An attempt by Los Angeles County supervisors to settle a dispute over a proposed "affordable" Calabasas apartment development fizzled Thursday as homeowners and the developer traded insults-- and swapped promises to finish their fight in court.
The angry accusations followed a Board of Supervisors vote to allow 698 apartment units to be built in a canyon bottom at the north end of Las Virgenes Road, about five miles west of the San Fernando Valley. The developer had sought 800 units. Homeowners wanted the project kept to half that.
Residents of the nearby Malibu Canyon Park tract said they would sue the county on grounds that the supervisors failed to adequately investigate their complaints about geologic instability and crowding at the 51-acre site next to their homes before approving the apartments.
Developer Jack Bravo said he would mount a legal challenge of the supervisors' vote on grounds that they violated a state law qualifying him for extra density in exchange for reserving some future rental units for low- or moderate-income families.
Vowed to File Suit
Bravo also vowed to sue homeowners for slander and libel, contending they had they had accused him of seeking to buy off supervisors.
Such a suit would be Bravo's second against his Calabasas neighbors since the builder began putting up town houses near their neighborhood about five years ago.
In 1982, he filed a $500,000 slander action against the Malibu Canyon Homeowners Assn. after group leaders allegedly labeled a condominium project built by Bravo a "tenement." The suit was settled out of court a year ago after homeowners agreed not to use such a term in the future. No damages were paid.
In an angry hearing-room confrontation after Thursday's 3-0 board vote, Bravo warned the president of the homeowners' group, Philip Ramuno, that "this time, I'm taking every . . . thing you've got."
"He alleges the reason we got approved is we made payoffs--donations to the supervisor. That's slander, " Bravo said.
Ramuno, who wrote in a homeowner newsletter that Supervisor Michael Antonovich "arranged" for the Bravo project to get affordable-housing bond backing from the county after receiving campaign donations from Nathan Shapell, one of the project's partners, denied the charges.
"He's trying to use threats to intimidate our community," Ramuno said. "They're not going to stand for it."
According to Ramuno and other neighborhood leaders, Antonovich spurned repeated invitations to meet with them so they could explain why they feel Bravo's apartment site is prone to flooding and landslides. Residents had testified at an earlier county planning commission hearing that a 400-unit apartment project would be more appropriate for the property.
The planning commission eventually recommended that 765 apartments be allowed at the location instead of the 800 Bravo applied for. Bravo said the supervisors' further reduction to 698 units would mean increased costs for renters at the project. He said it would also limit the number of low-rent units available.
Bravo said the county bonds would guarantee him a low interest rate when he seeks private financing for the $60-million project. He stressed that the bonds themselves would not directly finance the construction costs.
Antonovich, who proposed the density reduction Thursday, said no actual construction will be allowed until Bravo proves to county officials that he has "mitigated" all potential geologic and flooding hazards.
But Ramuno said county public works officials have already gone on record as approving the project, even though the site has not been fully tested for geologic problems and there is no indication such tests will be undertaken.
"They didn't even read our geologic reports we submitted today before the vote," Ramuno said. "A suit seems to be our only option. We didn't get any justice here."