Rustic Canyon, Los Angeles
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The residential neighborhood is bordered approximately by Sunset Boulevard to the north, Chautauqua Boulevard to the west, lower Santa Monica Canyon to the south, and Amalfi Drive and Mesa Drive to the east. The neighborhood is between the main section of Pacific Palisades and the Brentwood neighborhoods of Los Angeles, and the Santa Monica Canyon neighborhood of Santa Monica. It is distinctly isolated by its canyon geography and narrow streets. The canyon and creek, with less development, run north of Sunset Boulevard past Will Rogers State Historic Park, and into natural habitat within Topanga State Park.
Rustic Canyon and Santa Monica Canyon are the southernmost of a series of coast-facing canyons which cut into the Santa Monica Mountains from Pacific Palisades through Malibu. Rustic Creek is one of the few in developed Los Angeles not in a concrete storm channel, until its confluence with Santa Monica Creek which flows into nearby Santa Monica Bay. The area is heavily wooded and lush with vegetation, including coast live oaks, California sycamores, various species of Eucalyptus, and many ornamental trees.
The narrow canyon's geography gives it a significantly different microclimate, cooler and more moist, than most other areas of Los Angeles. Coastal fog is common year-round, winter lows rarely drop below 35°F, and summer highs rarely exceed 80°F. Due to its moister climate, and being surrounded by more dense suburban development, the canyon is less threatened by wildfires than other Santa Monica Mountains adjacent communities.
The properties in the canyon are within the 90272 zip code of Pacific Palisades or the 90402 of Santa Monica, though all are within the City of Los Angeles.
The original inhabitants of the area were the indigenous Tongva people (after 1771 referred to by the Spanish missionaries as "Gabrieleño" because they were in the jurisdiction of Mission San Gabriel). The first Europeans to visit the area were members of the Portola expedition of 1769. The expedition sought to follow the coastline, but were stopped by the coastal cliffs of the Santa Monica Mountains. The next day they turned around and went inland, finding a way north through Sepulveda Canyon.
Under Mexican rule, the land between Topanga Canyon and present day Santa Monica was in the Rancho Boca de Santa Monica. It was used for grazing and firewood by the prominent Marquez, Reyes, and Sepúlveda families. During the latter 19th-century, the canyon was known as a camping area and rustic retreat near the beach hotels and resorts of nearby Santa Monica.
Abbot Kinney, the developer known for founding the nearby community of Venice Beach to the south, established an experimental forestry station and planted eucalyptus trees in the lower canyon, which still remain on the Martin Estate. In the late 19th century, the mouth of the canyon was considered as a site for the Port of Los Angeles, however San Pedro Bay was used.
During the early 20th century, the Uplifters, an offshoot of the prominent Los Angeles Athletic Club, established a social club and ranch in Rustic Canyon and built many ranch and cabin style houses as second homes for weekend and annual retreats. The Uplifters later developed a relationship with Will Rogers, whose ranch and estate lay on the other side of Sunset, and built a polo field in the canyon. During the Prohibition era, the Uplifters was known as a high-class drinking club, of which many prominent local politicians and wealthy residents of the city were members. The relative isolation of the area provided an ideal retreat for the wealthy and powerful members of the club, who lived primarily in the upscale areas (of the time) near downtown and in Pasadena to indulge their appetites without undue notice.
To the present day, a sign reading "Uplifters Ranch" hangs over Latimer Road near the former Uplifters clubhouse, which was designed by the architect William J. Dodd. Following the Depression the club began to sell off properties in the area, and disbanded in 1947. The clubhouse and adjacent recreational elements, including a swimming pool, baseball diamond, and tennis courts, were donated to the city in the early 1950s. They are now within the Rustic Canyon Recreation Center city park.
The neighborhood is composed almost entirely of single-family homes, and is without commercial development. The nearest commercial buildings are in lower Santa Monica Canyon at Pacific Coast Highway, and consist of several shops, bars, restaurants, and a gas station.
Celebrities and others of prominence have formerly or currently have residences in the Rustic Canyon neighborhood, including Debra Winger, Randy Newman, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Brandon Tartikoff, Meryl Streep, John Travolta, Michael G. Fisher, Ed Zwick, Marc Norman, Steven Zaillian, Lee Marvin, Bradley Cooper, Renée Zellweger, James Arness, Paul Fix, James Whitmore, John Payne, Jerry Buss, and composer Alfred Newman. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver formerly owned a home across Rustic Creek from Will Rogers State Historic Park.
Rustic Canyon has long been a site of conflict between real estate developers and local residents. Local legends from the 1930s tell of residents staging displays of chasing each other with kitchen knives down the street to scare away real-estate agents. In more recent times, such conflicts have resulted in long legal battles. The wealthy and prominent residents of the neighborhood have demonstrated both the budget and access to the legal system necessary to block unwanted developments.
During the 1980s Steve Tisch, a film producer and Loews Hotels heir, fought a five-year battle against local residents for expanding his large property to include a public city street, and eventually lost the case.
- Setback encroachment
Beginning in 2001, a long-running and complicated legal battle in the canyon at Brooktree and Greentree Roads has questioned a 14 feet (4.3 m) setback encroachment by the owners, raised allegations of corruption within the city of Los Angeles' Building and Safety Department, and as of 2013 remained unresolved. The owners had erroneously calculated the required front yard setback. If a final ruling is ever reached enforcing the setback, the addition's encroachment would need demolition and removal. In September 2007 a judge ruled that the new addition to the Beglari residence was 14 feet (4.3 m) over the setback requirement and closer to the Greentree Road than permitted by the Los Angeles Municipal Code's zoning law. Even though judges have ruled: the use of invalid building permits for the nonconforming addition; and a post-construction occupancy permit being improperly granted; the owners have fought to maintain their non-compliant house for over 12 years. Still without definitive resolution or demolition, another unsuccessful appeal was filed by the owners in 2013.
In 2007, architects Jeanne Chen and Robert Dolbinski of Moore, Yudell Ruble Architects & Planners applied to the City of Los Angeles for a permit to build a single family home at 370 Vance Street in Rustic Canyon. According to its website, Moore Ruble Yudell prides itself on commitment to “design principles that are now recognized as fundamental to green practice.” “…a passion for original architecture that grows out of an intense dialogue with places and people, celebrates human activity, and enhances and nurtures community.”
The construction application called for the excavation of the Vance/East Rustic hillside  to support construction on a very steep (60-78 degree) hillside slope. As the lot has virtually no flat land at the top (on Vance); it is proposed to be built almost entirely into the hillside, a few feet above the Rustic Creek flood control channel.
The project is being built on an extremely hazardous site within the Topanga 7.5-minute quadrangle, according to the California Department of Conservation, Division of Mines and Geology. The East Rustic/Vance hillside is classified as a Number 1 Geologic Strength Group out of 1-5 hazard potential, #1 being at most risk as an earthquake-induced landslide hazard.
The site is within the Santa Monica Earthquake Fault zone, is a Liquefaction zone, and a Severe Fire Hazard zone. The Vance hillside has a history of erosion, causing the flood control channel below to be filled to capacity with soil during the 1994 Northridge earthquake. At least two cases of "Valley fever", causing pneumonia in a young child, resulted from the release of Coccidioidomycosis spores. A single family home fell off the hill in the 1950s. During the Northridge earthquake, a 200 ft long, 1/2" deep fissure opened up the middle of Vance Street, 10 feet away from the building site. Flash flooding and debris blockage in the Rustic Canyon channel have caused automobiles to be swept into the Pacific Ocean two blocks away.
Despite opposition, in writing and in-person by nearly 200 Rustic Canyon residents opposed to the project for the reasons stated above, as well as a critical City Planning Department Report, the City approved the Chen/Dolbinski application. Additionally, the city waived the standard FOS (factory of safety) for the lower portion of the hillside. An appeal of the city's decision was filed with the California Coastal Commission which found what it calls a “Substantial Issue,” temporarily stopping the project from proceeding. Chen/Dolbinski then filed for a permit with the Coastal Commission. During the hearing in October 2011, several commissioners expressed concern about the safety of the project yet spoke to the potential of the applicants filing a lawsuit for a "property-taking" and issued a continuance. Chen/Dolbinski ultimately received a CDP with numerous conditions in December 8, 2011.
On February 6, 2012, Michael Thompson filed suit in California Superior Court against the Coastal Commission, Chen and Dolbinski to overturn the approval of the CDP on numerous grounds. On August 6, 2013, the case was dismissed.
On September 30, 2013, unpermitted construction commenced at the Vance Street partially staged through the Rustic Canyon flood channel. LA Department of Building and Safety issued a stop work order and fine.
On April 10, 2014 the LA Zoning administrator heard an appeal filed by Michael Thompson, pursuant to the provisions of Section 12.26-K of the LAMC, as the whether the LADBS erred or abused their discretion by granting Chen/Dolbinski a 5-foot front yard setback in lieu of requiring a prevailing front yard setback of 27.46 feet on Vance Street. The Zoning administrator overturned the appeal.
On April 16, 2014 construction commenced again at the site in violation of the CDP required biological conditions, specifically weekly bird surveys to protect habitat. On April 17, 2014, Chen/Dolbinski filed the required bird survey with the City of LA and commenced construction on April 18, 2014.
- Will Rogers State Beach
- Will Rogers State Historic Park
- Topanga State Park — natural upper Rustic Canyon and Rustic Creek.
- Murphy Ranch
- Bolton, Herbert E. (1927). Fray Juan Crespi: Missionary Explorer on the Pacific Coast, 1769-1774. HathiTrust Digital Library. pp. 149–150. Retrieved April 2014.
- Inthecanyon.com: "History Of The Canyon"
- City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks: Rustic Canyon Recreation Center — 601 Latimer Road, Santa Monica, CA 90402.
- West LA Community Police Station
- "An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles" by David Gebhard and Robert Winter; 2003; ISBN 1-58685-308-2
- Beglari vs. City of Los Angeles, Filed May 8, 2013.
- Alyson Sena, "Neighborhood Legal Action Finally Brings Results In Setback Dispute" (909 Greentree Road), Palisadian Post, January 13, 2005
- Photo of the Beglari house
- Los Angeles Department of City Planning
- Danielle Gillespie, "Beglaris Appeal Yet Another Legal Decision", Palisadian Post, July 2, 2009
- LADBS App#10010-30000-02658, Case No. ZA 2007-5584 (CDP) (MEL), CEQA: ENV 2007-5585-MND, Michael Thompson, Trustee of the Maison Sur Mer Trust v. California Coastal Commission and Robert Dolbinski and Jeanne Chen, Real Parties in Interest, http://www.eclip.com/images/top_eval.pdf, http://pacificpalisades.patch.com/groups/around-town/p/rustic-canyon-residents-fight-hillside-development, rusticcanyon.wordpress.com
- Hikespeak.com: Rustic Canyon Trail in Will Rogers State Park
- Santa Monica Library digital images: Palisades Historical Image Collection
- Pacific Palisades Historical Society — based in Rustic Canyon.