A move that could block a residential development on the Verdugo Hills Golf Course hit a stumbling block last week when the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission voted unanimously to recommend it not be made a Historic-Cultural Monument.
More than a dozen speakers voiced support for the nomination — both Sunland-Tujunga locals and descendants of Japanese-Americans who had been interned at the Tuna Canyon Detention Station, which was located on the site during World War II.
However, the commissioners ruled that because all historic buildings and structures were demolished in 1960, the site, which is a Crescenta Valley resource, didn't qualify.
If the golf course had been designated a historic site, demolition or alteration of the site would have required permits from the Cultural Heritage Commission.
The development proposed by the property's current owner, Snowball West Investments, would include 229 single-family homes built on approximately 28 acres of the 58-acre golf course.
The rest of the land would be converted to open space, according to the draft environmental impact report filed with the city of Los Angeles in 2009.
Because the request was brought before the commission via a motion by L.A. City Councilman Richard Alarcon, the commission's denial will return to the City Council, where it could be overturned with a two-thirds vote.
The four commissioners acknowledged the historical significance of the site. During World War II, the federal government converted the former Civilian Conservation Corps camp — where the golf course is now located — into the Tuna Canyon Detention Station.
The camp was "a gateway to internment," for civilians of Japanese, Japanese-Peruvian, Italian and German descent taken into custody after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, according to Alarcon's office.
Commissioners agreed the site's history should be honored, but they were unanimous in saying a more appropriate commemoration can be coordinated through the city's Planning Department as a condition of development.
"I think it's very important the memory of that camp is commemorated," said Commissioner Oz Scott. "But I'm not here to protect the golf course … the commission can't be in that position of being used for that."
Commissioner Tara Hamacher questioned whether the community members who were asking for the historic designation were motivated by history or by a desire to stop development.
"Why has it taken 53 years?" she asked. "I know there's development pressure now, but … if this was so important to everybody before, why is it just happening now?"
Commissioner Roella Louie said she wanted to see the local community members work with Snowball West Investments to commemorate the history of the site without obstructing development.
"Don't come to us with this strategy to make it a cultural monument so you can hold up development," she said. "You get your bosses together and … you're going to work something out."