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Circuit City Forum Flares Into Argument : Thousand Oaks: Council members and critics exchange heated comments. Both sides express frustration about a wall of mistrust.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

A public forum Tuesday about Thousand Oaks’ new Circuit City store degenerated into a heated argument about the details of a 1989 land transaction as citizens accused the City Council of holding back straight answers.

Most of the dozen residents and a few public officials at the special session left the conference table muttering angrily at the wall of mistrust they felt was blocking communication between the government and the public.

“The citizens are frustrated and I am frustrated,” said Councilwoman Elois Zeanah, who joined several citizens in investigating the dealings that led to Circuit City’s acquisition of a city-owned parcel at Lynn Road and Hillcrest Drive.

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But three council members cited 160 pages of documents to prove that the sale was open to public comment.

“How much better it would have been if you had voiced your concerns then,” Mayor Judy Lazar said, referring to discussions about the parcel that began as early as 1983.

The actual Circuit City building, a large cinder-block structure on a three-acre plot near The Oaks mall that some residents have decried as an eyesore, was the impetus for the ongoing feud between the City Council and a grass-roots group known as Concerned Citizens of Thousand Oaks. The store opened in late November.

But the gripes have grown. “When we ask questions about certain issues, we would like to have answers we can feel confident with,” said Donald Davis, a leader of Concerned Citizens. “We want to bring confidence back to Thousand Oaks.”

Since construction on the electronics store began last summer, residents have accused the council of covering up the deal and failing to take public opinion into account.

“There’s a perception that by the time most people are aware of an issue, it’s already in motion, so any public input is fruitless,” agreed Councilwoman Jaime Zukowski, who won election in November partly because of her opposition to Circuit City. “There’s a real frustration there. It’s a very important lesson for this community.”

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While Zukowski promised that the council is learning a lesson--better communication with constituents--from the brouhaha, other leaders said the public, not the government, should be taking notes.

“People have to say that what happens in the City Council chambers is at least as important as what’s going on on the federal level,” Councilman Frank Schillo said before the late-afternoon meeting. “They have to pay attention--tune in (to cable television broadcasts of council meetings) on Tuesdays or come down to City Hall.”

Noting that the city spent $15,000 of taxpayer money this month to compile a four-inch-thick binder of documents to placate angry residents, Schillo added, “it’s a terrible disgrace that we had public hearings on this once and now we have to do it all over again.”

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