Santa Monica - Photo courtesy of T S on Unsplash

The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Tuesday to give the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy the opportunity to buy remaining city-owned properties in the mountain zone before adjacent property owners are allowed to — part of an effort to protect some remaining wildlife habitats in the city from being developed.

Council members voted 15-0 Tuesday to approve the ordinance that was requested in March by a 12-0 vote.

The new ordinance, which will take effect 31 days after it is published, gives the conservancy the right of first refusal to acquire Santa Monica Mountain Zone land identified through the “Own A Piece of LA” program, which was launched in 2009 to identify city-owned slivers of land that are deemed undevelopable and offer them to adjoining property owners.

Los Angeles is within the California Floristic Province biodiversity hotspot and includes more than 1,500 endemic plant species, the motion states. However, at least 70% of the natural habitat has been lost, and what remains is largely located in the mountains and hillsides.

“Wildlife habitat connectivity is so essential to the survival of the cornerstone species we share our Santa Monica mountains with, and many areas are in serious danger of being blocked if we do not act urgently and consciously,” said Paul Edelman, chief biologist and deputy director of natural resources and planning of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

While celebrating the vote, Edelman added that “more steps need to be taken sooner rather than later.”

The motion was introduced by Councilman Paul Koretz and Councilwoman Nithya Raman, who cited that “engineering innovation has advanced in the past decades,” which could mean that the land gets developed by the buyer.

Koretz, meanwhile, said before Tuesday’s vote, “I’ve been working with the Planning Department for the better part of a decade to protect wildlife habitat connectivity in the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s critical that we be certain we’re not at the same time inadvertently selling off parcels for development that could obstruct the very linkages we’ve been working so hard to protect.”

The council members noted in their motion that the slivers of undeveloped land provide habitat connectivity for animals in the Santa Monica Mountains, including mountain lions, which are being considered for listing as “threatened” under the California Endangered Species Act.

“Our parkland is precious and acknowledging the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy’s right of first refusal at the original purchase price for surplus city land underscores our commitment and prevents any confusion,” said Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who seconded the motion. “When critical open space is lost, it’s usually lost forever and the SMMC is the biggest protector of our wildlife corridors, open space, and indigenous plant species in the region.”

Koretz’s office credited Citizens for Los Angeles Wildlife for bringing the issue to the council’s attention. The organization’s co-founder, Tony Tucci, said in a statement after the vote:

“The City Council has implemented future oversight by ensuring that the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, an esteemed agency, is well-positioned to preserve and conserve vulnerable properties in our hillsides. The eastern Santa Monica Mountains is a region of LA that is a wildlife corridor under threat daily and every department and agency needs to work in consort to help protect this area.”

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