Courthouse Defended, but No Debate Is Allowed

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Municipal Court administrator appeared before about 100 angry opponents of a proposed Chatsworth courthouse Monday night in an attempt to present the case for building the court--on condition they did not get to debate the issue.

In his first appearance at a public forum, Robert Quist, a deputy court administrator, agreed to present his case if the audience did not present rebuttals, Quist confirmed.

The Chatsworth Chamber of Commerce, which organized the forum, required those attending to submit written questions for Quist.

The proposal did not go over well with courthouse opponents, some of whom held protest signs throughout the meeting. When members of the audience tried to shout questions, a representative of the Chamber of Commerce shushed them.

Neighborhood activists argue that a proposed three-story courthouse at Winnetka Avenue and Plummer Street would increase traffic and graffiti, attract criminals and erode residential property values.

The county moved a step closer to selecting the controversial site last week when the Board of Supervisors instructed court officials to begin negotiations with the property's owner. Alexander Haagen, a major campaign contributor to board members, owns the land.

Quist tried to dispel concerns about the courthouse by saying its presence would be a great convenience to residents of the area.

"What we're talking about is providing service to the half-million people who live in the west San Fernando Valley," Quist said. "Our goal here is to provide service. That's what this is all about."

He said the vast majority of those who would use the courthouse would present no danger.

"We're not talking about criminals," he said. "We're talking about people like me and you."

The crowd, despite the rules, shouted him down.

On another front, Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson, who also opposes the courthouse location, asked the city attorney Tuesday to explore whether the city can sue the county on grounds that an environmental study should first be conducted.

Court administrators contend that neighbors of other municipal courthouses have encountered no problems of the type that the Chatsworth group fears.

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