OXNARD — One of the messiest land deals in recent city history just got messier, according to city officials.
Donald T. Kojima, who sold Oxnard nearly 41 acres last year for $5.32 million as part of a city plan to build low-cost housing, is threatening to back out of the deal and may possibly sue the city, officials say.
The City Council met in closed session last week and will meet again tonight to consider the issue, said City Atty. Gary L. Gillig.
Kojima is apparently upset that he may not be chosen as the developer of the low-cost homes, according to city officials.
Because Oxnard has paid Kojima part of the $5.32 million in advance, city leaders said they are trying to determine what to do if Kojima drops out of the project.
"They've kind of briefed us on what he could do, but I don't know what his intent is," Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez said. "Given our previous experience with him, he does not take no very graciously."
As part of the original deal, essentially a land swap, Oxnard bought land from Kojima for the purpose of trading it for a nearby parcel Kojima also owns, city officials said.
But Gillig said Kojima may refuse to swap if he is not chosen to develop the low-cost houses--leaving Oxnard with the wrong piece of land.
The agreement only forces Kojima to swap parcels if he is chosen developer, Gillig said, and Oxnard attorneys are studying whether the city has any other recourse to obtain the swap.
Oxnard leaders are also considering whether it may be simpler to abandon the swap with Kojima and develop the property the city now owns, he said.
Kojima--who has no experience as a developer--was to have first opportunity to submit a proposal to build the low-cost housing as part of the deal, city officials said.
The speculator was given that opportunity earlier this year, but now says that he was not treated fairly, according to city officials.
Oxnard officials, in turn, contend that Kojima did not meet several deadlines to submit his proposal.
Kojima did not return several phone calls Monday.
The city is currently considering 11 proposals, including one by Kojima, to develop about 100 low- cost houses on the property and is close to making a decision, city officials said Monday.
"He had an inside track originally, and we told him he had until a certain date to submit his proposal," Lopez said. "He didn't do it, but we haven't kicked him out of the running."
Gillig said that the City Council reviewed a confidential summary of the proposals and a ranking last Tuesday in closed session, but did not violate the state's open-meeting law because they made no decision on the plans.
Lopez said that city officials are particularly concerned that Kojima may sue Oxnard, considering the city's recent lawsuit history.
"We don't want another [Israel] Echevarria," Lopez said, referring to the lawsuit by an Oxnard man who successfully sued the city and the makers of the Subaru Brat for $1.7 million, after he was paralyzed in an automobile accident.
Last year, Oxnard entered into an agreement to buy 40.86 acres of farmland from Kojima for $5.32 million, city officials said.
Part of the land was to be used for a school/park site, and the rest was to be swapped with an adjacent parcel, where a city-subsidized low-cost housing development would be built, officials said.
The housing plan was originally intended as a way to relocate the 1,100 residents of the Oxnard Mobilehome Lodge, officials said. In 1991, a state inspector discovered 1,197 safety violations in the dilapidated park, considered by some to be the worst slum in Ventura County.
But city officials later said that Oxnard never made a formal commitment to relocate the Oxnard Mobilehome Lodge residents--mostly poor farm workers--and announced that the trailer park dwellers would not have any better shot at the low-cost housing than other poor Oxnard residents.
Luis Teran, the Oxnard Mobilehome Lodge's resident leader, said that he is upset to hear of another potential problem with the deal.
"It's very ugly what's happened with Kojima and the city," Teran said. "There's been so much talk, I don't have faith in them anymore. This has taken too long. All we want is a better home."