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Judge Rejects Bid to Seal Warner Ridge Documents : Development: Attorneys for city had sought to block the release of depositions prepared for use in a lawsuit over a land-use permit.

October 12, 1991|RICHARD LEE COLVIN and MICHAEL CONNELLY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

After controversial revelations in a deposition by Los Angeles Councilwoman Joy Picus, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge Friday denied a request by the city for an order blocking the further release of documents prepared for a Woodland Hills land-use lawsuit.

City attorneys had claimed that depositions, including those given by Councilmen John Ferraro and Zev Yaroslavsky, ought to remain private because they might prove embarrassing or prevent the city from getting a fair hearing in a $100-million lawsuit over the proposed Warner Ridge development.

The suit was brought by Warner Ridge Associates, which alleges that the City Council acted illegally in rezoning their property to block construction of office buildings. The trial in the case is expected to begin in January.

The city requested the order earlier this week after Warner Ridge attorneys released the deposition of Picus, the main political opponent of the Warner Ridge project.

The City Council blocked the Warner Ridge project on a narrow vote in January, 1990, after it had been endorsed by the Planning Department and Planning Commission. The developers claim that Picus had assured them she would support their project until she decided that doing so would make her politically vulnerable.

In her deposition, Picus said she was guided by political considerations rather than land-use concerns in seeking to stymie the proposal to build offices on the property, which lies just south of Pierce College. According to other documents in the case, the Woodland Hills Homeowners Organization, which fought the development, had threatened to fight her reelection if she did not go along with their position.

In comments since then, Picus has described her actions as a heroic, lonely struggle in the face of opposition by powerful and rich developers and their allies. Meanwhile, critics on the Planning Commission and in Mayor Tom Bradley's office have criticized her for giving in to political pressures and undermining the supposedly neutral deliberations of planners.

Robert I. McMurry, an attorney for the Warner Ridge development partnership, said that sealing the documents in the case would have unfairly muzzled the plaintiffs while allowing Picus to continue to speak proudly of her role in the case at public forums and in interviews with reporters.

"We are happy the depositions got out because it shows exactly what Mrs. Picus was up to," McMurry said, adding that he and his client would decide Monday whether to release additional documents.

While rejecting the city's request for a temporary seal on documents in the case, Judge Kathryn Doi Todd said the city is free to submit further arguments for a permanent order.

Deputy City Atty. Glenn Calsada said he has not decided whether to seek a hearing to argue for a formal protective order.

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