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Monday, Apr 22, 2024

Orchard Heads to L.A. City Hall

Last month a debate broke out when the heirs of Bothwell Ranch listed the Tarzana property — one of the San Fernando Valley’s last orange groves — for sale at $14.9 million with an eye toward redevelopment into a community of single-family homes. L.A. City Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who represents the area, voiced opposition to the development plan and signaled his support to save the 2,000 orange trees. Earlier this month, the matter went before Los Angeles Planning, Land Use and Management Committee, which voted unanimously to save the ranch. While the move is one step closer to protecting and designating the orange orchard as a historical site, it is only a very early step, said attorney Andrew Fogg of Cox, Castle & Nicholson LLP, who represents the Bothwell heirs in their battle to sell the 14-acre property. “There has been no ‘verdict’ yet,” Fogg told the Business Journal. “The City Council has only voted to initiate proceedings to review it as a potential monument. There will be a staff report prepared, a hearing before the Cultural Heritage Commission and additional proceedings with the City Council before a final decision is made.” At the hearing, Blumenfield’s quest to preserve the orchard found support in public comments from locals such as online petitioner and ranch neighbor Elizabeth Kahn and Rob Hollman, a principal at Valley Village-based Rosinante Group Advisors LLC. “It’s a unique situation, a unique property and they want to do this carefully,” said Hollman, who, per his profession, proposed creating a private/public foundation that would save the trees, serve the community as a cultural center and earn the Bothwells a revenue stream in perpetuity. Hollman noted, a man “who had known the Bothwell family for quite some time” told the council that “he’s assured they made a lot of money over the years after they sold off parcels. They should continue their good name by doing the right thing.” “It’s not a public land,” Fogg said. “This was Annie Bothwell’s private home.” “This orchard did not make a profit for decades,” Fogg continued. “The last year we have numbers for, the orchard had a $220,000 loss. … This has been a money loser for years.” In July, Blumenfield told the Business Journal, “The Bothwell Ranch is a slice of Valley life that has been mostly lost to time. Calling for the preservation of this site is unprecedented for me during my time on the City Council, but it is a necessary step to save this unique place.” Fogg believes that Blumenfield’s crusade is overzealous. The Bothwell property is zoned for residential and should be treated as such. However, the Bothwell family is not opposed to selling the site to the city. “If that’s for the public good, then let the public pay for (it),” Fogg said. One observer of the dispute who disagrees with the need to save Bothwell’s orange trees is Charles Berney, owner of Berney Ranch in Somis. The venerable citrus producer, who has no Bothwell connection or interest, told the Business Journal that at his 42-acre Moorpark-area grove at 6898 E. Road is losing money. “This is the worst year I’ve seen for oranges in 20 years,” Berney said.

Michael Aushenker
Michael Aushenker
A graduate of Cornell University, Michael covers commercial real estate for the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. Prior to the Business Journal, Michael covered the community and entertainment beats as a staff writer for various newspapers, including the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, The Palisadian-Post, The Argonaut and Acorn Newspapers. He has also freelanced for the Santa Barbara Independent, VC Reporter, Malibu Times and Los Feliz Ledger.

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