Open Space vs. Condos
Proposed development of a portion of the privately-owned 17 acre Weddington Golf and Tennis, located on the banks of the Los Angeles River in Studio City, is a hot topic of debate between Studio City residents and the Weddington owners. The public golf and tennis facilities have been a neighborhood gem for many years providing rare open space within the densely developed neighborhood.
In 2008, the Weddingtons submitted a development proposal to the City of Los Angeles for a 200-unit senior housing condominium complex where the tennis courts are presently located. The proposed development would include six four-story buildings and 635 parking spaces. In July, a Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Project was issued for review and comment. Currently, the Weddingtons are preparing for the development by lobbying for necessary development approvals, including a requested change in zoning from agricultural to multi-family residential.
While the Weddingtons seek to develop part of their property, and generate income, local residents want the property to remain as open space.
This debate brings to light the often conflicting interests of the public and a private property owner.
The Community’s Perspective
The surrounding community would prefer that the Weddington Golf & Tennis facilities remain as open space available to the public. Although it is private property, opponents of development argue Weddington Golf & Tennis is a community amenity similar to public parks and designated open spaces. As it has been there for many years, the property has become an established community fixture. Now, the community has a vested interest in its future and views the property as a key feature of the community.
Because the property has become like a public park, some argue that the simple answer is for the City to simply purchase it and permanently establish it as a public park. This, however, would come at a substantial cost: Councilman Paul Krekorian, who represents the area and is opposed to the project, has attempted to find funding for the City to buy the land from the Weddingtons, possibly resorting to the use of eminent domain. So far, his attempts to secure the $20 to $30 million necessary to purchase the land have failed. Unless the Weddingtons are willing to donate the land, or accept a steep discount, this scenario does not appear likely.
Since the community is opposed to development of the site, can the City simply prevent the Weddingtons from building 200 condominiums on their private property? To answer briefly, possibly. However, the explanation is multi-faceted and the line between government’s reasonable regulation of private land use (called the “police power”) and government’s regulation effectively taking private property (“eminent domain”) is not always clear.
Because development of the Weddington’s private property requires development approvals, the City does have the ability to deny outright, or limit, the Weddingtons proposal for the condominiums. There is an established development process that the City and Weddington are following, including a public review and consideration of the proposed Project. This process allows the community to voice its concerns about the Project and its potential impacts. As long as the process is followed, the City’s ultimate determination – granting or denying development approvals – would probably be technically legally valid.
As a property owner, though, the Weddingtons are permitted to use their property in an economically viable manner– including potentially the right to change the use of their property. What are the incentives for the City to stop the Weddingtons from developing their property as proposed? The public’s dissatisfaction with the Project may influence City officials to side for open space and preserve access to the LA River. The Weddingtons, however, would probably be entitled to develop their property to some extent – which would probably result in the elimination of some of the existing recreational facilities.
Studio City Residents Association and Save LA River Open Space have submitted their own development impact report to the City outlining impacts of the Project, one of which is the destruction of what they characterize as “rare, irreplaceable open space.” Their intentions are to keep the area open and convert it to the Los Angeles River Natural Park which would include the existing tennis courts and golf course.
The Property Owner’s Point of View
The Weddington’s have the right to use their private property in an economically viable way. The fact that they have opened their property to the public for many years, and provided an important recreational facility to the community, does not negate their rights as private property owners. One of the most important elements of American society is the concept of strong private property rights and a mechanism for upholding those rights.
Economist Armen A. Alchian does not differentiate between property rights and human rights stating “property rights are human rights.” Private property rights are protected under the Fifth Amendment of the Federal Constitution, “…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation” and Article 1, Section 19 of the California Constitution, “Private property may be taken or damaged for a public use only when just compensation … has first been paid to … the owner.”
Private property rights are often described as a bundle of rights – including the right to exclude others from your property. Another aspect of property rights is the “exclusive authority” to determine how to use that property. However, the phrase “exclusive authority” is subject to the “police powers” of the government. This means that the government can reasonably regulate such things as one’s use of their private property in the interest of the public health and safety. In this situation, the City’s has some discretion regarding the use of the Weddington property under its “police power.”
Many residents say they relied on the open space and recreational facilities of the area – including Weddington Golf & Tennis – when purchasing their homes in the Studio City neighborhood.
Is a homeowner’s reliance enough to trump private property rights? Generally, the answer is no. Should it matter that the Weddington’s property is privately owned and is not permanently committed as open space like a public park? Of course it should. The City must also consider the potential public benefits of development of the property as proposed – including significant property tax revenues.
Is There A Possible Compromise
Absent some form of compromise, or the City’s outright acquisition of the property, only one perspective is likely to win out. Or, is there a win-win solution in which both the interests of the public and the property owner are served? If so, both sides would need to compromise – with some open space being preserved, and some development allowed. This may not be palatable to either side – but often the best compromise is one in which both sides are equally unhappy.
By: Glenn L. Block, Esq.
To learn more about Glenn L. Block, partner at California Eminent Domain Law Group, visit