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LADWP Agrees to Relinquish Long-Held Commercial Property in Owens Valley, Sparking Hope Along 395

A stretch of Highway 395 between the eastern Sierra Nevada range and the White-Inyo Mountains is seen in an undated photo.(Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Highway 395 may soon get to purchase the land underneath their businesses. (Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Angelenos bearing gifts have elicited skepticism in Owens Valley since the early 1900s, when city agents posed as ranchers and farmers to buy land and water rights and then built dams and diversions that turned much of the region into an acrid dust bowl.

The scandal dramatized in the classic 1974 film “Chinatown” also transformed local business owners into lessees paying rent to an overbearing landlord 180 miles to the south.

Now, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is extending an olive branch. The department has proposed selling some of the commercial property it leases – but not the water rights – to dozens of lessees in the financially struggling towns along a rustic, 112-mile stretch of Highway 395 between the eastern Sierra Nevada range and the White-Inyo Mountains.

It’s not clear whether the proposal unveiled earlier this month will ultimately yield fruitful negotiations, but initial skepticism in Olancha, Lone Pine, Big Pine, Independence and Bishop is giving way to genuine excitement.

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