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Case Pitting Shuster, Irvine Co. Takes New Twists

March 18, 1997|MARLA DICKERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The pitched battle between businessman Harry Shuster and the Irvine Co. took several strange turns on Monday as Shuster's lawyers claimed to have discovered dramatic new evidence that would allow him to automatically extend his lease another year--then backed off that assertion in the face of conflicting evidence.

Shuster's long-term master lease on 300 acres near the El Toro Y, owned by the Irvine Co. and home to the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre and Wild Rivers water park, expired on Feb. 28. But in papers filed with Orange County Superior Court on Monday, Shuster claims that an error on the original lease document means that the expiration date is really Feb. 28, 1998.

The original document says that the lease "shall be for 29 years, commencing on the first day of March 1969 and ending on the 28th day of February, 1997"--which only adds up to 28 years.

"It was right under their noses the whole time, but nobody ever sat down and bothered to do the math," said Shuster attorney Wayne Call. "It's indisputably a 29-year deal, so that means the lease doesn't expire until next year. It's a slam dunk."

But after reviewing an amendment to the lease signed in 1971, which establishes Feb. 28, 1997, as the expiration date, Call said his team would retreat from that argument and concentrate on a previously stated legal tactic.

That strategy asserts that Irvine Co. negotiators promised to extend Shuster's lease another 26 years if the property continued to be used for recreational purposes after Feb. 28, 1997. Shuster, who operated the Camp Frasier summer camp on the lease parcel, so far has refused to vacate the premises.

Irvine Co. officials, who are suing to evict Shuster and regain control of the property, scoffed at the latest legal maneuvering.

"This is yet another example of the legal lurching his team has displayed to assert rights to the property that they simply do not have," said Irvine Co. spokesman Larry Thomas. "We are going to move ahead in the courts to regain control of our property and assure the continued operation of the amphitheater and water park free of legal threats and uncertainty."

Shuster had threatened to demolish the amphitheater and water park when his lease expired rather than turn over his two profitable subtenants to the Irvine Co. without compensation.

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