Bernson Criticizes Lands Suit : Porter Ranch: The Los Angeles city councilman attacks Simi Valley's decision to sue to stop construction of 3,395 houses in Chatsworth.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson lashed out at the Simi Valley City Council on Tuesday for voting to sue Los Angeles over the Porter Ranch development, saying that Simi Valley acted rashly and probably will fail in its quest to block the colossal project.

Bernson said Simi Valley officials should welcome Porter Ranch for the jobs it will provide, instead of filing an expensive lawsuit.

"I'm just surprised that they didn't do a little more homework," said Bernson, whose district includes Porter Ranch in the western San Fernando Valley. "I think the City Council acted very rashly. I think they have been duped by the political opponents of Porter Ranch."

But Simi Valley officials defended the action they took Monday.

"Not to take action because you are too timid or because you're afraid of losing is not the way to go," said Councilman Glen McAdoo. "When you have right on your side, you have an obligation to go forward."

The council voted in closed session to sue the city of Los Angeles to halt the Porter Ranch development. The project, which would include 3,395 residences and 6 million square feet of commercial space, would be built in Chatsworth, roughly five miles east of Simi Valley.

The directors of PRIDE, a San Fernando Valley homeowners group opposed to Porter Ranch, said they planned to meet privately with San Francisco attorney Mark Weinberger on Tuesday night to discuss their own legal strategy, which may involve filing an independent lawsuit, said spokesman Don Worsham.

Worsham said he was heartened by the action taken by the Simi Valley council. "We applaud and respect them for doing what is necessary to protect their community."

Councilman Bernson said PRIDE used Simi Valley to file a lawsuit for the group.

"The truth is that what's really happening here is that that PRIDE group lacks the ability to finance their own lawsuit, so they have hoodwinked, sweet-talked, duped or whatever Simi Valley into initiating a lawsuit," Bernson said.

Simi Valley officials said that the project, which would rank with Century City as one of the largest developments in Los Angeles history, would create tremendous amounts of smog in the region and turn the Simi Valley Freeway into a parking lot.

They said that their concerns about those issues were not adequately addressed in the environmental impact report on the project, and therefore they have no choice other than taking legal action.

About 10 residents at Monday's Simi Valley council meeting spoke against filing a lawsuit because they said it did not make sense to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a losing battle.

But McAdoo disagreed, saying that the people who spoke have probably not seen the environmental impact report.

"What they are saying is it doesn't matter how inadequate the environmental impact report is, we shouldn't raise an objection," McAdoo said. "I find that position hard to swallow."

Paul Clarke, a spokesman for the Porter Ranch Development Company, said he thinks the Simi Valley council's decision had more to do with politics than legal issues.

"L.A. bashing is great sport for Simi Valley politicians," Clarke said. "My initial reaction to the lawsuit is that four out of five Simi Valley City Council members are running for office."

Council members Vicki Howard and Bill Davis are running for Ventura County supervisor, Greg Stratton is running for reelection as mayor, and Ann Rock is seeking to retain her City Council seat.

According to the environmental impact report approved by the Los Angeles City Council, the Porter Ranch development will generate an additional 150,602 vehicle trips per day in the surrounding area. Mayor Greg Stratton said the report does not adequately answer questions about how and when Los Angeles and the developer would compensate for the added traffic congestion and smog.

Simi Valley officials want the project to be built in phases, with approval of each phase contingent on actual construction of additional freeway lanes.

"We just have some very specific items that need to be nailed down . . . and resolved," Stratton said. "Our goal is not to stop the project but to see that the environmental impacts of it are not detrimental to the citizens of Simi Valley."

Bernson blamed Simi Valley for many of the traffic tie-ups on the Simi Valley Freeway.

"The truth of the matter is, Simi Valley is the problem," Bernson said. "A great deal of the traffic on the Simi Valley Freeway is generated by Simi Valley residents who work in Los Angeles. They've allowed hundreds of thousands of homes to be built without jobs and other amenities that the community needs."

Bernson also suggested that the city of Los Angeles in the future may impose an employment tax against non-Los Angeles residents.

Simi Valley officials said they did not know how much it would cost to fight the planned development in court, but said that they believe it would be considerably less than the $500,000 some suggest.

Simi Valley City Atty. John Torrance said the deadline for filing the city's suit is Aug. 9. Torrance said he was not sure yet whether Porter Ranch Development Co. would also be named in the suit. He declined further comment.

Joe Carreras, an official with the Southern California Assn. of Governments, said disputes between municipalities over growth issues are not uncommon, but that they generally do not end up in court.

"I would say it's rather an extreme step," Carreras said. But Carreras said there is no significant difference between an individual filing a lawsuit against a city as opposed to another municipality.

"If the environmental impact report is inadequate, it's inadequate," Carreras said. "To the extent that this is true, they might very well have a good case. But they would be successful on the merits of the case, not because they are a city."

Times staff writer John Schwada contributed to this story.

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