Written by Jeanette Williams, Pasadena Star News. September 4, 2009
After years of conflict over access to the Rubio Canyon trail, the Altadena Conservancy negotiated a deal with the owner of 20 acres of the canyon to buy the land and guarantee access in perpetuity. Left to Right, Paul Ayers, Sameer Etman and Lawren Markle look over the parcel.
ALTADENA – In its first major land acquisition the Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy has closed escrow on a pristine 20-acre parcel at the mouth of Rubio Canyon, ensuring permanent public access to a prime trail into the Angeles National Forest.
“This was actually one of our top priority acquisitions,” said Nancy Steele, president of the conservancy – until recently the Altadena Foothills Conservancy.
“We do have a conservation plan for Altadena, and ranked all the parcels a few years ago,” Steele said. “This came out No. 1 in terms of quality, wildlife habitat, the potential for recreation, the value of the watershed and the beauty of the region.”
In addition to its historical importance – part of the Mt. Lowe Railway is on the property – Steele said the creek and series of waterfalls mean the area boasts a wide range of plant and animal life.
Steele said the group has raised about half the roughly $25,000 purchase price from board members and contributions from the public, and wants to raise a total of $50,000 to establish a land stewardship fund to maintain the property.
Landowner Sameer Etman said he bought 41 acres of Rubio Canyon in 2001, declining to say how much he paid, and has kept 21 more valuable buildable acres to live on and perhaps subdivide in the future.
Steele said the conservancy now wants to expand beyond Altadena, focusing on land from the Sierra Madre border to the Verdugo Hills and south into
Pasadena and the Los Angeles watershed area.
“We have big plans,” she said. “We do want to play a major role as a private land trust acquiring land and easements and restoring parcels that may need a little help to return to good habitats. … Parcels of historic significance are of especial importance to us.”
Paul Ayers, a Glendale attorney, hiker and long-time trail advocate, said he helped broker the deal with Etman.
The relationship was somewhat rocky to begin with, Ayers said, and he sued Etman in 2001 to ensure the trail would be preserved.
“We settled,” Ayers said. “Sameer and I have become friends over the years, and he has become very supportive of the trail work.”
To preserve the canyon, “Sameer sold the best part, the really necessary trails … all the view sheds of camyon that can be seen when you enter are protected,” Ayers said. “It’s a win/win/win for everyone as far as I can tell.”
Etman said he has always loved the site.
“When I walked on the land for the first time, I really realized how fantastic Rubio Canyon is, and that it shouldn’t be in private hands,” Etman said. “From then on I was planning to donate it, and this is the fulfillment of that promise.”
Although not strictly a donation, Etman said the conservancy bought the 20 acres for a “nominal price.”
“I just wanted to make sure the conservancy got ownership regardless of any future change,” he said. “It’s an amazing natural area and I’m glad I was custodian of it for a while.”
In 1998, Rubio Canyon was filled with more than 16 feet of debris from a massive landslide triggered by the Rubio Canon Land and Water Association during federally funded repairs to a damaged pipeline.
Five waterfalls and part of a sixth were buried, and after much debate about restoration – and how to pay for it – torrential rains in the winter of 2004 scoured the canyon and revealed most of them again.
Board member Lawren Markle said the conservancy was “deeply grateful” to Etman for agreeing to the purchase.
“We understand his vision, that he’s preserving something special,” Markle said. ”
“There are other examples in Altadena where vast tracts of open space … and beautiful canyons are erased by development. It’s all about landowners sharing the vision and protecting the land.”