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VALLEY FOCUS | Calabasas

Soka Expansion Foes Prepare to Carry On

September 24, 1998|SUE FOX

Anticipating a court judgment against them, opponents of a plan to expand Soka University are already gearing up for a potential appeal.

Last month, Superior Court Judge Madeleine Flier ruled that the environmental impact report for the Soka plan was valid and "supported by substantial evidence." The plan's opponents--Save Open Space Santa Monica Mountains, the Sierra Club and the Monte Nido Valley Community Assn.--wanted the court to compel Los Angeles County to conduct another public review of the project.

The court's decision is not final, pending the judge's review of various documents outlining the basis of her ruling. Flier expects to sign off on these documents in about a week, said Jerrianne Hayslett , spokeswoman for the Superior Court.

In the meantime, two of the three opposing groups have decided to appeal if the final judgment goes against them.

Last week, the executive committee of the Sierra Club's Angeles chapter voted to appeal the case and allocated $5,000 for the effort, said Susan Genelin , a member of the club's Soka committee. The board of directors of the Monte Nido group also approved a potential appeal earlier this month, said Melinda Becker, president of the Monte Nido Valley Community Assn.

Soka's controversial effort to expand its campus in the Santa Monica Mountains has dragged on for eight years. In 1996, the university, the county and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy reached an accord that settled competing lawsuits. Soka agreed to scale down its project and the county agreed to expedite the university's request for expansion. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved the expansion later that year.

Mary Wiesbrock, the director of Save Open Space, said her group would also "be involved in the appeal" should one be undertaken.

"If this original decision stands, it will render the California Environmental Quality Act meaningless," Wiesbrock said, "because L.A. County agreed, in a binding contract, to this massive development on Soka before there was any environmental review."

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