The Bothwell Ranch in Woodland Hills, deemed one of the last commercial orange groves in Los Angeles, Thursday was approved by a city commission for designation as a historic monument, but its owners said they can’t afford to continue to maintain the trees.
Andrew Fogg, the attorney representing owners of the ranch, spoke during the Cultural Heritage Commission meeting and said the ranch is not economically sustainable, and taking action that would keep it as an orchard will only result in dead trees.
“The nomination and the city report both concede that this commercial activity is not viable and has not been viable for decades,” Fogg said. “It’s not just rising land value, it’s the economics of the orchard industry.”
The nearly 14-acre ranch, located at 5300 N. Oakdale Ave., will be considered for designation of the city’s Historic-Cultural Monuments List at a City Council committee meeting at a later date.
A property designated on the list must go through much more rigorous application processes when applying to make major changes to it.
In 2017, Fogg said the ranch made $25,000 from sale of the oranges, but costs associated with maintenance were $246,000 — a tenfold net loss. Water costs $40,000 annually to keep the trees alive, and the ranch and hasn’t turned a profit in over 50 years, Fogg said.
In order to fund operations, Ann Bothwell sold portions of the land, cars and other items to keep it afloat, Fogg said. The land is now held in several trusts.
“At this point, there really is no money left,” he said.
The trustees, however, did explore preserving the land, Fogg said, but it would have come at an excessive cost. The trustees also said the city could buy the land, which was put on the market in April at an asking price of $13.9 million.
Commission President Richard Barron said that the ranch definitely qualifies as a Historic-Cultural Monument, but he also acknowledged its financial burdens.
“I don’t know how you can continue to (pay) that and support this as an orchard,” Barron said. “We (should) make it a monument… and we let the powers that be decide how to deal with the nitty-gritty of the issues associated with this (property).”
Barron said it’s the commission’s duty to determine what should be a city monument, not whether they’re commercially sustainable.
City Councilman Bob Blumenfield first proposed making the ranch part of the city’s monument list in July.
“For nearly a century, the Bothwell Ranch, which straddles Tarzana and Woodland Hills, has been a family-operated enterprise that has captured the spirit of the West Valley,” Blumenfield said at the time. “As a representative of our Valley community, it is my duty to help retain our Valley identity. That starts by holding on to our special landmarks like the Bothwell Ranch.”
A listing by San Diego real estate firm Collier International in partnership with Coldwell Banker, described Bothwell Ranch as “an incredibly rare infill development opportunity.”
Marketing materials from Coldwell included a site plan that would, by zoning right, split the property into 26 half-acre lots for development into single-family homes in a neighborhood of residences that would be priced between $2.4 million and $3.3 million.
Blumenfield’s aides said the effort to place the ranch on the Historic-Cultural Monuments list is not to restrict any development and the councilman’s office made it a point not to weigh in on properties whose owners haven’t formally applied to build or develop something.
A petition to preserve the ranch and its orchard as “green space” was posted on Petition.org since it was disclosed that the property was for sale. As of 2:30 p.m. Thursday, it had garnered more than 3,300 signatures, with some people signing it as the commission meeting took place.
According to the councilman’s office, the ranch has been part of the West San Fernando Valley since owner Lindley Bothwell purchased the lot in 1926 to grow Valencia and Navel oranges. His wife, Ann, oversaw the cultivation of the roughly 1,500 orange trees until she died in 2016.
Blumenfield said much has changed since then, as Los Angeles’ agricultural parcels have disappeared due to housing booms that swallowed up farm land. The Bothwell Ranch has survived decades of rising property values and has shrunk to nearly 10% of its original size, the councilman said.
“If the city does not take steps today to preserve the last remaining citrus grove, it will likely be lost forever,” Blumenfield said.