angeles, were placed in the camp beginning on Dec. 16, 1941. Los Angeles City Councilmembers said they plan to vote on Tuesday, June 25, 2013, to grant historic designation to a grove of oak trees that has stood on the property since the detention center was there.
In 1933, a Civilian Conservation Corps camp, named "Tuna… (File Photo )

An effort to designate the Verdugo Hills Golf Course as historically significant — a move that could have blocked a planned residential development on the site — is moving forward with a compromise that will see only a small portion of the property preserved.

More than 50 red-shirted advocates for approving the site's historic status came to the Los Angeles City Council meeting on Friday.

Some of them were Sunland-Tujunga locals who live near the golf course, while others were descendants of Japanese Americans who had been interned at the Tuna Canyon Detention Station, which was located on the site during World War II.

Councilmembers said they plan to vote on Tuesday to grant historic designation to a grove of oak trees that has stood on the property since the detention center was there. They tabled the matter so that the specific boundaries of the grove can be delineated.

The city's Cultural Heritage Commission voted unanimously in April not to recommend any part of the site be made a historic-cultural monument because of a lack of original structures remaining on the property.

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However, a compromise was reached with the city's Planning Land Use and Management committee.

There, a working group was established to determine the best way to memorialize the internment camp. The group includes representatives from developer Snowball West, local stakeholders and Councilman Richard Alarcon, who initiated the application for historic designation.

Alarcon proposed starting the historic preservation evaluation process after a series of moves by local residents —— including attempts to rezone the property or purchase it — in an effort to stop the residential development on the golf course, which is considered a Crescenta Valley resource.

After the meeting, Krystee Clark, a member of the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council, said she wished the cooperative solution could have been pursued from the outset.

However, she was glad the internment center will be memorialized even if the residential development on the site wasn't halted.

"Well, it's not really about the golf course," she said. "It's about making sure the area is preserved in a way that satisfies the Japanese American community."

Attorney Fred Gaines, who has represented the property owners in the process, said he was disappointed in the city's process, which he felt kept the developer in the dark.

He confirmed that work on the development will likely continue and added that the developer was already planning to set aside the oak grove for some sort of memorial.

Details about the memorial will be discussed at the next meeting of the working group on Wednesday.

Nancy Kyoko Oda of the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center said she plans to attend the meeting to push for swift resolution of the issue so the site is commemorated quickly and can be seen by those who were impacted decades ago by the detention center.

"I believe that they need to make a decision so we can move forward, because many of the people who were affected by Tuna Canyon Detention Center are very old," she said. "Once it's firmed up, I can tell the ancestors of ours that they can rest in peace."

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Follow Daniel Siegal on Google+ and on Twitter: @Daniel_Siegal.

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