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.