Celebration turns to concern over Flat Top open space

Flat Top hill | Montecito Heights

Flat Top hill | Martha Benedict

Neighborhood activists were victorious in 2014 when they blocked a real estate development on a hill named Flat Top,  preserving the hilltop between Montecito Heights and Lincoln Heights as open space. Within a few months, however,  complaints started cropping up that Northeast Trees, the environmental group that purchased the property, was failing to deal with vandalism and maintenance problems. Northeast Trees, for its part, said the 37-acre property was becoming a financial burden. Now, it looks like activists and Northeast Trees have resolved their problems but the relationship has become strained.

“I have lost confidence in them,” said Montecito Heights activist Roy Payan.

Payan was one the activists who spearheaded efforts to block a proposed housing development on Flat Top, and later get  L.A. County to spend $1.4 million to purchase the land for parkland. He was also among those who supported Northeast Trees’ involvement in the process, with the nonprofit to take temporary ownership of the property before handing it off to the City of L.A.

Payan and others complained that Northeast Trees allowed Flat Top to become a hang out for the 18th Street gang. Small paths became roadways because so many cars traveled across the open space without anyone to stop them, Payan said. A gate on the Montecito Heights side of the property was broken and left unrepaired, posing more security risks, he said.

To top it off, the planned transfer of the land to the city’s Recreation of Parks Department was delayed, raising concerns about the fate of the property.

Mark Kenyon, Executive Director of Northeast Trees, says  the transfer to the city has proved much more complicated than expected.

“There are a number of serious problems this situation has created including: on going public safety concerns related to vehicular access through the broken gate, financial stress on North East Trees, and risk we might lose the property,” Kenyon said in an email. “It was never our intention to hold the property for this length of time, and NET does not have the financial ability to operate and maintain the property in an appropriate manner as the public deserves.”

In January, Kenyon said that city and county officials asked his group to look into turning the property over the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, a much larger agency that has purchased and managed open space. But that did not sit well with Payan and others, who were distrustful of MRCA after its involvement in a dispute over open space in the hills of Whittier. They also claimed that handing the property over to the MRCA instead of the city would go against the agreement to purchase Flat Top.

After a tense community meeting in Montecito Heights, Kenyon said that former L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who approved the use of county funds to buy Flat Top, got involved to resolve the matter and speed up the transfer of the property. Details of how that will be done remain fuzzy, however.

“While NET does not yet know the details we see this result as very positive and we are looking forward to meeting with the City to learn more,” Kenyon said.

But, after the transfer to the city is complete, officials must then figure out how to pay for restoring the property into parkland and paying for its upkeep.


  1. It’s better to leave it parkland / natural space with fixable vandalism problems in the future, than to destroy the land with housing and force the vandalism elsewhere.

    The park-staved city can more easily deal with spray paint and loitering, far easier than finding new, accessible, untouched land for public use and enjoyment.

    As for housing, concentrate housing and commerce along sorely underutilized (already marred) land near the Lincoln metro station. Most of the area between Lincoln Station and Arroyo is rife with opportunity and transit adjacent.

  2. Please, leave it as open land, no more ugly square housing for only the ones, that can afford it! Open land in a city is beautiful to see, especially knowing that there’s nature living there, not over crowding with humans!!

  3. “Payan and others complained that Northeast Trees allowed Flat Top to become a hang out for the 18th Street gang”

    Clearly whoever informed Payan with these facts in misinformed. Residents from all over neighboring communities patronize in this open land for recreational purposes such as hiking, running and enjoying its beautiful scenery. To say that it’s become a heaven for gangs and vandalism is clearly a scapegoat and poor excuse to continue developing for those few affluent folks that will be able to afford the steep rents/ mortgages.

    Food for thought: What about the coyotes and other wildlife residing in these regions?

    • Roy Payan did not mention the gang problems and vandalism to argue for developing the property. He worked for years to turn it into parkland. Roy brought it up to emphasize the urgency that the property come under the City’s control as originally intended by the County Board of Supervisors. There are residents that live adjacent to this property along the dirt roads. They can tell you all about the problems that have festered out there over the past year, including illegal movie shoots and arson. As expressed at the ASNC Montecito Heights Local Issues meeting on February 18th, for 15 years the residents lived in peace behind the electric gate installed by a local. Then the gate was trashed by a drunk driver. The private group entrusted with the property on an interim basis never got it together to fix it, In desperation, two months ago, the neighbors finally padlocked the gate. And the push to get the City to take over got underway.

  4. I sent this article to my brother. He wrote back,” Good to see the 18th Street gang is in charge up there.”

  5. In the 1940s, my folks lived up Ave 33 off Griffin. Flat-top was our playground. Mom’s parents lived on Ave. 32 and dad’s parents on Griffin near Main Street. According to dad, Flat-top was created by a developer who landscaped the property in the 1920s for a hotel that was never built. So far, everyone I know thinks it should be preserved with full public access.

  6. Frustrated in LH

    I don’t think people understand. I live on the other side of the hill (the side where the problems are). Kids have been held up at gunpoint, rival gangs shooting at each other, couches lit on fire on flat-top, our cars sideswiped by inconsiderate kids (3 DIFFERNT HOMES/TIMES), NOS parties, drug deals, tagging, littering, residents being physically threatened and all other sorts of criminal activity. If you don’t want houses up there, which will bring added safety and security that we on the other side of the hill so desperately need, then how about you all pitch in for a private security firm to ensure our safety since everyone seems so intent on leaving it as a hang out place for a bunch of people with no respect for land, property, law or really just about anything. We’ve exhausted nearly every effort with LAPD over here. We’re like broken records when we call them to report trouble.

    Everyone’s concerned with their precious view, but nobody sounds particularly concerned about our safety.

  7. so, is the city going to extend the street on 33 ave??

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