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Ventura County Roundup / East | MOORPARK

Project Referendum to Be Placed on Ballot

October 09, 1998|ANDY SAMUELSON

Ignoring the threat of a lawsuit by the developer of the Hidden Creek Ranch project, the Moorpark City Council has placed a referendum against the project, as well as the growth-control SOAR initiative, on the Jan. 12 ballot.

The 3,221-unit Hidden Creek Ranch development, which would add more than 4,300 acres north of the city to its current boundaries, was approved by the council in August after more than eight years of negotiations with Messenger Investment Co.

The council voted 4 to 0 to place the Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources initiative on the ballot. After a closed session with City Atty. Cheryl Kane, during which the council weighed its legal options, it voted 3 to 0 to place the Hidden Creek referendum on the ballot.

Councilman Chris Evans did not attend the meeting, and Councilwoman Debbie Teasley did not vote on the referendum to avoid a conflict of interest. Teasley is a real estate agent.

"This was not even as good as the lesser of two evils," Councilman Bernardo Perez said. "Making any decision on how to proceed on litigation is not a good selection."

Gary Reiser, an attorney for Messenger Investment Co., threatened the city with litigation if it placed the referendum on the ballot.

In a letter Tuesday to council members, Reiser said the referendum violates state law because it would change the property's zoning and put it in conflict with parts of the city's General Plan. It is also flawed, he said, because it did not inform voters that, by eliminating the Hidden Creek Ranch development, separate council actions amending the General Plan would also be eliminated.

If passed, the referendum would repeal the council's approval of the development agreement and would not allow the council to take action on Hidden Creek Ranch until a year after the date it was repealed.

If passed, SOAR will force a citywide vote on the project.

Those supporting Hidden Creek Ranch have spent more than $110,000 seeking to protect the proposed development at the ballot box, campaign finance statements show.

Messenger Investment submitted a report showing the political action committee it formed in August had raised nearly $140,000 through Sept. 30.

In addition to opposing the referendum, the developer's committee--called Moorpark Citizens for the Greenbelt and Yes on F--is campaigning for the City Council's growth-control proposal, Measure F, which is on the Nov. 3 ballot.

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