TUNA CANYON DETENTION STATION Important Update

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The following is from Glendale-Crescenta V.O.I.C.E. 
Volunteers Organized in Conserving the Environment

 

As many of you already know, on June 25th approximately one acre of the Verdugo Hills Golf Course was designated as a City of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument to acknowledge and commemorate the Tuna Canyon Detention Station, a long forgotten World War II temporary detention facility that held Japanese, German, and Italian immigrants, Japanese-Peruvians, and others who were taken from their families after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. 

Since the historic designation was granted, there have been a number of developments that are important for you to know about. 

When the City Council unanimously passed the Tuna Canyon Detention Station motion, it also directed the Department of City Planning to convene a Working Group to explore appropriate ways to commemorate the site and to present recommendations to the Council. Ken Bernstein from the City’s Planning Department convened a group made up of representatives of the Japanese-American community, local community stakeholders and historians, the property owner/developer, and staff from Council District 7. This group met four times during the last two months. 

At the first meeting, representatives of the developer, Snowball West Investments, LP, revealed there would be no public access to the designated monument site. The proposed residential development was planned as a gated community and the general public would not be permitted inside. We were told that relatives of those interned at Tuna Canyon might be given permission to visit the site if they telephoned ahead of time and arranged a visit. Otherwise the area designated in the City Council motion would be available only to those who lived within the development. 

This came as a shock to all those who felt public access was absolutely essential to a meaningful commemorative site and that the monument should be placed where the Camp had actually existed. Being shut out was a surprise because during the series of hearings at City Hall, the developer’s representative repeatedly said that the designated area had already been set aside by the owner and there was no need for the City to grant Historic-Cultural Monument status. The representative never mentioned that the site would be closed to the public. 

Ironically lack of public access reminds us that some seventy years ago the Tuna Canyon Detention Station was fenced and gated, its prisoners locked inside. Now the developer was proposing to fence a portion of the site, this time with people locked out.

In early July, a Coalition of community members, including many from the Japanese-American, Italian-American, and German-American communities, Little Landers Historical Society, Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council, Crescenta-Glendale V.O.I.C.E. [Volunteers Organized in Conserving the Environment], Save the Golf Course Committee, Sunland-Tujunga Alliance, and other local community members met to work on developing a vision for the memorial that included public access. 

Members of V.O.I.C.E., who were serving as part of the Coalition, came to believe that if the proposed housing development would not provide public access to the monument, then the 2008 Regional Park Plan developed by V.O.I.C.E. President, Richard Toyon, certainly could. That plan featured a 58-acre regional park that included the golf course and driving range, and added such amenities as tennis courts, a banquet hall, stormwater infrastructure, and recognition of the site’s historic significance including the Tongva village of Wiqanga and the Tuna Canyon Detention Station. V.O.I.C.E. also understood that such a project would require purchasing the property from the owner. We were told at the time, and on several occasions since then, that the owner is a willing seller. 

In 2011, the city’s Bureau of Sanitation/Watershed Protection Division adapted Toyon’s original regional park design by enhancing the infrastructure for storm water capture, recharge, and storage, including a state-of-the-art Aqua Driving Range. The Verdugo Hills Storm Water Project was approved in 2012 and added to the queue for Prop. O funding. For those unfamiliar with Proposition O, it is a water bond measure approved by City of Los Angeles voters in 2004. Projects approved for implementation address water quality issues, provide flood protection, and increase water conservation, habitat protection, and open space. 

Earlier this summer after reviewing the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition’s Vision & Mission Statement, Toyon revised and updated his original design, including an expanded and publicly accessible Historic-Cultural Monument. Toyon’s 2013 Tuna Canyon Regional Park focuses on a variety of the possibilities that could be achieved if sufficient funding could be identified. The new plan provided for parking, public access,a commemorative wall, and even a reproduction of the historic barracks and guard tower, as well as the infrastructure that had been proposed in the Proposition O Verdugo Hills Storm Water Project.

The Vision & Mission Statement and the revised Regional Park Plan were shared with the Working Group on July 24. Two weeks later, on August 7, the Working Group met for what was to be their final meeting. The TCDS Coalition was pleasantly surprised when the developer’s representative indicated public access would be available and that some parking would be provided, along with a trail and interpretive signage. It appeared that the developer was demonstrating a genuine willingness to work with the Coalition group to achieve something positive and long-lasting. 

However, before the meeting concluded, the developer’s attorney announced that he had filed a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles claiming that the City Council’s designation of Historic-Cultural Monument status for Tuna Canyon was illegal. Members of the Working Group and other community members were taken aback by this announcement after so much work had been done in good faith. 

“We were stunned,” said Lloyd Hitt, a local historian who, along with Paul Tsuneishi, Asian-American researchers and others, have spent years researching and documenting the history of the TCDS. “Everything had been going so well. It was a sad moment.”

V.O.I.C.E. is disappointed that the developer would resort to such an action and calls upon him to drop the lawsuit and continue to meet with members of the Working Group to ensure that a meaningful commemoration is achieved. Rest assured the Coalition is continuing to work on behalf of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station. Thank you for your past support – and we ask that you bring that same furor as we move forward. Your participation will make the difference. 

 

Visit Little Landers Historical Society’s
“Tuna Canyon Detention Station” Facebook page

which provides a gathering place for all things related to
Tuna Canyon Detention Station, including photos, articles, and video clips. Stop by and ‘LIKE’ Little Landers’ Tuna Canyon Detention Station page on Facebook.

 

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Glendale-Crescenta V.O.I.C.E. 
Volunteers Organized in Conserving the Environment
gcvoice@gcvoice.org
P.O. Box 273
Montrose, CA 91021
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