Simi Valley officials said Tuesday that they feel an "obligation to go forward" with a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles despite complaints from residents that a legal effort to try to block a planned Chatsworth development will be too costly and will ultimately fail.
The City Council's decision to sue Los Angeles also prompted Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson, who represents the Porter Ranch area where the development would take place, to warn of the possibility of a countersuit.
"It's possible," Bernson said Tuesday. "It could be very costly. I'm just surprised that they didn't do a little more homework. 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 their decision.
"Not to take action because you are too timid or because you're afraid of losing is not the way to go," Councilman Glen McAdoo said. "When you have right on your side, you have an obligation to go forward."
The council voted in closed session Monday to sue the city of Los Angeles in an attempt 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, less than five miles from Simi Valley.
Simi Valley officials said 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 their concerns about these issues were not adequately addressed in the environmental impact report on the project, and therefore they have no choice but to take legal action.
Nonetheless, about 10 residents spoke out 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."
According to the environmental impact report, 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.
"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 said the report is very specific in the area of traffic mitigation.
Bernson blamed Simi Valley for many of the traffic problems 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 they believed it would be considerably less than the $500,000 some suggested it would cost.
Simi Valley City Atty. John Torrance said the deadline for filing a complaint 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 he 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."