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Ventura County

Thousand Oaks Sued Over Land-Swap Deal

April 04, 2002|MARGARET TALEV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former Thousand Oaks Planning Commission chairman is suing the city over his concerns about a recently approved land-swap deal with developers, a move that could jeopardize construction of a $3.4-million public equestrian center.

In the lawsuit filed this week in Ventura County Superior Court, Michael Farris argues the City Council cannot change the land designation on a nine-acre parcel near the Santa Monica Mountains without voter approval.

City officials disagree and say the case is without merit.

Farris was ousted from the commission seven weeks ago after raising similar concerns. Three of five council members accused him of stalling the land swap merely to protect a politically ally.

If Farris' lawsuit is successful, developer Operating Engineers Pension Trust would need voter approval to build three luxury homes on the parcel.

Farris said there is more at stake than three homes. By extending water and electric service south of Potrero Road, he maintains, the city invites hundreds more houses at the edge of federal parkland.

Farris, who plans to run for a council seat in November, said Wednesday that he expects to draw heat over the lawsuit.

The city agreed in February to let Operating Engineers build on the nine acres known as Site I. That was part of negotiations giving three developers rights to build hundreds of homes in exchange for preserving 191 acres known as the Western Plateau in Newbury Park.

Originally, Site I was to become a private equestrian center. In exchange for the right to build luxury homes, the developer promised $2.5 million toward city plans for a $3.4-million public equestrian facility at another location.

Before the vote, Councilwoman Linda Parks questioned the city's ability to change Site I's designation. In 1996, the city passed an ordinance requiring voter approval to build on parkland. Some city color-coded maps indicated Site I fell under that designation.

Farris and another planning commissioner, Nora Aidukas, delayed a recommendation on the Western Plateau deal, saying they shared Parks' concerns.

Parks' critics said Farris and Aidukas wanted to keep the matter from the City Council until after the March 5 election, because Parks was locked in a tight race for county supervisor, which she won. The council voted 3 to 2 to oust the two and moved the issue along.

City planners and lawyers said the land use maps contained a printing error and that while Site I had once been considered for parkland it was never approved as such. The city had since corrected the error and argued that the incorrect maps were not binding documents.

Though the lawsuit does not jeopardize the land preservation plan, it does threaten the equestrian center's financing.

"Operating Engineers would be under no obligation to provide $2.5 million if they don't receive the benefit of the bargain, which is three single-family homes," said Deputy City Manager Jim Friedl.

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