Owners of Warner Ridge Threaten to Sue City Council


The owners of Warner Ridge in Woodland Hills threatened Monday to sue the Los Angeles City Council if it does not reverse itself and permit construction of a commercial project on the 21 1/2-acre site.

The council decision to kill the project was "riddled with procedural irregularities and violations of both state and local law," the owners charged, and zoning the property to permit only single-family houses deprived them of their property "without just compensation."

The allegations were made in a 25-page letter to Los Angeles City Atty. James K. Hahn from attorneys representing developer Albert Spound and Johnson Wax Development Co., co-owners of the Woodland Hills property.

The letter urges an amicable out-of-court settlement but warned that if the council does not reverse itself by April 13, a lawsuit would be filed accusing the council of acting arbitrarily when it rejected Spound's proposal for an 810,000-square-foot, seven-building complex at De Soto Avenue and Oxnard Street.

On Feb. 6, the council took its final action on the project and voted to support a measure by Councilwoman Joy Picus, the area's lawmaker, permitting only single-family houses to be built on the Warner Ridge property. The next day, Council President John Ferraro--acting as mayor in Tom Bradley's absence--signed the plan into law.

"It was full-speed ahead and damn the torpedoes, and in the process the council trampled all over my client's rights," said Robert McMurry, a prominent land-use attorney representing the owners.

McMurry said his client also intends to sue "some, but not all," council members individually for acting in bad faith. Legal actions brought against individual lawmakers could open the door to financial damages from the lawmakers' private pocketbooks, McMurry said. The threatened lawsuit would seek at least $100 million.

No decision has been made yet about which lawmakers might be sued separately, McMurry said.

Picus, the most active foe of Spound's Warner Ridge project, declined to comment "since this matter is potentially the subject of litigation," said Michele Gagan, the lawmaker's chief deputy.

Joining McMurry in signing the letter were Gideon Kanner, a Loyola Law School professor and expert on planning law, and Arthur Greenberg, a partner in a major Century City law firm. Spound declined to comment on the letter.

The letter claims the council violated:

* The City Charter by failing to have the city's Planning Commission consider Picus' plan to zone the property to permit residential development only.

* State law by failing to adopt zoning laws consistent with its community plan; the local plan showed the property designated for commercial use, but the zoning adopted by the council permitted only residential use.

* State law by failing to fully analyze the environmental impact of a residential project.

The letter also accuses the council's planning committee of violating the state Brown Act, an open-meeting law, by approving residential zoning without giving the public 72 hours' advance notice of its plans to consider such a proposal.

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