Sunday, April 22, 2007

Citizen wins CEQA Lawsuit against City of Agoura Hills

News Release – For Immediate Release
April 22, 2007
Contact: Mary Altmann (818) 667-3590 for questions or copy of ruling
City of Agoura Hills (818) 597-7300

Citizen wins CEQA Lawsuit against City of Agoura Hills

Friday, April 20th, at 3:38 pm California Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant issued a Writ of Mandate commanding the City of Agoura Hills to set aside the City of Agoura Hill’s approval of the Agoura Village Specific Plan, the environmental impact report, and the zoning amendment. If the City plans to go forward with the project, “the City must prepare biological plant and animal surveys in order to properly address the environmental impact” (page 17 of 26 page ruling). The City will also need “expert support for replanting of sensitive plant species as proper mitigation” (page 21 of ruling). The City also needs to have more complete discussions of alternatives to the project (page 26 of ruling).
“Agoura Village” is a controversial project of 135 acres encompassing a portion of Ladyface Mountain near the corner of Kanan and Agoura Road near the 101 freeway. The City planned to put a round-about on the corner of Kanan and Agoura Roads, up to 293 residential units with no limit of square footage, and about 950,000 square feet of new and redeveloped commercial development. Originally “Agoura Village” had been intended to be environmentally friendly mixed-use development showcasing this pristine area as the “Gateway to the Santa Monica Mountains.”
Mary Altmann, a concerned citizen, filed a lawsuit pro-per July 2006 opposing the Agoura Village Plan. She founded a group called “Citizens for Sensitive Development” in 2006 to challenge the development. Cost estimates from experienced attorneys to file the lawsuit challenging a program EIR were astronomical, so she studied, researched, and filed her own lawsuit, representing herself challenging the City. If unsuccessful, the court could have required her to bear the burden of the City’s attorney’s fees.
“I am thankful for our justice system, and that justice prevailed in this case. I am aware of other improprieties of the City of Agoura not following the California Environmental Quality Act, and am happy they will be commanded to follow the law this time” stated Ms. Altmann.
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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Agoura Village plan taken to court

Opponents of Agoura Village will have their day in court tomorrow at 10 a.m. when Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant hears their case against the proposed commercial development in Agoura Hills.
The City Council approved the 135-acre mixed-use project located near Kanan, Agoura and Cornell roads in June 2006. The plan calls for a diverse mix of retail shops, restaurants, commercial businesses and housing in what city officials hope will be a "pedestrian friendly" town center.
Malibou Lakeside resident Mary Altmann filed suit against the city and will represent herself at today's Los Angeles Superior Court hearing. She formed Citizens for Sensitive Development, and the grassroots effort inspired more than 250 residents to sign a petition lending support to the opposition.
Altmann's lawsuit challenges the city's certification of the project's environmental impact report, amendments to the Ladyface Specific Plan, monitoring and mitigation plans, and zoning ordinance changes made by the city. The suit lists seven reasons why the city should overhaul the Agoura Village Plan, citing safety concerns, especially fire evacuations of residents south of the 101 Freeway.
"The city of Agoura Hills misrepresented the size of the project, did not complete an up-to-date biologic survey on the site where endangered species are known to live, did not have adequate alternative analysis, (and) did not follow their General Plan," Altmann said in an e-mail to local residents to encourage their attendance at the hearing.
The city is "approving around 300 residences with no limit of square footage and about 1 million square feet of commercial development, three-story buildings in front of Ladyface Mountain--all on endangered habitat if this is not stopped," she said.
Altmann and others believe Agoura Village would violate the city's General Plan by doubling the size of allowable development. City officials contend the planning document cuts the new retail space in half.
"The city feels like it's done all of the necessary environmental work to make this the best specific plan possible," said Greg Ramirez, Agoura Hills' city manager. "What people need to understand is (the Agoura Village Plan) is not an entitlement but development guidelines," he said. Any proposed project must traverse the city's standard development process, including approval by the Agoura Hills planning commission, he said.
Howard Littman, a forensic architect based in Agoura Hills, said that along with the 950,000 square feet of retail space, Agoura Village's residential element is additional and has no cap on square footage. Littman said city officials did not calculate the square footage of existing businesses in the Agoura Village-zoned area, all of which will eventually be redeveloped.
Altmann said she hopes area residents will attend the hearing to lend support. "It is the only and most important thing you can do right now to stop this disastrous development," she said.
"I feel fairly confident about it," Altmann said in a subsequent interview. "I think (the city) broke some serious laws."
If Altmann does not prevail at the Fri., April 13 court hearing, she said, she plans to appeal the decision.