AZUSA: City Moves Closer To Acquiring Garcia Trail Hillside

Photo courtesy of the Azusa Police Department.

For avid hikers, the future of Garcia Trail is ambiguous for now, but Azusa City Council members voted unanimously August 15 to accept the title to 201 acres of the trail’s hillside to eventually transfer the property to a joint powers authority to co-manage the land.

The city eventually intends to transfer the land to a newly-formed joint powers authority–created by the city and the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy–to manage it as low-impact open space.

Rosedale Land Partners, which owns the 201 acres, has agreed to provide $50,000 in “seed money” to assist the Azusa-RMC Joint Powers Authority in beginning operations, Azusa city staff said.

The Azusa City Council approved the Certificate of Acceptance of Title to the land, approved Operating Memorandum No. 2, which addresses hillside open space dedication and the Citrus Avenue extension,  and appointed two Azusa City Council members to JPA’s board of directors.

One major sticking point for Azusa Council member Uriel Macias was the grant deed transferring the land to the JPA. Macias said he was under the impression the City would own the land and manage it through the JPA and expressed worry that the JPA could sell the land, or leverage it if it chose.

“It was never discussed that we would convey Title to the JPA. The discussion was that we would always maintain title and manage it in accordance with the RMC,” Macias said at the Azusa City Council meeting.

Azusa City Manager Troy Butzlaff said the JPA will be used as the administration the manage the property. For that to happen, the title must be conveyed to the JPA so that it has a property right.

“We are conveying it, but the city has a reservation of rights should the JPA ceases to exist, or the JPA not provide the direction … by which the city chooses. Then it gets reverted back to the city,” Butzlaff said, adding that the city would maintain majority interest on the JPA board.

Action on the Title to the JPA was held to be revised, discussed and possibly approved at a future meeting.

In September of 2015, Rosedale Land Partners was negotiating to potentially give the land to a nonprofit organization–taking the Azusa City Council by surprise, which reportedly had not known about Rosedale’s intentions.

According to the 2004 development agreement between Rosedale Land Partners, the city of Azusa has first right to accept the land. Rosedale’s deal eventually fell through.

The conservancy will choose two board members and the Azusa Planning Commission will choose one more Azusa representative.

The Conservancy will select its two JPA board members in September, while the Azusa Planning Commission will select another member the same month. The JPA is scheduled to have its first board meeting in October, where it will formally accept the title to the hillside.


What About the Trail?

Azusa resident Dan Simpson, owner of Dan’s Hiking Pages, spoke in favor of reopening Garcia Trail, which remain indefinitely closed due to the damage caused during the Colby Fire.

“It’s been two and a half years and it’s really time to address the issue of Garcia Trail,” Simpson said.

Simpson spoke of writing numerous letters and having addressed the Azusa City Council previously about the future of Garcia Trail, but his questions mostly fell on deaf ears.

“Mr, Mayor, do you and your colleagues … have the intent and will to see Garcia Trail be restored? It’s a simple question. I know it’s a complex issue, there’s a lot of forces on one side and the other. The public needs you to weigh in,” Simpson said.

A handful of individuals, skirting the law by walking along the closed trail, told Simpson that the majority of the steep trail is in fairly good condition.

Simpson seeks approval from the Azusa City Council to have a group escorted up the trail to observe the trail’s condition.

“The damage and instability that forced the closure of the trail are no longer an issue, or if they can be easily mitigated, then we need to open the trail again,” Simpson said.

In September of last year, Azusa City Manager Troy Butzlaff reportedly told Simpson that residents of Rosedale would be a huge block in getting the trail reopened, citing Rosedale’s objections to increased traffic, litter and parking issues; that it would be unlikely that Garcia Trail would ever be reopened.

Butzlaff said Simpson’s comments were slightly out of context, adding that the city manager has fielded many complaints from Rosedale residents about parking issues prior to the trail’s closure and what issues may arise if the trail were to reopen.

“If there’s an alternative to reopening the Garcia Trail on this side of the ridge, it would be in the city’s best interest to look at that,” Butzlaff said.

The Conservancy is in the process of considering an alternative to reopening the trail–possibly in a new configuration, Butzlaff said.