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Sunland Tujunga Specific Plan dispute turns clamorous


Sunland Tujunga's battle over the future of Foothill Boulevard took a clamorous turn Friday morning, when a monthly community publication called The Foothills Paper published a letter to the editor from a top neighborhood official decrying the recent actions of his own Neighborhood Council's Land Use Committee (LUC) and the Sunland Tujunga Alliance (STA) in encouraging Paul Krekorian to revisit a key local planning statute.

The clamor extended into the night as factions argued on message boards over the charges in the letter. Entitled "Open Letter to Councilmember Paul Krekorian," the letter, penned by Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council vice president of community outreach David G. Cain, asserted that the recent effort to revisit the Foothill Boulevard Corridor Specific Plan "reflects the desires of a small handful of people who, with good intentions, bullied this thru the LUC without thorough consideration or representation of the pros or cons."

The letter went on to allege "[t]here is evidence that key people involved with this move stand to profit financially if the FBCSP is opened, thus raising the question of a conflict of interest."

The letter so outraged proponents of revisiting the Specific Plan that some even called for Cain to resign from the board.

"I think he should stop listening to Elaine Brown," Tomi Lyn Bowling, one of the signers of the document that encouraged the Councilman to revisit the fifteen-year-old Plan, wrote me via email, linking Cain to a key Plan opponent. Bowling is also a self-described "founding member" of the STA. Others wrote at The Foothills Forum message boards that Cain should resign his office for what he had written.

Brown, one of the primary opponents of revisiting the Plan, has been much involved with land use issues affecting Sunland Tujunga and adjacent communities in the past decade. Called an obstructionist and "of another century" by the proponents of revisiting the Plan, she is in return critical of the work of the Sunland Tujunga Alliance and its two co-directors, Abby Diamond and Joe Barrett.

"Abby and Joe have only filed four appeals in five years--if you listen to them, you'd think they'd filed hundreds," Brown told me. "I personally have filed three appeals in the past eight years, two on land use issues and one on the Foothill Boulevard Corridor Specific Plan."

While the proponents of the Plan remain rankled by the Cain letter, Cain and other opponents of revisiting the Specific Plan also point to illicit tactics by the proponents. They claim that the joint Land Use Committee/Alliance letter was rushed through committee without adequate community disclosure.

Cain's letter, dated June 16, insists that the letter requesting the City to revisit the Specific Plan "was presented to the STNC with no educational material or time to research the FBCSP by the board members, the majority of whom are completely unfamiliar with 'the Plan' or its impact on the community."

The opponents also claim being subjected to bullying and intimidation attempts, especially from the STA.

"Three or four years ago, I didn't do something Joe asked me to," Brown told me. "Joe used language I had never heard--it was like having an abusive spouse go off on you. He swore he would ruin my reputation, and he's been trying to do it ever since--I think he's succeeding."

Barrett declined to respond to Brown's statement. STA co-director Diamond made no apologies for her STA partner's alleged verbal assaults. In fact, she terms such concerns "immature, narrow-minded and unfortunate."

"It is unfortunate that they are focusing on personalities rather than improving the community as a whole," she added in an email.

While talking to various signers of the Neighborhood Council/STA letter who encouraged revisiting the Plan, I also asked leadership in both organizations to clarify questions regarding the Sunland Tujunga Alliance's organizational status, and whether or not as an advocacy group it should be partnering with a City Charter organization at all.

The STA's 501(c)(4) status is mostly utilized by advocacy groups and lobbying firms. The special status keeps donor lists off the public record; donations made to these groups are also not tax-deductible.

Many local organizations maintain the (c)(4) status. However, not many of these receive large enough donations to warrant registering with the City as lobbyists. The City requires lobbyists to disclose certain categories of donations, especially donations above $250, if applied towards lobbying activities. It also requires individuals to register as lobbyists if they draw pay for more than thirty hours of lobbying service across three months' time.

Diamond tells me that the organization has received no donation larger than $400. She was unfamiliar with how much money the organization received from donors in any given year. (It appears the organization received $18,000 in 2007--Diamond thought the figure was possible for that year, and said the STA was on track to receive far less than that this year).

"We incorporated with the State in 2005 and rec'd our 501(c)4 status in 2007," Diamond tells me, regarding the (c)(4) status of STA. "We originally filed for (c)3 status, but the IRS reviewed our application and determined we were more political than was allowed under the (c)3 guidelines."

UPDATE: Tomi Lyn Bowling, chair of the STNC LUC, advises in comments that general readers may also like to refer to her long examination of the ongoing disputes in Sunland Tujunga planning.

UPDATE II: Bowling confirms via email that she was a "founding member" of the STA but not an officer. The post originally identified her as an "officer." Street-hassle regrets the error.


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Reversal of field in Sunland Tujunga