Legal liability, the reason Los Angeles County officials gave for closing a controversial street in Agoura Hills last summer, has emerged as the major roadblock in the city’s 2-month-old effort to reopen the street.
The Agoura Hills City Council has turned down a county offer that would allow Medfield Street to be reopened if the city accepted legal liability for the unapproved street, including claims stemming from its closure.
“They’re asking us to accept all the liability for an action that we did not cause,” Council Member Fran Pavley said.
The county closed the road Aug. 3, about a week after receiving a letter from Agoura Hills saying the city would no longer seek to delay the county’s decision on whether to close it.
The council, at its regular meeting Wednesday night, instructed City Atty. Greg Stepanicich to resume negotiations with the county on liability.
County officials could not be reached for comment.
A developer built the street without county approval in 1978 as a temporary construction road. Agoura Hills was incorporated in 1982, but the county retained control of the narrow, substandard street because the city would not accept legal liability for it.
After the county closed the street, triggering traffic jams in the city’s business district, the City Council voted in September to reopen the street one way eastbound with heavy trucks banned. But the street has remained closed while the city and county dispute liability.
Dale Poe, the Agoura Hills developer who built the road, has sued the city for $15 million over the Medfield closure. Interscience, a computer firm, has filed a $1-million claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, against the city. Both actions contend that the city is responsible for damage to property values caused by the closure.
City officials Wednesday called on Poe and Interscience to help resolve the impasse with the county by dropping their actions against the city.
“The business community is going to have to work with us, especially the businesses that filed the claims, if we want to get the road open,” City Manager David N. Carmany said.
Frank J. LaChapelle, president of Interscience, said he would drop his firm’s claim if the street is opened in both directions. But he could not say whether he would drop the action if the city stuck to its plan to open the street in only one direction. No Poe representative could be reached for comment.
In September, the council voted to reopen Medfield Street in only one direction after Stepanicich told them the city might need an environmental impact study before opening it in both directions.
The Committee to Close Medfield, a residents group in the Old Agoura neighborhood, has maintained that such a study is required even for one-way traffic on the street.
Amid the talk of lawsuits and liability Wednesday, the head of the group said her organization plans to file its own lawsuit against the city if Medfield Street is reopened. Such a suit would seek to halt the reopening of the street on the grounds that state law requires the city to complete an environmental impact study first, Diane Venable said.
“Putting commercial traffic through our residential area has never been addressed,” Venable said.
Medfield Street covers less than a mile between Derry Avenue and Lewis Road.