The summary below includes information, some of which was not known publicly until years after the fact.
There is much evidence that the Tongva Indians lived in this rural area nestled in the Verdugo Mountains.
During the Depression, a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp, known as Tuna Camp, was built on the property.
The CCC camp was converted to serve as one of the first internment depots during WWII for people of Japanese, German, and Italian descent. The Camp operated from 1941 to 1943.
The Property was converted to a reform school for boys operated by the County of Los Angeles.
A group of doctors formed a partnership to purchase the land that would become the Verdugo Hills Golf Course. The course opened in June 1960. The partnership was designed to dissolve upon the death of the last doctor.
The heirs of the doctors sold the property to Michael Hoberman/Snowball West Investments, LP (SWI) for $7.6 million.
Mark Handel/MWD Development (apparently on behalf of SWI) addressed the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council (STNC) and the public, presenting two options for the property: over 300 units of housing, including hillside housing; or 320,000 square feet of retail. (Note: a WalMart supercenter is typically 240,000 sf.)
Mark Handel made a similar presentation to the Crescenta Valley Town Council (CVTC).
This was the first time the foothill communities learned that the golf course property had been purchased with plans to demolish the golf course and develop the property for residential or commercial use. Public consensus opposed both ideas. At the time, the community thought that Mark Handel was the property owner as he was the face the public saw.
Representatives of MWD Development attended the STNC Design Advisory Committee (later called Land Use Committee) meetings to promote the development and soliciting suggestions for architecture design and color palettes. Committee and community members considered this premature and said so.
Late in the year, a small group of foothill community members from Sunland-Tujunga, La Crescenta and Glendale gathered to organize the Verdugo Hills Golf Course Committee (VHGC Committee). Their goal: to preserve the VHGC, its recreation, surrounding native habitat, and history, as well as avoid the negative environmental impacts that would result from a residential and/or commercial development at the corner of Tujunga Canyon Blvd/La Tuna Canyon Rd/Honolulu Ave.
Mark Handel/MWH Development filed an Environmental Assessment Form with the City of Los Angeles and sought to use a negative declaration as the CEQA clearance for the project. Michael Hoberman/Snowball West Investments, was listed as the owner of the property on that application.
After MWH Development filed for vesting zoning changes, vesting tract map and other entitlements, the VHGC Committee and VOICE [Volunteers Organized in Conserving the Environment] called for a complete Environmental Impact Report rather than a Mitigated Negative Declaration, which would have short circuited the full environmental process. The City agreed to require an EIR.
Community members throughout the valley rallied in defense of the VHGC. Organizations, large and small, joined in support of the VHGC. Elected representatives also joined the effort.
In May, City of L.A. Councilmember Wendy Greuel learned that then Sacramento Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes had introduced a bill, AB 212, which would have directly benefited MWH Development and Snowball West Investments.
The bill, created at the behest of Mark Handel/MWH Development, would have violated the City’s “home rule” and inserted State authority over local land use matters. AB212 would have forced the City of LA to grant a zoning change within the parameters set by a current zoning law, even if that law was not in compliance with the City’s general plan.
Greuel launched a vigorous lobbying effort on behalf of the City and Fuentes was forced to withdraw the bill before it went to a vote. This episode raised further questions in the minds of community members as to the credibility of the developer and property owner.
A Draft Environmental Impact Report/DEIR was released to the public in June 2009. Based on the volume of comments and interest in the DEIR, the City Planning Department extended the comment period. In the years since the close of public comment, the City Planning Department stated that portions of the draft document would be recirculated for public input, including a revised project description.
Public comments addressed a wide range of issues, such as impacts on local schools, utilities/water usage and other City services; loss of public recreation & natural habitat; loss of historical record, i.e., Tongva Indians/CCC camp/Tuna Canyon Detention Station, increased impact on the already treacherous Tujunga Canyon Blvd./La Tuna Canyon Rd/Honolulu Ave traffic corridor and fire safety.
Around this same time, Mark Handel/MWH Development disappeared from the project.
In October, Michael Hoberman and his attorney, Fred Gaines, addressed the Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council Land Use Committee. Hoberman stated that he inherited the project from MWH Development, implying that he was the new owner of the property and had not been involved with Handel (notwithstanding the fact that his name was on the original documents).
Then City Councilmember Paul Krekorian nominated the VHGC for Prop O consideration. Prop O, the water bond, passed by City of Los Angeles voters in 2004, funds water projects that help the City meet federal water guidelines.
The LA Citizens Oversight Advisory Committee (COAC) voted to add the Verdugo Hills Storm Water Project to the Prop O funding queue.
In October, having learned about the federal grant possibilities for the site that required local designation, then City Councilmember Richard Alarcon proposes the Tuna Canyon Detention Station for Historic Cultural Monument (HCM) status.
In April the City’s Cultural Heritage Commission voted against HCM status for the TCDS. The matter returned to the City Council for further deliberation.
On June 25th, the Council, after negotiation with Fred Gaines on behalf of Hoberman, voted 10-0 to designate an acre of oak trees for HCM status for the TCDS. Tuna Canyon Detention Station became Historic Cultural Monument #1039.
The Council in the same action established a working group to begin the process of memorializing TCDS. After meeting four times during the summer of 2013, and appearing to have arrived at a consensus plan for the site, the attorney for Snowball West Investments revealed that they had filed a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles to remove the HCM designation. That lawsuit was dismissed and thus the historic designation stands.
The working group subsequently organized into a nonprofit corporation, the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition. It is raising funds to develop a memorial on the monument site.
After the City amended and recirculated portions of the EIR, the City Planning Commission held a hearing on the matter. The community vigorously opposed certification of the EIR and approval of the tract map. Councilmember Rodriguez also opposed the approval. However, the LA City Planning Commission certified the EIR, approved the vesting tentative tract map for 215 units and recommended approval of the vesting zone change.
On December 12, 2019, the City Council denied the zone change. In response, Snowball West filed a lawsuit against the City. The Superior Court rejected the lawsuit and Snowball West filed an appeal. That appeal is still pending.
P.O. Box 273
Montrose, CA 91021
Photos provided courtesy of Susan Colosimo and Marc Stirdivant.