Rural Calabasas residents caught in a crackdown on alleged city code violations could get helping from city leaders in repairing property.
City Councilwoman Mary Sue Maurer has urged officials to consider giving low-interest loans to property owners, some of whom are "very elderly" and "living in fear they're going to have to leave their homes."
The proposal came as a lawyer for some of the targeted homeowners claimed that the enforcement raids were illegal.
Maurer said she was reacting to a $987,319 loan approved by the council Wednesday night for a developer struggling to complete a shopping center on the west side of the 13-square-mile city.
The "promissory note" gives the builder an extra three years to pay for improvements, mandated by his city development agreement, to the Lost Hills Road bridge over the 101 Freeway and for streets next to his project.
Several other council members indicated their support for Maurer's idea, although Mayor Barry Groveman objected.
"I'd oppose that. I don't want to help people who are violating the law," he said of those accused of septic system and other violations. Groveman insisted that any such proposal be widely publicized so "the average taxpayer is aware" that "we're giving away city money."
Maurer said the assistance would be in the form of a loan, not a giveaway. Officials said they would take up the idea next month.
Her suggestion came after a series of Calabasas residents criticized the code crackdown and a lawyer called it illegal.
Lee Renger, who has lived 42 years in Stokes Canyon, said the city's July raid at the isolated Smith ranch just inside city limits at the north end of the canyon has caused him to change his mind about wanting Calabasas to annex the canyon.
"Essentially, you sent shock troops to the Smiths," Renger said. "I do not want to become part of this evil empire."
Neither does 24-year Stokes Canyon resident Robin Martin. He told officials that enforcement raids such as those in his area and in nearby Old Topanga Canyon are "something my neighbors and I don't want to go through."
Jim Moorhead, a friend of ranch owner Lloyd Smith, read a letter from the 70-year-old, who is recuperating from a stress-related illness reportedly brought on by the raid. "How can you treat a founding family with such contempt and disrespect?" Smith asked, noting that his family has lived there 65 years.
"I am still recovering in a rehabilitation center. However, my Medicare coverage is expiring and I am facing imminent homelessness. The city said, when it cut off my water and power and made the property unlivable, that it was for my health and safety. Health and safety? When I may be evicted into the street?"
Old Topanga Canyon residents sent lawyer Nancy Schreiner to confront the council. She said the raids were improper because Calabasas failed to follow state law when it toughened its septic system rules and launched the enforcement action.
By not making "required statutory findings," the city is "now exposed to liability as a result of these enforcement activities, for state and federal civil rights violations, inverse condemnation, impairment of contract rights and potential defamation and slander," she said.
Schreiner then handed a cease-and-desist demand letter to officials.
Council members did not respond. On Thursday, Michael Colantuono, who serves as Calabasas' city attorney, disputed Schreiner's view of the crackdown.
"The city disagrees with the description of the law she describes in the letter," he said when reached as he was returning to his Northern California office.