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LAWYER CALLS CITY TO TASK ON SUIT.

Byline: Paul O'Donoghue Staff Writer

Saying that the city isn't interested in defending itself in a $150 million lawsuit filed by developers over the Hidden Creek Ranch project, an attorney for an environmental group wants to intervene.

Environmental Coalition attorney Richard Francis said statements by a majority of the City Council show a lack of interest in defending Measure S, the Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources initiative approved by voters and now blocking the development.

``It is my personal belief based upon empirical evidence that (the) city of Moorpark will not adequately defend Measure S,'' said Francis in his application to intervene to Ventura County Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Hutchins.

``The public pronouncements of a majority of the City Council members, the conduct of city staff and attorneys who must answer to that majority, and the city's position in related litigation all indicate an institutional anathema to properly defending SOAR.''

In April, the developer of the 3,221-home project, Costa Mesa-based Messenger Investment Company, Inc., sued the city for $150 million after voters in January ovewhelmingly rejected the project and approved Measure S.

Councilman John Wozniak, who originally voted for the project, bristled at Francis' assertions that the city wasn't interested in defending itself in the suit.

Wozniak further disagreed with Francis' claim that the city had dragged its feet in a related case, now likely to be appealed, where Hutchins ruled that the city had improperly annexed the 4,200-acre property north of Moorpark.

``To say that the council is schizophrenic in a court document is unbelievable,'' said Wozniak. ``We've done everything we could possibly do in this court case and everything we've been supposed to file we've filed. Maybe he would have liked to have (had) it done faster but this isn't the only case going on. I don't think the city is dragging its feet or anything.''

If allowed to intervene, Francis would be able to stand before the judge alongside the City Attorney and present his arguments in the case.

The project would add about 10,000 people to the city's population of 30,000, and opponents, including the Enviornmental Coalition, say it is too big. Supporters, however, point out that the developers have promised the city tens of millions of dollars for parks, roads, schools and other amenities if the project goes ahead.

The project has been planned for a decade but has been mired in litigation.

Wozniak and the other council members say they now want to implement SOAR because it represents the will of the voters.

Wozniak said he welcomes Francis' intervention in the case as long as it doesn't cost the city anything because Francis is an expert on the initiative, having co-authored it.

``I don't have to like him (but) I do think he can do a good job,'' said Wozniak.

Francis' application to intervene in the case is slated to be heard by Hutchins on Oct. 22.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 13, 1999
Words:489
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