A drive through Coldwater Canyon is filled not only with mountainous bends and towering trees but hundreds of white signs with bold red letters. The signs read, “Say ‘NO’ to two years of construction—airborne pollutants and traffic delays,” and other similar messages.
In the heart of Coldwater Canyon is Harvard-Westlake, a high school that plans to construct a three-story, 750-space parking lot structure on a 5.5 acre vacant property owned by the school on the other side of the street. It will also feature an athletic field on top and a bridge over Coldwater Canyon Avenue that will connect it to the main campus.
Izbicki’s house, which overlooks Harvard-Westlake, is separated from the school by only about 200 feet or so. The property values of homes in a half-mile radius of the school average from $1 to 3 million according to Zillow, an online real estate database.
As a real estate agent, Izbicki says people want to live on Coldwater because of the peace, solitude, and green nature that the canyon provides. “We just don’t want to become another community that’s just lost in traffic and overconstruction to the point where we lose our identity,” he said.
He and about 1,100 other community members have banded together in a group called Save Coldwater Canyon. “We live here as well as they do. We have to cooperate,” Izbicki said. “We have to live in concert, and without that added to from them, then we have to take it upon ourselves to fight it.” Izbicki said he and other neighbors wish the school had contacted the residents for opinion and feedback before submitting plans to the city.
But John Amato, the vice president of Harvard-Westlake, sees their relationship differently. “We think we’re pretty good neighbors. We are forward-looking in a community way,” Amato says. “We want to be in this neighborhood. We have been in this neighborhood for years. We want to continue to be in the neighborhood. That’s never been a question, and we want to be helpful to the neighborhood in every possible way we can.” The school has been on that property since 1937.
Amato says the main purpose of the structure is safety. “What we’re trying to do is take care of safety, take care of parking, and really making the area around the neighborhood better and more conducive to a safe, positive environment,” he says.
But Amato’s vision might even be lost on the Harvard-Westlake students for whom the structure will be built. “The thing is, the parking spots, there are a limited number. But, it’s not like it’s that bad,” says Cameron Wood, a senior at the school. “Most people have parking spots that want them.” Though Wood drives, he mostly takes the bus to school from his home near Santa Monica. He said that many of his friends who can drive choose not to.
Residents like Laurie Cohn, the vice president of Save L.A. River Open Space, said there is a conflict of interest. “It’s a battle because developers come in and see potential, yet the community is the one that’s going to live with the traffic and live with the cars and live with people parking in their neighborhood and everything else it brings, so there’s two sides to everything, unfortunately,” she said.
-Cameron Quong, Staff Reporter/Video Producer