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Ventura County

Letters Against Project Raise Suspicions

September 28, 2002|SANDRA MURILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In an odd twist over an issue that has divided Oxnard residents, police are investigating allegations that signatures on letters opposing a proposed vehicle processing plant were forged.

Police Chief Art Lopez confirmed the investigation into letters sent to the city's Planning Commission, although he declined to say how many are under scrutiny.

"We can't really talk about it, because the matter is still under investigation," Lopez said.

The probe comes as the City Council prepares to decide whether it should require a complete environmental study of the proposed Pacific Vehicle Processors plant.

The company is seeking to convert a vacant parcel south of Hueneme Road into a plant where workers would prepare imported vehicles for distribution to U.S. dealerships. The plan has been opposed by environmentalists, who say the site is too close to the Ormond Beach wetlands.

Sylvia Munoz Schnopp, a consultant for Pacific Vehicle Processors, conducted her own investigation of the letters, which she read shortly after the city Planning Commission decided against requiring a full environmental study of the project.

"They just looked really strange," Schnopp said. "Some of the signatures looked the same."

All the letters arrived in pre-stamped envelopes of the same size and type, she said. There were half a dozen different styles of letters, all addressed to Marilyn Miller in the city's Planning Department. None of them included addresses in the body of the letter. All asked that the city conduct an environmental impact report.

Schnopp said she called about a dozen of the letters' authors, all of whom denied having written or signed them. One woman told Schnopp that the person who supposedly signed one letter had died months ago, Schnopp said.

Tino Cabrera, a local business owner, said he was stunned when Schnopp called him.

"At the time [she called], I wasn't even aware of this project," Cabrera said. "There are some people out there who have some nerve to put out something with my name, and think they're not going to be caught."

Cabrera said the return address on the envelope is not his home address and the signature on the letters is written in cursive style. "I always sign my signature in print," he said.

Cabrera reported the incident to police. Several others contacted by Schnopp told her they had also called authorities, she said. "Forgery is a serious offense," Schnopp said. "We don't know who's responsible."

An official with of one of the main opposition groups to the project said he had no idea who signed the letters.

"There's no reason for us to do this," said Alan Sanders of the Sierra Club. "The people who work with us have worked for years to establish credibility, and no one is going to sacrifice that for some infinitesimal gain."

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