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COUNTY SUES FOR TRAIL ACCESS

Lawsuit contends a gated community in Altadena is keeping people from using
a recreation area.

By Claudia Zequeira
Times Staff Writer

July 22,
2005

Los Angeles County became the third party this week to sue a San
Gabriel Valley homeowners association for keeping a popular horse and hiking
area off-limits to the public.

Also named in the county suit filed
Thursday were three developers involved in construction of La Vina, a 272-home
gated community on 220 acres in Altadena, next to the Angeles National
Forest.

According to the county’s lawsuit, the developers never built the
trails in Millard Canyon that they had agreed to during permit negotiations in
the late 1980s.

“All of the entitlement granted by the county for the
development of the La Vina specific plan contemplated and required the
construction of a public hiking and equestrian trail. We are seeking to enforce
those conditions,” said Larry Hafetz, an attorney for Los Angeles
County.

The county lawsuit also seeks an easement, or right of access, of
land from the homeowners association so the county can build the
trails.

Named in the suit are Southwest Diversified La Vina Ltd.,
Cantwell-Anderson and Brookfield Homes.

Two other groups, Save the
Altadena Trails and The City Project, filed similar
lawsuits in Los Angeles County Superior Court in Pasadena on Tuesday and
Thursday, respectively.

Leonard Siegel, an attorney for the La Vina
Homeowners Assn., declined to comment on the lawsuits. In the past, members have
said that the developers, not the association, were required to provide the
trails.

The members also said that the developers ceded all open space
to the association. Last year, the group began posting “No trespassing” signs
throughout Millard Canyon, an area used by hikers and equestrians for
decades.

In addition to the homeowners association, Save the Altadena
Trails and The City Project named Los Angeles County
and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, a state agency.

Both
defendants, they say, are ultimately responsible for dedicating the land for
public use and enforcing regulations. The groups also want a donation of
additional land for public use. The City Project
specifically asked for a donation of 108 acres surrounding the gated community.
The Save the Altadena Trails suit asks for an unspecified dedication of open
space.

“Just like many other things, you have to sue the government to
make it do its job,” said Paul Ayers, an attorney representing Save the Altadena
Trails. “It doesn’t matter who owns the land … ultimately these conditions are
enforceable.”

The two groups say the fight over Millard Canyon has
larger ramifications for the county.

“Los Angeles is park-poor … so this
land represents a whole range of values, said Robert Garcia, executive director
of The City Project. “The Millard Canyon trails are of
cultural and historical significance, but they are also beautiful… This is
about health, beauty and open space.”

Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times