Lawsuits bombard residents
Lawyers vie for trails through foothill community
By Kimm Groshong , Staff Writer
ALTADENA — The County of Los Angeles and the Center for Law in the Public Interest filed lawsuits against the La Vina Homeowners Association Thursday, increasing pressure on the residents of the gated foothills community to provide public-access trails through its open space.
The two new complaints join another filed two days earlier by trail activist and attorney Paul Ayers of North Hollywood- based Monroe & Zinder.
The La Vina dispute is an old and hotly contested one centered around the fate of Millard Canyon a shaded streambed that begins in the Angeles National Forest and connects to the Arroyo Seco. A trail through the canyon that neighbors and hikers have used for years runs across 108 acres of open space owned by the La Vina Homeowners Association. Last year, members of the association posted “No Trespassing’ signs along the route.
The complaints hold that the county’s project entitlements dating from 1989 require the construction and protection of hiking and equestrian trails as part of the mitigation measures to La Vina’s environmental impacts.
The county’s suit says “since the project’s inception, the Altadena community and the county have viewed the development and construction of these trails as an integral and vital part of the overall project, which would ultimately be conveyed to the county as a trail easement for the benefit of the La Vina homeowners, the Altadena community, and the county as a whole.’
The county sent letters to La Vina residents last July clarifying the trails requirements as set forth in the conditional-use permits and specific plan, which allowed the development. In November, the Board of Supervisors approved a motion to allow the county counsel to file a lawsuit on behalf against the association “to secure the dedication of the trail easements and the construction of the trails consistent with the La Vina entitlements.’
Then in December, the Center for Law in the Public Interest (CLIPI) and attorneys from three other law firms, including Ayers, sent the homeowners another letter threatening lawsuits.
Since then, the county and various attorneys have held negotiation meetings with members of the homeowners association. “We were trying to reach an agreement about access for purposes of allowing our consultant on the property for a study, and in negotiating that deal, we’ve reached an impasse,’ said Lawrence Hafetz, principal deputy county counsel.
Now the county, Ayers and CLIPI, along with attorneys from Reed Smith and English Munger & Rice, have tired of waiting.
Ayers says he’s happy to have company. “The major advantage that you’ll have in this situation is that you have a large number of attorneys all basically wanting the same thing, focused … It’s a lot better to have more than one person looking at a problem.’
Leonard Siegel, the attorney for the La Vina Homeowners Association, could not be reached for comment.
“Our single goal is to keep historic Millard Canyon and the Altadena Crest Trail open for all the people of the Los Angeles region to enjoy. That is public space. This gated enclave has no business cutting off access to a public trail,’ said Robert Garcia, CLIPI’s executive director. “It’s a question of human rights. It’s a question of the public trust. Bottom line, we want the trails open for all.’