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Sierra Club Criticizes City on Adventist Development : Thousand Oaks: In a harsh report, the group labels as inadequate an environmental analysis of church's proposed project in Newbury Park.


Just months after suing Thousand Oaks for permitting luxury housing on key wildlife habitat, local Sierra Club representatives have accused the city of irresponsible and reckless environmental policies surrounding another development.

In a harsh 60-page report, the Sierra Club attacked as "evasive, inconsistent . . . and inadequate" the city's environmental analysis of the proposed Seventh-day Adventist project in Newbury Park, which includes a new regional mall and several church-related buildings.

"There are some major deficiencies in this report and some major problems with this project," Sierra Club spokeswoman Cassandra Auerbach said.

The city's environmental analysis said the Adventist project would uproot a cluster of endangered plants and destroy a rare grassland plain. But the Sierra Club contends the ill effects would spill well beyond the Adventist property itself, snarling traffic, fouling air, draining water supplies and marring Thousand Oaks' scenic ridgelines.


City officials reject those claims, sticking by their assessment that the development would not endanger Newbury Park's vaunted semi-rural atmosphere.

"We've done what we consider a very thorough analysis of the impacts of that project," planner Greg Smith said. "We would not have released the (environmental impact) document unless we felt it was accurate and complete."

The city's analysis contends that only four resources would incur "significant, unavoidable" damage from the project: topography, vegetation, wildlife and delicate plants. The Adventist blueprint calls for slicing and grading some ridges to allow construction on steep hills, destroying 68 acres of sage scrub and grassland, and intruding into 74 acres of wildlife habitat.

To make up for lost habitat, the developer would provide miles of new trails crisscrossing through the property and connecting to National Park Service land. Biologists would also transplant the most sensitive plants in an attempt to preserve several species of the flowering dudleya.

But to local environmentalists, such gestures are inadequate.

"The best guarantee of the survival of life on Earth is the survival of life on Earth," Auerbach said. "There's a web of life here and we're ripping it to pieces."

Even more bluntly, Newbury Park activist Michelle Koetke said: "This project is a disaster."


Both Koetke and Auerbach refuse to accept the city's conclusion that air quality and traffic flow will not suffer from the addition of a regional mall, anchored by a Target mega-store and a 12-screen movie theater. The Sierra Club comments even accuse the city of staging a "white-wash" to obscure the facts.

Such belligerent remarks irk Councilman Frank Schillo, who insisted that the city's environmental analysis "is not a whitewash document because, by its very nature, it identifies the problems with this development."

Yet Schillo agreed that the Sierra Club's detailed digging on past environmental impact reports has turned up some valuable information.

On the Dos Vientos project, for instance, the Sierra Club identified seismic hazards and other potential dangers that did not appear in the city's initial analysis of the 2,350-home development.


When the council approved the project's first 220-home tract despite that new information, the Sierra Club sued the city for endangering the health, safety and welfare of Newbury Park residents.

And the club would consider more legal action if the city permits the Adventist project without first scrutinizing environmental effects, Auerbach hinted. "We'll have to see what they do," she said.

The Adventist development plans call for building a one-story mall, with a traditional red-tile roof, on the south side of the church's 400-acre parcel, just off Wendy Drive. The mall would contain about 70% as much retail space as The Oaks mall.

To make room for the shopping center, the church would have to raze its existing facilities. The developers would move the church buildings north, into an undeveloped campus near the old Northrop facility.

Anticipating heavy mall traffic, the developers plan to reconfigure the Wendy Drive interchange with the Ventura Freeway into a figure-eight loop. That work, plus other infrastructure improvements, will cost at least $50 million, architect Francisco Behr has estimated.

The city's environmental impact report predicts that traffic would flow smoothly once the road work is completed. But in preliminary comments to the city, Caltrans senior planner Wilford Melton said the project would create unacceptable congestion at the Wendy Drive interchange. The Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on the Adventist project Oct. 17, and a hearing before the City Council is tentatively booked for Nov. 1.

That hearing date--one week before an election that could shift power to anti-development forces--drew scathing criticism from both the Sierra Club and the slow-growth group Residents to Preserve Newbury Park. In a letter to the council, Koetke called the timing "a disgraceful and shameful abuse of the city's powers."

The developer's representatives have said they would like the current council to evaluate the project, mainly because the politicians have already been briefed with study sessions.

Smith, however, cautioned that the Nov. 1 date is flexible.

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