MT. OLYMPUS AREA ACQUISITION FEASIBILITY REPORT
Prepared by People for Parks for the
December 30, 2003
This report recommends the acquisition and preservation of three important related properties close to downtown Los Angeles in the Mt. Olympus Area:
1. Mt. Olympus II (also called Flattop Mountain)
2. Paradise Hill
3. Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) Rose Hills Property
Under a grant from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, People for Parks has conducted a six-month feasibility study to develop an action plan leading to acquisition and utilization of this unique urban natural area, some of the last remaining natural lands available in downtown Los Angeles. Together these three properties would preserve nearly 150 acres of beautiful green space located in the midst of a fully urbanized area. The conclusion of this study is that these lands are a natural historical treasure that should be preserved for the community and the future of Los Angeles.
They have long been oases for residents and places where the neighbors from diverse ethnic groups and backgrounds can come together to enjoy the natural environment, but access has been limited because they are primarily private property.
The subject area contains many species of wildlife and hundreds of mature trees, including walnut woodlands, as well as grassland and other vegetation, which provide cooling breezes and oxygen in an area with poor air quality. The area has a tremendous positive impact on thousands of children attending the three elementary schools that are within a few blocks of this area. These children need space to think creatively, to play and to get away from the sensory overload of intense urban landscapes. According to recent census data, 27% of the local children live in poverty. Families in the nearby neighborhoods could use this open space to escape crowded apartments. In addition, some of the land is within walking distance of a Gold Line Station and numerous bus lines serve the entire area, so it will be readily accessible to the region via public transit.
The land provides nearly 360º breathtaking views of downtown Los Angeles, Century City, Long Beach, Griffith Park, the confluence of the Arroyo Seco and Los Angeles River watersheds, and many mountains, including the Santa Monicas, the San Gabriels, the Hollywood Hills, etc. On a clear day you can see both Mt. Baldy and Catalina. It is also a key aspect of the viewshed from the Arroyo Seco Parkway (110), I-5 and numerous arterial roadways, as well as the neighborhoods of Mt. Washington, Highland Park, Sycamore Grove, Lincoln Heights, and Cypress Park.
Since the land is adjacent to Debs Park and the Arroyo Seco Park, it has the potential to expand the Arroyo Seco wildlife corridor and passive trail systems. It is also a key link in the Rim of the Valley corridor.
The overall rating is 32 out of a possible 44 points, based on the eleven value categories recognized by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.
A representative of the International Church of the Four Square Gospel, which owns 45 key acres on the top of Mt. Olympus, has indicated an interest in preserving the property as a natural park. The key 30 acres of Paradise Hill have been placed the 30 acre parcel on the market as of November 1, 2003, listed at $8 million. The 300 other parcels are held by numerous property owners, some of which are likely to be willing sellers, others not.
SUMMARY OF THE THREE AREAS
1. Mt. Olympus II, also known as Flattop, is an approximately 100 acre mountain comprised of over contiguous 300 parcels that are currently vacant land. They abut a portion of Mt. Olympus I (9 acres) that was purchased as a neighborhood nature park with Proposition K funds by the City of Los Angeles and is managed by the City Department of Recreation and Parks. Mt. Olympus I is the western most “finger” shown in the above map (extending nearly to the Hillside School).
The top of the mountain, which is owned by the International Church of the Four Square Gospel, has a separate locked gate at 1040 Montecito Drive that leads only to three radio station towers and caretaker's house in a fenced-in area with about eight acres. The Church owns 37 additional acres which slope down to the streets on the east and west of the mountain. Conversations with Brent Morgan, CFO of the Church, have indicated an interest in preserving the property as a natural park. He is interested in meeting in January to discuss this possibility.
There are two “fingers” of land (held by other property owners) that protrude south and southwest from the mountaintop, each with about 25 acres of vacant land. There are currently six households that live on the top of the mountain and must use the 1050 Montecito Drive electrically operated gate to access their homes.
Much of the land has not been graded and is still in a natural state, including grasslands and woodlands.
2. Paradise Hill is an approximately 60 acre mountain, made up of over 50 vacant parcels that are contiguous, including a 30 acre parcel on the west side of the mountain, which is owned by the Mee Yin Corporation. It forms the northern border of the East Campus of Lincoln Park High School. There are currently five households that live on the top of the mountain and use a gate off Paradise Drive to access their homes on an informal dirt road across the Mee Yin land (although another slightly longer route on a gravel road is also available). Most of this land, including nearly all of the 30 acres owned by the Mee Yin Corporation, is natural grassland. The key portion at the top of the hill appears to be buildable flat land. However, much of it is subject to mudslides which would make construction hazardous. The manager of the Mee Yin Corporation has placed the 30 acre parcel on the market as of November 1, 2003, listed at $8 million.
3. DWP Rose Hills Property comprises approximately 11 acres of open space immediately adjacent to Debs Park. It provides a potential trail link between Debs Park and Mt. Olympus. It also serves as a water filling stationfor fire fighting helicopters, a very important service that was recently used in July 2003 to fight a grass fire on Mt. Olympus. There are no structures or residences on this property. However, most of it has been severely disturbed by grading into terraces for potential building sites. There are some natural woodlands and wildlife habitat.
This study recommends specific parcels for acquisition which are listed in the attachments to this report. The key parcel areas to be immediately acquired comprise about 38 acres on Mt. Olympus/Flattop Mountain owned by the International Church of the Four Square Gospel. This land includes the key flat areas around the radio station and house with magnificent views, as well as beautiful native grass slopes and woodlands, and a potential visitor center and parking area at the bottom. A magnificent natural park with great views and hiking trails could be established with just these 38 acres.
Other priority properties are the flat areas immediately adjacent to the Church land and other developable parcels, especially those with the most desirable views, plus the parcels with the rare Bush Lupine scrub, which are indicated on the attached maps and property lists.
Other parcels of lower priority are also listed. Development of most of these properties may be able to be averted through strict enforcement of the Hillside Ordinance, especially in view of the State and City reports regarding landslide danger, which are referenced at the end of this report. This can be aided by close work with the local City Councilmember's office, as well as the City Planning Department and Planning Commission.
Now that the key land on Paradise Hill is up for sale, we have a willing seller, but the asking price is very high. It may be possible to obtain the land subject to mudslides, in return for allowing the development of the view lots at the top of the hill. A key to preserving the remainder of this area is strict enforcement of the Hillside Ordinance, as outlined above.
The important DWP Rose Hill property was placed on the market by DWP in August 2001 for $500,000, but fortunately, through the action of local residents, was taken off the market. It is the recommendation of this study that the LADWP should agree to preserve this land in perpetuity.
The subject land has an overall rating score of 32 out of a possible 44 points, using the eleven value categories recognized by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. There are a maximum of 4 points in each of the 11 categories:
Access Value – Rating: 4
Wildlife Resource Value – Rating: 3
Floristic Resource Value – Rating: 3
Urban Resource Value – Rating: 4
Watershed Resource Value – Rating: 2
Access Value – Rating: 4
All three sites are easily accessible from urban communities by pedestrians from all directions. According to the 2000 census data, over 45,000 people live within a mile and a half of the central site and can easily walk to the subject land. Mt. Olympus is only 1/4 mile from the French Street stop on the Gold Line. Many bus lines have stops within a block or two of the subject land, providing excellent access.
The recommended primary access point to the area would be through a gate at the southern end of Berenice Avenue, just south of Avenue 39 and a bit east of Griffin Avenue. This gate leads onto a large flat area nearly an acre in size at the bottom of the mountain (see photo below), with a reasonably gentle slope for a trail to the top. (Currently the gate appears to be permanently unlocked.) This area (only a short block from a bus stop on Griffin Avenue) would provide an excellent site for parking dozens of cars, visitor facilities, etc. This area is part of the land belonging to the Church.
The next priority access point would be just west of the corner of Roberta Street and Sierra Street (see photo below). This location provides easy access from the street, with available street parking and some flat vacant land for parking. It is adjacent to the Glen Alta Elementary School, providing a good opportunity for field trips. This location is a convenient entrance from a trail that would lead from Debs Park through the DWP land and then down a short residential block and into the Mt. Olympus land. This area is also part of the land belonging to the Church.
Current access to the top of Mt. Olympus is from Montecito Drive at 1050 Montecito Drive on the northern end of the mountain (see photo below). The gate leads onto graded dirt roads that cover most of the top of the mountain. Currently, pedestrians can walk around the locked gate that prevents entry of unauthorized vehicles. However, there is no street parking available outside the gate on Montecito Drive. The site has some space inside the gate from Montecito Drive that could be developed into on-site parking for approximately ten vehicles without a major impact on the area. This location is over a mile from any bus route and is not easily accessible except by auto.
However, there is some potential for developing ADA accessibility via the Montecito Drive entrance gate. Vehicles could drive in, and park along the road in a handicapped parking space. However, to be easily accessible with wheelchairs would require that the dirt roads or a path be paved, which is not planned at this point, but could be in the future.
There is also access to
the top of the mountain from the southern end at the corner of Thomas St. and
Two Tree Avenue (see photo below). Pedestrians can walk around the locked gate that
prevents entry of unauthorized vehicles and walk 200 feet up a paved road to
enjoy magnificent nearly 360º views of the city, ocean and mountains (as shown
under Scenic Value).
There is a permanently locked gate off Avenue 33 that leads to the current city-owned land (Mt. Olympus I), that could provide pedestrian and potential vehicle access from another part of the neighborhood. It could provide parking for several cars and could be a trailhead. There are other places at the northern ends of Johnston Street, Avenue 28 and Clifton Street that provide opportunities for on-street parking and potential trail entrances to the bottom of the mountain.
There are locked gates into the DWP land at 3850 Roberta Street (see photo below) and at the corner of Roberta and Reynolds Avenue (which is directly opposite a locked gate leading into Debs Park). Both of these gates could lead to convenient parking areas on the LADWP land. The Reynolds Avenue gate is only two blocks from a bus stop on Mercury Street so it could be easily accessible for pedestrians and transit users.
Paradise Hill is accessible by auto via a currently permanently unlocked gate off Amethyst Street onto Paradise Drive. This gate is on Mee Yin Corporation land and could easily provide plenty of parking for cars. However, this site is several long blocks away from the nearest bus stop on Mercury, so it is not convenient for pedestrians and transit users.
All areas have some available street parking mentioned above that will probably not conflict with neighborhood needs or sentiment, as long as it is not over used. However, because of the history of these sites as places for youths to “hang out” and engage in drinking, sex, fireworks, etc., the wishes of the neighborhood are to limit access to the top of Mt. Olympus at this time only to pedestrians. Access to motor vehicles (other than those for the handicapped) could considered in the future if the neighborhood became convinced that conditions would not be conducive to “takeover” by youths wanting a place to “hang out.”
Mt. Olympus II is contiguous with Mt. Olympus I, a 9-acre parcel that is owned and preserved as a public nature area by the City of Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department. Paradise Hill is contiguous with a 10-acre parcel that includes the East Campus and athletic fields for Lincoln High School. The LADWP maintains Rose Hill as a private natural area.
Manuel Mollinedo, General Manager of Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department, has expressed interest in discussions about partnership possibilities, especially for Mt. Olympus. Other partnerships include the Audubon Center at Debs Park. Elsa Lopez, Executive Director of this Center, welcomes a potential linkage with Mt. Olympus. Numerous neighborhood groups, community organization and public officials have stated their support for the acquisition of this mountain through letters, conversations and public meetings.
Supportive letters (attached) have been received from the following:
Councilmember Ed Reyes
Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg
Montecito Heights Improvement Association
Trust for Public Land
Mt. Washington Association
North East Trees
National Audubon Society
Florence Crittenton Center
Also attached is a petition signed by 68 residents of Montecito Heights
Also attached are letters written in 1997 supporting the acquisition of Mt. Olympus I:
Montecito Heights Improvement Association
Antonio Villaraigosa, Majority Leader of California Assembly
Wild Bird Rescue of Los Angeles
Hillside Elementary School
Community Law Enforcement and Recovery program of the L.A. District Attorney
Conversations with representatives of the following organizations have also indicated support:
State Senator Gloria Romero
Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department
Debs Park Advisory Board
Friends of the Los Angeles River
Mothers of East Los Angeles
Letters have also been written to Brent Morgan of the Church by the following:
Councilmember Ed Reyes
People for Parks
Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority
Economic Opportunity Value – Rating: 3
The main portion of the Mt. Olympus site is likely to be available under excellent opportunity sale conditions. The sale price is unknown at this point, but conversations with Brent Morgan, CFO for the Church, have indicated a potential willingness to sell at a reasonable price. If the main hilltop property is not purchased now from the Church, this magnificent site would be sold to a developer resulting in unmitigable impacts that would preclude future park use. It would be lost forever.
Other key parcels on the site are subject to substantial threat of development, with unmitigable impacts. It appears that some speculators and individuals may have recently purchased lots adjacent to the Church land, with the intent to erect large homes. If this occurred, the view and much of the habitat, trails and education value would be greatly diminished. If the Church property is purchased, it would be possible to severely limit access to these other properties, and thus prevent their development. Some parcels on the site (other than the Church property) may not be available for sale at all. But if access is limited over the Church land, their development probably can be prevented.
In addition, much of the land has slope instability and is unsafe for building because of potential landslides. This problem has been carefully documented in a report by the California Department of Conservation, Division of Mines and Geology (1). The problem has also been identified in the Los Angeles City "Seismic Safety Plan – Slope Stability Study Area, Study #74-3401" (2). Thus, with the exception of the flat areas owned by the Church, most of this land is of little value for development and should be able to be purchased relatively inexpensively.
The Church is currently in negotiations regarding a long-term lease of the radio station and presumably the adjacent caretaker's house. The area around the radio towers and the house comprises 8 acres, and thus would probably not be available for purchase as a park. However, this area has its own entrance gate and is separately fenced and screened by plantings from the rest of the mountain, and it would not interfere with the public enjoyment of the rest of the land.
The LADWP land, if LADWP wished to sell it, should be available to the Conservancy under a right of first refusal. It is hoped that the price would be relatively inexpensive.
The main parcel of Paradise Hill land does not appear to be a good value at $8 million, but we look forward to discussions with the owner.
Wildlife Resource Value – Rating: 3
The site directly contributes to the potential connection of large habitat areas by serving as a habitat linkage for wildlife along the Arroyo Seco Corridor. There is almost a continuous habitat corridor along the eastern side of the Arroyo Seco, which now ends in Debs Park, a magnificent area over 300 acres in size, much of which is being preserved as a natural area. Mt. Olympus/Flattop Mountain, along with the DWP land and the Paradise Hill land, will extend this potential habitat corridor another mile southeast, potentially adding nearly 200 acres of habitat. However, the "corridor" is currently blocked by fences around Debs Park and the DWP land, and would require wildlife to cross very lightly used streets.
However, each of the three sites are important as local wildlife refuges by themselves. Much of the land is ungraded open grassland, which is a very valuable habitat that is extremely rare in urbanized areas of Los Angeles. Even though some of it has been burned and disked, much of it is still important habitat.
The importance of this site is indicated by the presence, observed on June 25, 2003, of a Bewick’s Wren, which doesn’t live in city habitat, only in relatively undisturbed patches of natural native habitat. An American kestrel was observed circling overhead, probably hunting gophers (burrows of which were observed, see picture). The Ashy Rufous-crowned Sparrow is currently treated as a sensitive animal species (SSC) by the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG). It doubtless occurs here (it was recorded in Summer 2002 in nearby Ascot Hills).
As mentioned below, on June 25, 2003, the Bush Lupine plant was identified on Mt. Olympus, which is not found in Debs Park. This plant is associated with other rare plants and animals, including the legless lizard. There were also a number of butterflies present, which were not identified.
There are no riparian sites, although there are some seasonal seeps.
Floristic Resource Value – Rating: 3
The Mt. Olympus site mainly contains four important types of largely fragile habitat: Coastal Sage scrub, Bush Lupine scrub, walnut/oak woodland, and grassland. The first three of these have communities with moderate to high species diversity; the last has low species diversity, but is still important. The Coastal Sage Scrub is especially rare in the region, Bush Lupine scrub even more so; it is not found in Debs Park. The site contains 10‑25% full canopy forest walnut/oak woodland in the valleys containing hundreds of mature trees. Undisturbed native grasslands, extremely rare in urban Los Angeles, are crucial in providing a complete preservation of native habitats.
There are some areas of coastal sage scrub that have not been burned in a number of years and are valuable. Native plants in one area include the Bush Lupine (Lupinus sp.), coast goldenbush (Isocoma menzesii), longstem buckwheat (Eriogonum nudum), needlegrass (Nassella sp.), coyote bush (Baccharis pilularis), and the California sagebrush (Artemisia californica). Other locations (especially on slopes closer to the Arroyo Seco) have native plants such as poison oak and white sage.
It appears that almost all of the DWP land was severely disturbed by grading into terraces, meaning that all the grass is likely to be exotics. There are some native walnut trees along the side of the property, but mixed with exotics (see photo below).
The Paradise Hill land is nearly all grassland. Some of it (especially the top of the mountain) has been severely disturbed by disking, but there are some native plants growing on the steep slopes and valleys (see photo below).
Since it is close to Debs Park and the Arroyo Seco Park, it has the potential to expand the Arroyo Seco wildlife corridor and passive trail systems. There are currently trails through Debs Park that could link up with Mt. Olympus and the DWP land. The Summit Ridge Trail and the City View Trail offer great vistas from Debs Park. They could be easily linked to Mt. Olympus and the DWP land by short walks down pleasant, lightly traveled curving residential streets. Hikers could leave the West entrance of Debs Park, walk a pleasant block along Montecito Drive, and arrive at Roberta Street at the entrance to the DWP land. They could tour that land (if it were decided to open that gate). More likely, they would walk another pleasant block along Roberta Street and into the northwest corner of Mt. Olympus. Then they would climb the mountain and arriving at the crest appreciate the magnificent views (see photo below), including downtown Los Angeles, Century City, Long Beach, Griffith Park, the confluence of the Arroyo Seco and Los Angeles River watersheds, and many mountains, including the Santa Monicas, the San Gabriels, the Hollywood Hills, etc. On a clear day you can see both Mt. Baldy and Catalina. Closer by, the parcel overlooks the confluence of the Arroyo Seco and Los Angeles River watersheds, including Confluence Park, Artesian Park, and the Chinatown Cornfield.
Then hikers would descend and exit either through the proposed Berenice Avenue entrance, walk down Avenue 39 to Griffin Avenue, cross that street and walk through Heritage Square along the Arroyo Seco. After crossing the Los Angeles River, they could then continue along the Rim of the Valley through Elysian Park, then walk along the current bike path along the Los Angeles River and into Griffith Park and then onto the ridgeline of the Santa Monica Mountains along Mulholland Drive.
The map below shows the southeastern portion of the Rim of the Valley Corridor, which joins the Angeles National Forest near Hahamongna Park, and then extends southward along the eastern slopes of the Arroyo Seco until it currently ends in Debs Park. The map shows how the subject land would dramatically extend the green strip toward Elysian Park, thus nearly completing this portion of the Corridor.
The breath-taking views from the top of both Mt. Olympus and Paradise Hill encompass almost a 360-degree view including downtown Los Angeles, Century City, Long Beach, Griffith Park, the confluence of the Arroyo Seco and Los Angeles River watersheds, and many mountains, including the Santa Monicas, the San Gabriels, the Hollywood Hills, etc. (see photo below). One can also see the Chinatown Cornfield, Taylor Yards, and the Northeast Hills, as well as the Hollywood sign.
The value of Mt. Olympus to the surrounding neighborhoods is a beautiful viewshed of green space and mountaintop that adds to the quality of life. As one comes through the tunnels on the Pasadena Freeway (110) from downtown Los Angeles, Mt. Olympus can be seen immediately. It also can be seen from Mt. Washington, Glassell Park, Highland Park, and Sycamore Terrace and from commuters on the I-5 freeway as well as the surrounding arterials (see photo below).
This is not planned as a major recreational center. However, in the “park poor” neighborhoods near Mt. Olympus, 27% of the children live in poverty according to a recent census. The mountain offers the beauty of nature and passive recreation opportunities as a psychological relief that is so necessary to children’s health. These children need opportunities close to home. Nature trails, picnics, kite flying, bird watching, star gazing, and environmental education add to the potential recreational value of Mt. Olympus.
There are potential linkages with local parks and open space/recreational facilities. In the future, the operation of Mt. Olympus could coordinate educational uses for children and neighborhood groups with Debs Park, Heritage Square and other nearby parks.
Mt. Olympus was part of the original Pueblo area of Los Angeles and no doubt used by the local Tongva Indians for hunting because the River ran right below the mountain, which is the highest point in the area. Within 7 blocks are the Southwest Museum, Casa Adobe, Heritage Square, Lummis House and the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens. One can also see the old County Jail, the Hollywood Sign, the Griffith Park Observatory, and the entire Heritage Trail.
Since 1961, the top of the mountain has been owned by the International Church of the Four Square Gospel and used for the radio station that broadcast the sermons of the Church Founder Evangelist Amy Semple McPherson. There is a potential linkage of this land with the social justice concerns of the Church, the major landowner of Mt. Olympus II. We can determine the feasibility of establishing a historical marker honoring the life of Amy Semple McPherson and consider the possible naming of the park in honor of the McPherson Family, especially if the Church is interested in selling the land at bargain price.
Urban Resource Value – Rating: 4
The site provides a significant contribution to an existing natural corridor/greenway along the Arroyo Seco River and Parkway. The site contains representative samples of several native plant communities (including scrub, grasslands and woodlands, as outlined above in Floristic and Wildlife Values) surrounded by dense urban development, and disadvantaged populations. The site is located in a park‑poor community. The site also contains potential for restoration of natural vegetation. The site has opportunities for active recreation, including hiking, kite flying, etc. It provides an opportunity for the thousands of children and families in the nearby neighborhoods to use this open space to escape crowded apartments. These children need space to think creatively, to play and to get away from the sensory overload of intense urban landscapes. This site is also important for its educational value for school nature field trips, as described above.
Watershed Resource Value – Rating: 2
The entire site is part of a watershed draining directly into an ecologically sensitive area, the Arroyo Seco and the Los Angeles River, which are in the process of being restored in places, as well as being lined with parks and habitat. The site also supports substantial upland vegetative cover in a partially natural watershed.
Recommendation - Stop Disking:
The Conservancy should work with the City of Los Angeles to immediately stop the disking of land to reduce fire danger. Apparently property owners are encouraged to use this destructive process, rather than mowing, as evidenced by the following sign observed August 21, 2003, on an uncut property on Paradise Hill: "NOTICE TO DESTROY WEEDS AND REMOVE REFUSE AND DIRT," issued by the Los AngelesCity Bureau of Street Services, Lot Cleaning Division (213) 485-3465. Disking also increases the danger of particulate matter being picked up by the wind and getting into people’s lungs, which is a concern of the South Coast Air Quality Management District. They could also be an ally in the elimination of disking.
(1) "The California Department of Conservation, Division of Mines and Geology – DMG Open File Report 82-26. Investigation and Inventory of Slope Failure that Occurred in 1978 and 1980 in the 7 1/2 minute quadrangle, Los Angeles County," by Eugene Hsu, Calif. Dept. of Conservation.
(2) The problem is also identified in the Los Angeles City "Seismic Safety Plan – Slope Stability Study Area, Study #74-3401," approved by the City Planning Commission July 3, 1974 and adopted by the City Council September 10, 1975. "The plan maps indicate those areas of the city that will require specialized engineering reports for all new construction." The designated areas include Mt. Olympus and Paradise Hill.
Special Request Regarding Latona Road Land:
The attached letter and maps regarding Latona Road land were received from Jaime Gomez, a local resident residing at 705 East Avenue 43 for the inclusion of 16 vacant lots off Latona Road, totaling about 5 acres. These lots are on a fairly steep slope and do not appear to be easily developed. They are heavily wooded with a mixture of exotics and native plants. This request was also endorsed by vote of the Montecito Heights Improvement Association. However, these lots are essentially completely surrounded by housing and therefore have limited value in terms of the rating criteria of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. Thus acquisition of these properties is not recommended in this report.