Mountain Recreation and Conservation Authority acquires 8.2 acres of open space in Agoura Hills

This image shows the boundary for the new Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority land acquisition in Agoura Hills. Contributed Image

After a successful legal challenge, the proposed development on that land won’t take place

The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) announced on Dec. 30, 2022, that they had closed escrow on 8.2 acres within the City of Agoura Hills. That land is also referred to as the Cornerstone property — the former site of a proposed 217,000-square-foot development on the southeast corner of Agoura Road and Cornell Road, close to the 101 freeway.

A major commercial development at that intersection could have greatly impacted Malibu, since Kanan is a primary evacuation route out of Malibu, and the Kanan/101 intersection is already congested with traffic.

The 8.2 acres had, at one time, been approved for the development of 35 residential apartment units plus retail, restaurant, and office space. Named ‘Cornerstone-at-Cornell and Agoura Roads,’ it was just one part of a proposed Agoura Village complex of a one-million square foot, 135-acre mixed-use development that also included theaters and a hotel. California Commercial Investment Companies was the developer. It’s uncertain whether the two remaining proposed projects are still moving forward — Agoura Village East (AVE) and West Village.

In the fall of 2017, a group of residents plus the California Native Plant Society filed a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) lawsuit alleging that Agoura Hills failed to adequately address key environmental elements of the Cornerstone property, including the documented presence of 10 species of rare, threatened and/or protected plants; failure to consult with tribal representatives over a documented Chumash cultural heritage site on the property; and failure to adequately address traffic, water quality, aesthetics, trails, and wildlife corridors.

“After years of contention, including a successful 2020 legal challenge, the now permanently protected parkland contains some of the most visually and botanically sensitive land in the area, including the federally listed Agoura Hills Dudleya, the California Endangered Species Act candidate crotch bumble bee, the Ojai navarretia, and coast live oak and scrub oak woodland,” the MRCA stated. “Majestic views, including Ladyface Mountain, abound. LA County designated the property as part of the Santa Monica Mountains Significant Ecological Area; and the property forms part of the northern gateway to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.”

“A segment of the ‘Rim of the Valley Trail’ identified in the National Park Service Trail Plan and LA County Regional Trail System already exists on the property; and will link with the City of Agoura Hills ‘Linear Park Trail’ proposal and the existing ‘Paramount Ranch Connector Trail’,” MRCA continued. 

The agency added that they purchased the property because it’s adjacent to hundreds of acres of protected open space that they and Agoura Hills already own, including the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing at Liberty Canyon, which is currently under construction, and the recently acquired 320-acre Triangle Ranch.

“Acquisition of the beautiful property, which is at the tip of a huge conservation area traversed by multiple species including deer, bobcat, and mountain lion, was secured by a $2,300,000 grant from the State Wildlife Conservation Board and a $330,000 grant from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy,” according to their statement.

Retired Assemblymember and State Senator Fran Pavley, also the first Mayor of Agoura Hills, made a statement describing the property as an environmentally sensitive prominent hill with majestic oaks.

“We voted to incorporate our community in 1982 to protect open space, native plants and oaks, and develop responsibly. We recognized our position to provide a major gateway to the Santa Monica Mountains for all people.”

“Our City’s first grant was from the also young Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, to begin a hiking and equestrian trail from the property east to Old Agoura and south towards Paramount Ranch,” Pavley continued. “The Executive Director of the Conservancy, Joe Edmiston, and I — then in our 30s — along with other local leaders —climbed to the top of Ladyface Mountain and looked down at Cornerstone and the other land that we might save for wildlife and people. It’s gratifying to know that public preservation of this irreplaceable open space has finally happened, thanks to the efforts of many local residents, the Native Plant Society, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, and the State Wildlife Conservation Board.”