University considers selling property in Santa Monica Mountains

Associated Press/May 20, 2004

Los Angeles -- A private university financed by a Buddhist sect will consider selling its 588-acre property in the Santa Monica Mountains to be used as park land, a county supervisor said Thursday.

Zev Yaroslavsky met with officials from Soka University of America and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy earlier this week after learning the university would consider a sale.

Yaroslavsky called the land the "most important unprotected property in the Santa Monica Mountains."

"The significance of the announcement today is we have a potentially willing seller and a potentially willing buyer," he said.

Soka spokeswoman Wendy Wetzel Harder confirmed school officials were willing to negotiate.

No financial terms were disclosed. Appraisals on the property are expected soon, officials said.

The university was unable to fully expand its campus in Calabasas, so it bought property in Orange County in 1995 to develop. In 1997, university officials and the conservancy reached an agreement on limited expansion. The Sierra Club sued, and the court rejected the deal.

Soka has been unwilling to sell up until now and the conservancy has been unable to take the property through eminent domain.

The property has seen various owners over the years, including homesteader Edward C. Stokes, razor company founder King Camp Gillette, and several seminaries and a church. Soka bought the land in 1986 from the Church Universal and Triumphant's Summit University and opened a nonprofit independent school.

Environmentalists want to preserve the rugged terrain of the the Santa Monica Mountains, northwest of Los Angeles, but developers want to build homes. Last year, the conservancy closed escrow on the nearly 3,000-acre Ahmanson Ranch, completing the purchase of oak-dotted land on the line of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

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