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Land-Use Suit Names Musician, Agency : Santa Monicas: State and L.A. officials are accused of seeking to buy the parcel to please Don Henley.

April 29, 1993|MYRON LEVIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rock musician Don Henley and city and state officials have been accused in a lawsuit of conspiring to block development of a parcel of land in the Santa Monica Mountains so the state could buy it for less than its value and protect the solitude of Henley's Bel-Air home.

The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by the owners of the property above Sherman Oaks, contends that officials fraudulently concocted environmental motives for buying the land--such as protecting wildlife habitat--when their real goal was to please Henley so he would contribute money and his star status to their campaigns.

The lawsuit was filed by Richard, Jean and Adam Siegler against Henley and several officials, including Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky and Joseph T. Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

It contends they "were motivated by a desire to please and placate Henley, a well-known and well-connected celebrity, in part because he had provided or might in the future provide contributions, connections with the music and entertainment industry, and other benefits to the political careers of these Defendants."

Yaroslavsky and Edmiston reacted angrily to the lawsuit, calling it a ploy by the Sieglers to extract more money from the conservancy--a state parks agency--which was negotiating to buy their property on Mulholland Drive. The conservancy, in response, will abandon its efforts to buy the land, Edmiston said.

Adam Siegler, a lawyer, is "a very litigious individual who thinks that he can bully us with a bunch of absolutely meritless" claims, Edmiston said. "There's nothing to this lawsuit."

The complaint is meant "to turn up some publicity heat to try to lever a better price out of the conservancy," Yaroslavsky said. "We will not lose a lot of sleep over this lawsuit."

Henley, a former member of the Eagles rock band, has been deeply involved in environmental causes, including a crusade to preserve land at Walden Pond in Massachusetts that was home to Henry David Thoreau.

Henley could not be reached for comment. His lawyer, Lisa Specht, said she had not yet seen the complaint but that it "sounds very far-fetched."

Edmiston said the land is extremely steep, making it difficult to develop. Siegler, he added sarcastically, "can enjoy the full fruits of his property rights, totally unencumbered and unrestricted by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy."

Adam Siegler was unavailable for comment.

The Sieglers own two lots covering 6.35 acres in the 14100 block of Mulholland Drive, just west of the Henley property.

According to the lawsuit, the Sieglers were making progress in winning approval to build a house on one of the lots until Yaroslavsky and the conservancy staff began putting up roadblocks.

The Sieglers' problems allegedly began after Henley expressed an interest in buying the property and donating it to the conservancy. Henley also donated $4,725 to conservancy officials for an appraisal of the land--which the lawsuit said made them "guilty of accepting bribes."

At the same time, Henley and Yaroslavsky "were on friendly terms," according to the lawsuit, which said Henley had contributed to Yaroslavsky's political campaigns and once gave a backstage pass for a rock concert to an aide, Maria Chong-Castillo.

Citing internal notes and correspondence, the suit contends that representatives of the conservancy and Yaroslavsky, along with Henley and another neighbor, Harry Fox, held meetings to fabricate environmental reasons to protect the property--when their real goal was appeasing Henley and Fox.

Through Yaroslavsky's intervention, the site's soil suitability report, approved in 1989, was rescinded by city bureaucrats two years later, the suit said.

Then last year, Yaroslavsky called on planning officials to conduct a full environmental review before approving construction on the site, though the complaint said he knew such a review was unwarranted.

Although their development plans have not been rejected, the lawsuit claims the Sieglers "will never have a fair hearing or a fair review of their building plans" because of the influence of Yaroslavsky and the conservancy.

The complaint, which accuses the defendants of fraud and civil rights violations, seeks unspecified damages and an injunction barring them from interfering with use and development of the property.

Along with Henley, Yaroslavsky, Edmiston and Fox, defendants include Yaroslavsky aide Virginia Krueger, Henley business manager Lester Kaufman, conservancy land acquisition chief John Diaz, the city of Los Angeles, the conservancy, and the conservancy's sister agency, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

"We plead guilty to wanting to keep as much of the terrain of the Santa Monica Mountains in its natural state as possible, but we do so within accepted bounds" of constitutional rights, Yaroslavsky said.

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