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Judge in Cypress Warehouse Case to View Video

May 13, 1995|BILL BILLITER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTA ANA — Some might call it a new version of Court TV.

Amid objections, a Superior Court judge has decided to view a videotape of a Cypress City Council meeting before ruling in a lawsuit over an issue that has torn that community apart and provoked a recall drive against three members of the council.

Judge Francisco F. Firmat will view the tape of the council meeting to learn more about how the Cypress City Council approved a proposed warehouse. His decision came despite objections by a lawyer representing the warehouse developer. An overflow audience of Cypress residents opposed to the project packed Firmat's courtroom earlier this week as he opened proceedings in the lawsuit filed against the city and the developer.

Residents opposed to the warehouse said they cheered Firmat's decision to study the tape of the council's action. They contend that the tape shows the council acted unfairly and illegally when it approved the warehouse.

The suit contends that the council did not obey state environmental laws when it approved a large, 24-hour carpet-distribution warehouse last fall.

The City Council members have said they obeyed all laws and strictly followed state environmental procedures in approving the warehouse Sept. 26.

But attorneys for residents suing the city contend that the Sept. 26 action was a sham--that the City Council had really given approval to the warehouse when it voted for a development agreement on Sept. 12 with Warland Industries.

"The development agreement on Sept. 12 rendered the Sept. 26 (warehouse) hearing futile, meaningless," said Mark A. Nialis, an attorney for residents suing the city. Nialis said he therefore urged the judge to view a videotape of the Sept. 12 City Council meeting.

"I object to the court looking at the tape," said Robert W. Loewen , attorney for Warland Industries, after the judge announced his decision. Loewen had unsuccessfully argued that laws and court decisions did not permit the court to include evidence from the City Council's Sept. 12 meeting.

Residents contend that the proposed 439,650-square-foot warehouse, to be situated at Warland Drive and Valley View Street, will generate noise and traffic pollution and will greatly harm homes in that area.

Tony Smith, a leader in the citizens organization suing the city, said outside of court that he was pleased by Firmat's ruling.

"The whole case is about how the city tried to hide the ball from the citizens, and in court today considerable effort was spent trying to hide the ball from the court," Smith said. "I think when the judge sees the videotape he will see just what the city has done. And when he sees what the city has done, I think he'll rule in our favor."

The residents' lawsuit seeks an injunction against building the warehouse until a full-scale environmental impact study is made.

Firmat set a court hearing for 9 a.m. Wednesday for remaining testimony in the non-jury, civil case.

An overflow audience of about 70 Cypress residents filled Firmat's courtroom on Wednesday. Extra chairs had to be brought in, and some spectators sat in the seats normally used by jurors. The judge, when he entered the courtroom and saw the big crowd, joked, "We have a larger (audience) than at the Simpson trial."

The recall action that stems from the warehouse controversy involves Mayor Cecilia L. Age, Councilwoman Gail H. Kerry and Councilman Walter K. Bowman. A residents group is seeking enough voter signatures to trigger a recall vote of the three. The other two council members, Mary Ann Jones and Tom Carroll, were elected Nov. 8 and were not on the council when it made the controversial warehouse decision.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Warehouse Wrath

When the Cypress City Council approved construction of a 24-hour carpet distribution warehouse last September, residents filed a civil suit and launched a recall campaign against three council members. Building opponents believe that approval lacked a full environmental impact report. The council denies this claim, saying it has followed strict state environmental procedures.

Council approved 439,650-square-foot facility

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