Community requests district conduct feasibility study of farm easement

CORRECTION JUNE 12: This article incorrectly states that the proposed easement would transfer ownership of the land to a third party. It should say the easement would transfer development rights, not the land itself, from the district to a non-profit third party.

The L.A. Community College District board of trustees received requests Wednesday to conduct a study into the feasibility of placing Pierce College farmland into an agricultural easement.

Proponents of the plan, spearheaded by Pierce College Foundation chair Denise Robb, said that a feasibility study by the district would be the first step toward transferring the land into the control of an outside third party, with tight restrictions over its future usage.

“Whenever our budget is bad, there’s discussions by the board of trustees and various presidents to sell all or part of the farm,” Robb said. “It almost became a golf course a few years back.”

Alex Kasendorf, an attorney based in Encino, also spoke to the board during the public comments portion of the June 10 meeting. Kasendorf said although he never attended Pierce and has no official connection to the campus, he believes the farmland has a unique place in the Valley.

“I’ve taken my family there for many different things,” Kasendorf said. “It’s been important to me as a father in this community to have a resource for my family to go out of the confines of what we traditionally see in Los Angeles.”

Kasendorf cited Warner Center as an example of how development in the Valley continues to turn the region into a more urban environment, and said the farmland is one of the last places where his children can “feel the dirt.”

“I notice that every school has ‘L.A.’ in front of it. L.A. Mission, West L.A.,” Kasendorf said and pointed to the colleges’ names listed on the wall. “L.A. is known for Hollywood, big commercial projects, the 405, traffic, this and that. It’s not known for agriculture. Well guess what – there’s one school that doesn’t have L.A. in front of it, and that’s Pierce College. For that very purpose, let’s keep L.A. out of Pierce College.”

Pierce College President Kathleen Burke, however, remained unconvinced that the college would benefit from either a feasibility study or an easement, and said that “deeding the land to any third party would make it more difficult for instruction.”

Burke, who has said repeatedly that neither she nor the board of trustees have any intention of selling the land for development, questioned the effects the college might face if it were to relinquish control over the farmland.

Burke said she is “not concerned” that if the land remains district property, pieces of it could be sold by the district in tight budget years. That lack of concern was not shared by Robb, who said there has been a history of administrations doing just that.

“People say ‘when have we ever developed it,’ and we did in the 80s and we did in the 90s, and then it almost became a golf course a few years back,” Robb said. “So you can’t say it can’t happen, or that we’re not going to let it happen, because two boards let it happen.”

Burke said that for now, rather than consider selling the land, the college has instead begun to outline potential uses for the land which would relate to agriculture instruction. According to a plan released in April, the possible cultivation of wine grapes, citrus trees and avocado trees are all options under review by Burke’s administration.

Any plans for the land would be researched for their viability in the ongoing drought, according to Burke, who said water resources will “continue to be an issue for the world.” She added that the plans would be discussed with members of the surrounding community.

“We have made a commitment to the community that we will be going to all the homeowners’ associations,” Burke said.

The board did not indicate whether they intend to put forward a motion to conduct the feasibility study, and there is no word yet on the proposed easement. The next meeting of the board is scheduled for Wednesday, June 24, at the Educational Services Center located in downtown L.A.