January 3, 2023

MRCA Acquires Some of the Most Visually Stunning and Botanically Sensitive Open Space in the City of Agoura Hills

 Visible to thousands of daily motorists on the 101 Freeway and surrounding parklands, the Cornerstone property expands the Liberty Canyon Wildlife Corridor and protects a segment of the Rim of the Valley Trail with immediate trail connections to the Santa Monica Mountains.


 

AGOURA HILLS, CA  -- The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) announced on December 30th that escrow had closed on the acquisition of the regionally significant 8.2-acre Cornerstone property on the southeast corner of Agoura Road and Cornell Road in the city of Agoura Hills. At one time approved for a development of 35 residential apartment units plus retail, restaurant, and office space, the new parkland abuts hundreds of acres of protected open space owned by the MRCA and the City including the western approach of the in-construction Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing at Liberty Canyon south of the 101 Freeway.

Acquisition of this 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.

“If you lived in the Agoura area over 40 years ago, as I did," recalled retired Assemblymember and State Senator Fran Pavley, who was the first Mayor of Agoura Hills, “you knew this environmentally sensitive prominent hill with majestic oaks, Cornerstone, because our only market and post office were located across the street at what is now the Whizin Arcade. “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. It was to begin a hiking and equestrian trail from the Cornerstone property east to Old Agoura and south towards Paramount Ranch. The Executive Director of the Conservancy, Joe Edmiston, and I—then in our 30’s—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 is 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.”

After years of contention, including a successful 2020 legal challenge won by the California Native Plant Society and the local community group Save the Agoura Cornell Knoll, 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 ESA candidate species crotch bumble bee, and the Ojai navarretia as well as Coast live oak and scrub oak woodland. Majestic views, including that of Ladyface Mountain abound. Los Angeles County designated the property as part of the Santa Monica Mountains SEA (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 NPS 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.


The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) is a local government public entity dedicated to the preservation and management of open space and parkland, watershed lands, trails, and wildlife habitat. The MRCA works in cooperation with other government partners to acquire parkland, participate in vital planning processes, provide natural resources and scientific expertise, and complete major park improvement projects. The MRCA manages and provides ranger services and fire protection for almost 80,000 acres of parkland that it owns and that are owned by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy or other agencies and provides comprehensive education and interpretation and leadership programs for youth. It is one of the lead agencies providing for the revitalization of the Los Angeles River.


December 30, 2022

Cornerstone Property Acquired by MRCA

It's official! The MRCA, Mountains Restoration and Conservation Authority, has closed on its acquisition of the Cornerstone property, the long disputed knoll at the south east corner of Agoura and Cornell Roads. All grant money from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the California Wildlife Conservation Board was received before the end of this year, 2022, as required by the property owners. The closing took place on December 29 and the property is officially transferred to the MRCA where it is destined to become permanent open space and wildlife habitat. 

The Cornerstone property


The development once proposed for the site




December 19, 2022

A Eulogy for P-22 from Beth Pratt

 

Dear Friends:

I write this eulogy while looking across one of the ten-lane freeways P-22 somehow miraculously crossed in 2012, gazing at a view of his new home, Griffith Park. Burbank Peak and the other hills that mark the terminus of the Santa Monica Mountains emerge from this urban island like sentinels making a last stand against the second largest city in the country. The traffic noise never ceases. Helicopters fly overhead. The lights of the city give the sky no peace.

Yet a mountain lion lived here, right here in Los Angeles.

I can’t finish this sentence without crying because of the past tense. It’s hard to imagine I will be writing about P-22 in the past tense now.

Biologists and veterinarians with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced today they have made the difficult decision to end P-22’s suffering and help him transition peacefully to the next place. I hope his future is filled with endless forests without a car or road in sight and where deer are plentiful, and I hope he finally finds the mate that his island existence denied him his entire life.

I am so grateful I was given the opportunity to say goodbye to P-22. Although I have advocated for his protection for a decade, we had never met before. I sat near him, looking into his eyes for a few minutes, and told him he was a good boy. I told him how much I loved him. How much the world loved him. And I told him I was so sorry that we did not make the world a safer place for him. I apologized that despite all I and others who cared for him did, we failed him.

I don’t have any illusion that my presence or words comforted him. And I left with a great sadness I will carry for the rest of my days.


Before I said goodbye, I sat in a conference room with team members from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the team of doctors at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The showed me a video of P-22’s CT scan, images of the results, and my despair grew as they outlined the list of serious health issues they had uncovered from all their testing: stage two kidney failure, a weight of 90 pounds!!! (he normally weighs about 125), head and eye trauma, a hernia causing abdominal organs to fill his chest cavity, an extensive case of demodex gatoi (a parasitic skin infection likely transmitted from domestic cats), heart disease, and more. The most severe injuries resulted from him being hit by a car last week, and I thought of how terrible it was that this cat, who had managed to evade cars for a decade, in his weakened and desperate condition could not avoid the vehicle strike that sealed his fate.

As the agency folks and veterinarians relayed these sobering facts to me, tissue boxes were passed around the table and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. This team cares just as much for this cat as we all do. They did everything they could for P-22 and deserve our gratitude.

Although I wished so desperately he could be returned to the wild, or live out his days in a sanctuary, the decision to euthanize our beloved P-22 is the right one. With these health issues, there could be no peaceful retirement, only some managed care existence where we prolonged his suffering—not for his benefit, but for ours.



Those of us who have pets know how it feels when we receive news from the veterinarian that we don’t want to hear. As a lifelong dog and cat owner, I have been in this dreadful position too many times. The decision to let them go is never easy, but we as humans have the ability, the responsibility, and the selflessness to show mercy to end the suffering for these beloved family members, a compassionate choice we scarcely have for ourselves.

I look at Griffith Park through the window again and feel the loss so deeply. Whenever I hiked to the Hollywood sign, or strolled down a street in Beachwood Canyon to pick up a sandwich at The Oaks, or walked to my car after a concert at the Greek Theater, the wondrous knowledge that I could encounter P-22 always propelled me into a joyous kind of awe. And I am not alone -- his legion of stans hoped for a sight of Hollywood’s most beloved celebrity, the Brad Pitt of the cougar world, on their walks or on their Ring cams, and when he made an appearance, the videos usually went viral. In perhaps the most Hollywood of P-22’s moments, human celebrity Alan Ruck, star of Succession, once reported seeing P-22 from his deck, and shouting at him like a devoted fan would.

We will all be grappling with the loss of P-22 for some time, trying to make sense of a Los Angeles without this magnificent wild creature. I loved P-22 and hold a deep respect for his intrepid spirit, charm, and just plain chutzpah. We may never see another mountain lion stroll down Sunset Boulevard or surprise customers outside the Los Feliz Trader Joe’s. But perhaps that doesn’t matter—what matters is P-22 showed us it’s possible.

He changed us.  He changed the way we look at LA. And his influencer status extended around the world, as he inspired millions of people to see wildlife as their neighbors. He made us more human, made us connect more to that wild place in ourselves. We are part of nature and he reminded us of that. Even in the city that gave us Carmeggedon, where we thought wildness had been banished a long time ago, P-22 reminded us it’s still here.

His legacy to us, and to his kind will never fade. He ensured a future for the entire population of mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains by inspiring us to build the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, which broke ground this spring.

P-22 never fully got to be a mountain lion. His whole life, he suffered the consequences of trying to survive in unconnected space, right to the end when being hit by a car led to his tragic end. He showed people around the world that we need to ensure our roads, highways, and communities are better and safer when people and wildlife can freely travel to find food, shelter, and families. The Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing would not have been possible without P-22, but the most fitting memorial to P-22 will be how we carry his story forward in the work ahead. One crossing is not enough – we must build more, and we must continue to invest in proactive efforts to protect and conserve wildlife and the habitats they depend on—even in urban areas.


P-22’s journey to and life in Griffith Park was a miracle. It’s my hope that future mountain lions will be able to walk in the steps of P-22 without risking their lives on California’s highways and streets. We owe it to P-22 to build more crossings and connect the habitats where we live now.

Thank you for the gift of knowing you, P-22. I’ll miss you forever. But I will never stop working to honor your legacy, and although we failed you, we can at least partly atone by making the world safer for your kind.

With kindness,

Beth Pratt

California Regional Executive Director, National Wildlife Federation

Leader, #SaveLACougars Campaign

November 16, 2022

California Wildlife Conservation Board Votes Grant to MRCA to Acquire Cornerstone

The Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) voted Tuesday, November 15, to provide a grant to the Mountains Restoration and Conservation Authority (MRCA) to purchase the Cornerstone property appropriately identified as the Agoura Hills-Santa Monica Mountains Gateway. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) also contributed funds towards this purchase. There is a willing seller. The MRCA will maintain the property. Evidence of endangered native plants, a wildlife corridor, future trails, and protection of the nearby recently purchased Triangle Ranch were some of the reasons for awarding this grant. The grant was unanimously approved. 

In an emailed statement, former State Senator and Agoura Hills' first mayor said, "Thanks to everyone who helped make this happen! Happy Anniversary Agoura Hills!" 

Certainly, thanks should go to the many citizens who mobilized to oppose the large scale development project sited for this parcel in November of 2016. The lawsuit filed by STACK (Save the Agoura Cornell Knoll), and supported by the California Native Plant Society, in opposition to the Cornerstone development, was successful in court and upheld by the State Supreme Court. It put an end to to the project which included 44 residential units and 112,000 square feet of commercial development. Once it is purchased by the MRCA, the land will be preserved as open space and wildlife habitat in perpetuity.

One Agoura Hills resident who spoke at the meeting, Mary Ann Rush, said "Fran Pavley deserves lots of the credit. Her speech was wonderful as she spoke about the project being a great gift to the city for its 40th Birthday." We agree that  Agoura Hills also  owes a big "Thank You" to Fran who serves on both the WCB and the SMMC board. From her early days as first mayor of Agoura Hills, throughout her subsequent political career in the California Assembly and Senate, and in her current roles with the SMMC, the WCB and the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy, Fran has been a consistent and indefatigable champion for the the environment and the preservation of the Santa Monica Mountains. Virtually every parcel of mountain habitat in our area that has been preserved for future generations has her involvement in some manner. As a member of the WCB, Fran spoke convincingly about the importance of this parcel and made the motion to grant the funds to the MRCA.