In a surprise move, the Lang Ranch Co. late Friday asked a federal court judge to shift the burden of building a multimillion-dollar flood control project from the developer to the city of Thousand Oaks.
The company, which has been involved in a dispute with the city over the project for the past few months, also asks that the city reimburse Lang Ranch Co. the $800,000 in engineering and planning expenses. The company also seeks compensation for attorneys' fees.
Though the price of building the dam and debris basin was originally estimated to be $3.5 million, city officials think delays and rising construction costs could boost that amount.
Lang Ranch Co. is appealing directly to a judge who ruled in the company's 1986 lawsuit against Thousand Oaks that the city not interfere with the developer's plans to build 2,257 homes at the end of Westlake Boulevard.
"We know that this is a very fine judge who makes good clear decisions," Lang Ranch attorney Karen Lee said. "I know that when we go before him we are getting a fair hearing.
"Lang Ranch feels very definitely that the city has delayed in making a decision and has done so purposefully," Lee added.
Almost two weeks ago, council members split 2 to 2 on whether to allow construction of a dam and retention basin that county and state flood control officials ordered the company to build. Without the project, officials fear a major storm could cause considerable downstream flooding.
Because the project requires the destruction of a scenic, century-old grove of oak trees near Westlake Boulevard and Avenida de Los Arboles, it has been the subject of many grueling hours of council debate. It is scheduled for discussion at next week's council meeting, with some council members intent on sending it back to the Planning Commission for further review of possible alternatives.
In stinging language, the 30-page brief accuses the city of "grasping at straws" in looking for new alternatives and purposefully staging an "interminable delay."
"The search for other solutions is not a legitimate search at all," it reads. "Looking at the history of this dispute leads to but one conclusion: The city is simply paralyzed by the thought of having to make what is a politically uncomfortable decision."
Councilman Andy Fox and Councilwoman Judy Lazar were both ready earlier this month to approve a modified version of the project that would take out 80 oak trees instead of the originally proposed 140.
But Mayor Jaime Zukowski and Councilwoman Elois Zeanah, still holding out hope that more oak trees can be saved, voted against the project, prompting Lee to notify the city that the company planned to seek relief from Judge Dickran Tevrizian .
"The council needs to revisit that issue before it is too late," Fox said Friday. "Otherwise we are going to lose 140 oak trees and potentially millions of dollars. So the council needs to step up to the plate and make a decision."
A hearing date has been set for March 13 in Tevrizian's Central District Federal Court.
Thousand Oaks city attorney Mark Sellers said that the City Council will meet in closed session on Tuesday and that he hopes council members can reach some resolution then.
"I certainly expect that we will have some sort of offer to resolve the situation before the judge," Sellers said. "I hope that he considers it in an unbiased manner."
Zeanah said she considers the review process incomplete, and said she did not understand why Lang Ranch Co. had reacted so quickly against the city.
"In my opinion it has not been a dispute so far because we as a council are still exercising due diligence," Zeanah said. "So I really don't understand their grounds."