Los Arboles sued by CPO, again
by Chris Wilson
Citizens to Preserve the Ojai has launched a second lawsuit against
the city of Ojai over the approval of the Los Arboles Townhomes
According to a press release from the City Manager Dan Singer,
even though the project has been through extensive environmental
reviews, the suit alleges the city failed to follow all applicable
environmental laws in approving the project.
"This project has been through two complete environmental
reviews, the second of which was one of the most thorough environmental
impact reports I have ever seen," stated City Attorney Monte
L. Widders. "We believe the suit's claims of environmental
violations are simply without merit."
Clearly though, CPO's president Ivor Benci-Woodward and his wife,
Debra Benci-Woodward, an attorney who heads the organization's
legal efforts, disagree with the city's contentions.
"The project is too intense and produces too many environmental
detriments for the community, it doesn't produce enough benefits,"
Ivor Benci-Woodward said. "We're not against development.
We're for appropriate development for a city this size. We've
said it a thousand times, Los Arboles would fine in Santa Barbara
or maybe even Thousand Oaks, but it's not appropriate for Ojai."
Singer states that the initial lawsuit, though eventually dropped
by the CPO, garnered the organization $20,000 - money he said
that is likely fueling this second attack on the city and developer
Lance Smigel. The first lawsuit cost the city more than $25,000
and Smigel more than $120,000, Singer states.
According to the release from Singer's office, the Los Arboles
project has replaced 29 previously demolished units at the South
Montgomery site adjacent to Libbey Park. The new suit alleges,
among other things, that the project violates Ojai's General
Plan, stating that the 23-unit project exceeds the 14 units
allowed each year nder the City's Growth Management Plan.
"The CPO has simply failed to do the math," Singer
said. "The project is actually creating 23 percent fewer
housing units than originally existed on this street."
In late February, the CPO also filed a lawsuit against the city
that challenged the approval of the state mandated Housing Element,
Singer stated. The defense for this suit will likely cost Ojai's
taxpayer between $15,000 and $20,000.
"At some point, as we examine the merits of some of the
CPO and Environmental Coalition's claims, one has to wonder whether
this litigation is a constructive use of City's limited resources
and funds," Singer stated. "The citizens of Ojai are
the ones short changed when day-to-day operations are bogged
down with irresponsible legal attacks."
CPO Administrative Director Stan Greene said the claim that the
CPO is creating the expenses is bogus. He said the city issued
the permits to the developer with an indemnification clause that
Smigel would handle all legal expenses.
"We didn't expect the initial lawsuit would cost the city
anything, nor should this one," Greene said. "The same
issues are still there." Greene alleges the city is violating
the intention of the General Plan in terms of small town character
and hasn't adequately explored ways to create a project that
is less massive and creates a lower impact on the city.
"I think it's a little disingenuous of the city complain
that we're responsible for their expenditures. We didn't create
the problem. They created it. We sued because they failed to
follow the law."
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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