L.A. Court Upholds NLB Police Facility Expansion in Scherer Park, Denies Park Protection Advocates' Petition for Writ of Mandate
We post court decision verbatim
(January 29, 2002) -- In a ruling sustaining City Hall's legal positions on each state law issue raised in a writ petition by LB park preservation advocates, an L.A. Superior Court judge has denied the petition for writ of mandate sought by Stop Taking Our Parks (S.T.O.P.) and CA EarthCorps that challenged City Hall's expansion of an LBPD NLB police facility into Scherer Park.
LBReport.com posts the ruling by Judge Dzintra Janavs on a link, below.
In denying the park supporters' writ of mandate, the court found City Hall's EIR for expanding a NLB police facility into roughly two acres of Scherer Park complied with the CA Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the General Plan amendment was consistent with parkland goals and policies, the findings re the zoning change (from parkland to institutional use) were supported by substantial evidence, and the findings re height variance were supported by substantial evidence.
To view the court's decision (designated a "tentative ruling," which the court made its actual ruling), click on: Superior Ct. writ ruling on Scherer Park/NLB police facility.
9th district Councilman Jerry Shultz, who supports the Scherer Park police facility expansion, told LBReport.com, "To win on all grounds tells you something. The Court upheld the city's position with respect to every point raised by the petitioners."
Jan Chatten-Brown, attorney for the writ petitioners, told LBReport.com this afternoon that her office would seek a writ in the Court of Appeal requesting a stay pending a full appeal. "We respectfully disagree with the court's ruling," Ms. Chatten-Brown said.
Gigi Fast Elk Bannister, who founded and leads S.T.O.P., told LBReport.com that although she was not pleased with the immediate outcome, a favorable Court of Appeal ruling could set legal precedents applying in LB and elsewhere in CA.
"Should we prevail on the appeal as to what constitutes "viable alternatives" made available to the public for consideration, this matter will establish precedent setting case law. This will be a
huge victory for S.T.O.P and for anyone in a situation where citizens and
community organizations face detrimental losses of public recreational land to development and institutional uses. This is not a loss, it is an opportunity to send the message - via an appeal - for Cities to Stop Taking Our Parks," Ms. Bannister said in a written statement.
Possible federal issues
Meanwhile, as previously reported by LBReport.com, in November, 2001 park protection advocates opened a federal (non court, administrative) challenge to the use of Scherer Park land to expand the police facility. (Federal involvement stems from City Hall having previously used federal taxpayer money at Scherer Park.)
In December, 2001 the National Park Service said it wouldn't approve City Hall's plan to replace 2.5 acres of Scherer Park land with currently polluted land on 55th Way unless City Hall conducts a federal environmental review and provides appraisals for both parcels meeting professional standards.
That issue presumably still remains pending regardless of the outcome on the state court writ.
Asked at the time whether the federal issues might delay the NLB police facility expansion, City Hall's Project Manager Amy Bodek indicated the city expects to proceed with the project and meet its procedural requirements.
Bixby Knolls activist and retired LB Public Safety Advisory Commissioner John Deats told LBReport.com he was pleased "the people of NLB will not be deprived of a critically needed police facility they deserve."
Meanwhile, park protection advocate Ann Cantrell (who opposed expanding the NLB police facility into Scherer Park but was not a petitioner on the writ) spoke bitterly of the Council's responsibility in what transpired. Several years ago, Ms. Cantrell sued City Hall to stop its plans to permit construction of a commercial "sports complex" in El Dorado Park. Ms. Cantrell told LBReport.com:
"It is especially galling that Councilmembers Carroll and Colonna are now trying to portray themselves as park supporters by seeking to increase open space in Stearns and El Dorado Park [agendizing an item for tonight's Council meeting to study the feasibility of relocating adjacent Fire & Police training facilities] when they could have voted against taking away park acreage in Scherer Park.
She ended with the exclamation, "Hypocrites!"
One legal avenue to prevent LB City Hall from taking park land for non park purposes would be by amending the City Charter (the city's constitution), which would be binding on future City Councils. That would require a vote of the people, made possible through a Charter Amendment placed on the ballot either by a majority vote of the City Council, or through collecting roughly 20,000 petition signatures to force it onto the ballot.
Ms. Cantrell noted that Councilwoman Jackie Kell has still not re-agendized her previous call for a ballot measure to prevent non-park uses on LB parkland. Councilwoman Kell agendized the item in the wake of the contentious Scherer Park Council vote last summer, then removed the proposal on the night it was scheduled to be heard.
At the time, Councilwoman Kell indicated it would return in early fall, and Ms. Cantrell told LBReport.com that Councilwoman Kell told her the item would agendized in January, 2002.
"It hasn't been," Ms. Cantrell noted.
Meanwhile, in 2000 Councilman Ray Grabinski proposed what he labelled a "parks in perpetuity" measure, but it soon became clear his proposal wouldn't bind future Councils to protect park land the way a Charter Amendment would.
At an August, 2000 Council meeting, Councilman Grabinski effectively conceded his measure would not ensure perpetual protection of park land, lecturing Ms. Cantrell by name:
I would like us to put into the Municipal Code that park land is for parks and recreation use, and that if we want to change that, we would have to take the ordinance that we have and amend it, which means there'd be two notices to the public before any of that took place.
So this is not going to be what some people wanted, and Ann Cantrell and I are good friends. Ann Cantrell would love to have all the voters decide once and for all what goes into parks. And that may happen. That may happen. It's not gonna happen this week, or this month."
Since then, neither Councilman Grabinski nor any other Council incumbent has agendized a Charter Amendment that would protect LB parkland from non park uses by future Councils. That effectively leaves the public either to rely on current and future Councilmembers, or to undertake a costly and burdensome petition route to put a Charter Amendment before voters.
It appears that unless today's court decision is stayed and reversed by a higher state court, or federal intervention conclusively prevents the use of the Scherer Park land (which the National Park Service has not yet done), or the City Council majority reverses its previous vote, or the public elects a new Council majority that reverses the previous vote (or puts a Charter Amendment on the ballot that does so), City Hall could proceed with the project.