Nestled between Studio City and Beverly Hills, a pristine nature haven known as Franklin Canyon is about to be desecrated. The controversy is pitting a popular hiking trail against building development by Mohamed Hadid, who says he has his right to build luxury homes there.
Franklin Canyon is a big part of Los Angeles history, from TV shows like Mayberry RFD, Fantasy Island and Batman to oil and water. This unspoiled wilderness is slated to be developed for large homes along the ridgeline.
Locals said they felt that when the last house had been built they thought they could live with that because the trails were still intact. Then, a bulldozer came along and then fences were erected across the popular Hastain trail, bisecting some 45 acres of his property. In effect, he ruined a hike, a view and the land.
I joined hikers, calling themselves a grass-roots group, Save Franklin Canyon, lead up by Ellen Scott this past weekend to see what she and the other protesters hoped to achieve in salvaging Hastain Trail. It has been there since 1967. Some of the elderly stayed below, a couple with twins came up and soon a group of about 60 had crossed paths going up or down the hillside.
Conversation was met with hope and handheld signs, in all colors and shapes. From Sunland, North Hollywood, Valley Village, Studio City, Toluca Lake, Hollywood, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and more, communities from all around were represented.9650 N ROYALTON DR 90210 APPLICATION/ PERMIT NUMBERPC / JOB NUMBERTYPESTATUSSTATUS DATEEXCERPT OF WORK DESCRIPTION 04010 30000 00643 B04WL00140 Bldg-New Permit Expired 05/12/2008 new carport 04010 30000 00523 B04WL00140 Bldg-New Permit Expired 03/07/2011 NEW SFD 1208SF 01030 10000 02968 G01LA00202 Grading Corrections Issued 01/25/2002 SITE PREP FOR DWG ( cut 239,461 CY, fill cy, import cy , 04030 30000 00317 B04WL00140 Grading Permit Expired 02/24/2011 GRADING FOR THE SITE PREPARATION. CUT 11980 CY, FILL 11040 CY AND EXPORT 940 CY 01020 10000 03698 G01LA00202 Nonbldg-New PC Unassigned 12/28/2001 RET WALLS FOR ENTRY DRIVEWAY TO NEW DWG. 04020 30000 00415 B04WL00140 Nonbldg-New Permit Expired 05/12/2008 NEW RETAINING WALL MAX 23 FEET HIGH. TOTAL LENGTH = 4582 FT.
There was a sense of frustration among the many hikers. All have hiked for more than a decade on these hills. They talked over how they had been lied to about the construction activity, the intent and an unforeseen future for this little-known pocket of hiking trail.
One man sighed and said, "If this was Runyon Canyon, we'd have thousands of hikers show up!"
Scott is a North Hollywood resident, has been hiking the trail for 25 years and has four grown children.
She recalled, “When we first saw a dirt road being bulldozed up close to the peak of the Hastain Trail in January and February of 2011, and asked why, we were told the same thing, that it was something to do with the Conservancy and creating drainage for water. I remember saying, 'Oh, so you're working for the Conservancy?' and the guys said, 'Yes.'"
Then, she said, "I hiked up on February 13th and saw bulldozers grading the land I knew they needed to be stopped but I didn't know how. It was late and I ran down the hill and went home. I painted the John Muir quote: 'Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to the body and soul,' on a white sheet."
Scott said she decided to take as stand, “On the morning of February 15th I observed much more activity near the peak. My daughter and close friend accompanied me to the top and took pictures. I put some flimsy stakes in the ground in front of the bulldozer to support my sign. The operator stopped the bulldozer when I walked up. He then contacted someone. Eventually numerous 'bosses' attempted to get me to leave."
Scott added, "Finally, Mohamed Hadid himself came roaring up in his SUV. I remember his shoes. He had some expensive leather loafer looking shoe that shouted out that he is one who 'drives' to get to where he is going. He is not about to hike. How could he possibly relate. Mohamed told me that I seemed like a nice lady so I should understand that and leave his property."
Finally Hadid and his foreman left.
Page Ostrow, of Los Angeles, has been hiking the trail since 1986.
“This trail, for us, is our home," Ostrow said. "We were shocked when suddenly he put a fence in the middle of, what felt like, our living room. We've had weddings, proposals, memorials in this canyon.”
A loud whirring of a chopper overhead came down near us and we pondered aloud if Hadid was in the bird as it hovered briefly and took off. Photos were taken and plans made. What had started as a few hikers talking to one another has slowly evolved into a village of people who love their canyon and are committed to keeping her as intact and preserved for future as possible.
Last month Hadid Development began grading private land and was halted by Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety. Mohamed Hadid was found to have commenced work without a permit. Hadid Development began grading again on March 14 but quickly was shut down by Building and Safety due to the vigilance of Save Franklin Canyon.
Warner said, “We inundated the city and building inspector with calls when we saw the bulldozers up there and another stop work order was issued, this time with the ‘citation warning’ that was supposed to be attached to the previous stop work order. It is unclear to me why no consequence is suffered when violation after violation is ignored.”
The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy or Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) was funded with monies to acquire the six subject properties located on the ridgeline dividing Coldwater and Franklin Canyons. At the time they were owned by five separate owners and by law, the MRCA cannot pay more than appraised value for the property.
In 2005, after an appraisal was done, although the MRCA had the money to acquire the properties, the individual owners declined to sell. Without MRCA’s knowledge, Hadid bought up all of the lots at a price over appraisal in 2005. A typical Hadid way of doing business, he has been quoted as saying, “Buy high, sell even higher.”
After several approaches and rebuffs, between 2005-2008, the MRCA had another appraisal done in 2008, the fair market valuation was still not high enough for Hadid.
Hadid, known for his many Ritz Carlton’s, started his business in Washington D.C. then branched out to Aspen – to Mexico – to huge mansions in Beverly Hills. Hadid states he gets death threats and hikers are damaging his equipment and fences. Calls to Hadid remain unanswered.
D.J. James, of Hollywood, said, “Just a month ago, there were beautiful trails up there and now it looks like a Wal-Mart parking lot. I’ve hiked this trail for over 20 years.”
James says about the man ruining the canyon, “As a developer Mr. Hadid has a responsibility to build with a conscience. . . . I have no respect for him and will approach him with caution in any dealings I may have with him.”
Since the trail fencing occurred, MRCA staff has approached Hadid about selling a trail easement. The hikers would love a meeting with Hadid, and he said he has agreed that common ground and civil discussions are a must” but as of this writing, he refused.
We came down off the hillside leaving our signs and mascot Conan with Colbert and Stewart in a homage to The Three Stooges. Rains were starting to drizzle but spirits were high.
Hadid initially said he planned to erect five or six homes on his land that is zoned for up to 11.
The two sides said they are still willing to have discussions about some sort of compromise.
For more information about the fight to keep the land from being devloped, contact www.savefranklincanyon.com.
For more information about Hadid, see his webside: www.mohamedhadid.com.