Last commercial orange grove in the San Fernando Valley slated for luxury homes

Effort to preserve 14-acre Bothwell Ranch fails, councilman cuts deal to save 4.6 acres

Councilman Bob Blumenfield with 5300 N. Oakdale Ave
Councilman Bob Blumenfield with 5300 N. Oakdale Ave (Dean Musgrove, iStock)

A swath of the century-old Bothwell Ranch, the last commercial orange grove in the San Fernando Valley, may soon go into the wood chipper and be replaced by luxury homes.

Two thirds of the 14-acre commercial orange grove at 5300 N. Oakdale Ave. in Woodland Hills will soon be destroyed and replaced by 21 high-end homes, the Los Angeles Daily News reported.

A three-year community effort to save the historic grove south of Ventura Boulevard near Tarzana has been replaced by a plan by Los Angeles City Councilman Bob Blumenfield to preserve 4.6 acres.

What was originally a 140-acre orchard was bought in 1926 by Lindley Bothwell, a rancher, vintage car collector, surfer and USC cheerleading coach who pioneered its sports stadium moving card stunt cheer when the Valley was blanketed in orange groves. He died in 1986.

His wife, Helen Ann Bothwell, managed the property until she died in 2016.

The Bothwell heirs listed the property in 2019, sparking an outcry from neighbors and government officials who grappled to preserve the historic orchard in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains. The family valued the property then at $15 million. Zoning allows the property to be split into 26 half-acre single-family lots, then worth $2-4 million each.

Blumenfield moved to protect the grove, and initiated a bid to designate its 2,000 trees a city Historic-Cultural Monument.

Then an attorney representing the Bothwell trustees warned that if the city designated it as historic without an adequate purchase offer, family members would shut off the ranch’s water supply and kill its Valencia and navel orange trees.

A grass-roots campaign tried to raise money to buy the ranch, collecting 3,800 signatures calling for its preservation, to no avail.

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Blumenfield said his office worked with state legislators and neighbors to raise the funds to purchase the citrus orchard outright, but they were not able to come up with enough money to make a proposal to buy even a fraction of the land.

Bothwell Ranch now costs its owners $30,000 a month to water the orange trees, he said.

Under the proposed plan, 4.6 acres of the grove will be donated and transferred by developer Borstein Enterprises, based in Sawtell, to the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, which would take care of the trees.

Some of the doomed trees in the targeted development section of the grove could be moved to the preserved section.

Blumenfield said he was confident that the developer would keep it untouched, and preserve the agreed-upon protected part of the orchard. Securing a plan to preserve even a portion of the grove is “a big win,” he said.

“The danger is that the longer this drags on,” Blumenfield said, “the greater are the chances of that becoming just a giant dirt lot.”

Other efforts are being made to preserve pieces of Southern California orange grove history. In the Inland Empire, a developer cut a deal to preserve a 60-acre grove in the city of Redlands.

[Los Angeles Daily News] – Dana Bartholomew