Irvine Co. Acts to Halt Water Park’s Debut : Litigation Is Latest in Series Involving Former Lion Country Property

Times Staff Writer

Claiming insufficient liability insurance, the Irvine Co. is seeking a court order to stop the grand opening of a $4.5-million water park next Wednesday on the former site of Lion Country Safari.

The Irvine Co.'s attempt to obtain an Orange County Superior Court injunction is just the latest in a series of suits and countersuits between the Irvine Co., which owns the recreational acreage, and those who are leasing the property from the company and want to operate it as a water slide attraction.

While the Irvine Co. contends that it is trying to make Splash, the prospective operator of the water park, meet its contractual requirements, Splash is charging that the Irvine Co. is determined to make operation of the water park unprofitable so that the Irvine Co. can cancel the master lease on the valuable acreage, which extends until 1997. Lion Country Inc. holds the master lease.

The Irvine Co. Wednesday obtained a temporary court restraining order that prevents the water park from opening until another court hearing is held next Tuesday on the matter. At that time, a judge will decide whether the official opening on Wednesday should be postponed.


Agreed to $10-Million Coverage

Jeff Wallace, the Irvine Co.'s corporate counsel, said Wednesday that last December, after extensive negotiations, Splash agreed to furnish "$10 million of comprehensive public and property liability insurance,” but so far has failed to meet that obligation.

“Since the water park has been unable to secure the required insurance coverage, we feel compelled to take prudent measures to protect ourselves, as well as the public, from the risk of uncompensable losses due to possible injuries to customers of the water park,” Wallace said in a prepared statement. He added: “We would like them to succeed in their endeavors, but we would also like them to meet their contractual obligations.”

Brian Lysaght, lawyer for Splash, countered that Splash has been able to obtain only $5 million in liability insurance. But he said Splash believes that this insurance, together with $1 million in liability insurance carried by the property’s master lease holder, Lion Country, is more than sufficient.


“I’m concerned that publicity about this temporary restraining order could create the wrong impression in the public’s mind that there is not enough liability insurance when, in fact, there is more than enough liability insurance to operate this park safely,” he said.

Earlier this month, Splash filed a lawsuit alleging that the Irvine Co. forced it “under duress and menace” to agree to increase its liability insurance to $10 million. By contrast, Lysaght said, Lion Country Inc. from which Splash subleases the water park, had required Splash to provide only $5 million in insurance coverage. He said that the Irvine Co. belatedly insisted that the insurance coverage must be increased. By then, he said, a major investment already had been made in the water park and its developers believed that they had no choice but to try to comply.

“In view of Splash and Lion Country Safari,” Lysaght said, “these sorts of requirements are designed to make it economically unprofitable for Lion Country Safari to be able to use the leased property.” He contended that the Irvine Co. wants an excuse to cancel the lease. Previously, Lion Country had operated the Irvine land as a wild animal park, but it shipped out the animals last year after the park suffered several years of declining popularity. A variety of new recreational uses--including the water park and a 4,000-seat picnic area--have replaced a portion of the 100-acre preserve, which also houses the popular Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.

Lion Country, which has been looking forward to its share of profits from the water park, also is suing the Irvine Co. in a debate over how much of that profit the landowner is entitled to.