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Wozniak Changes Vote, Giving City Council OK to Hidden Creek

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In a surprise move, Councilman John Wozniak voted Wednesday to approve the Hidden Creek Ranch development, thus ending a deadlock over the 3,221-home project and paving the way for building the largest development in the city’s history.

Wozniak said the developer, Irvine-based Messenger Investment Co., allayed his concerns over issues such as traffic and the amount of grading needed.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Jul. 22, 1998 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 22, 1998 Ventura County Edition Metro Part B Page 6 Zones Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Council term--A July 16 article incorrectly reported how long John Wozniak has served as a Moorpark city councilman. Wozniak has been a council member since November 1990.

Wozniak’s change of heart came after he met twice with the developer after the City Council’s July 1 meeting. He voted against the project then, but his colleagues Chris Evans and Bernardo Perez, who favored the project, urged him to speak with the developer about his concerns.

“This has been the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make. But someone told me, ‘You do the best you can,’ ” Wozniak said during the meeting.

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The council voted 3 to 1 in favor of the project, with Mayor Pat Hunter casting the opposing vote.

Supporters of Hidden Creek Ranch had counted on Wozniak to cast the swing vote to end the two-week-old deadlock.

Councilwoman Debbie Teasley abstained from voting on the issue, to avoid a conflict of interest. The council split July 1 with Bernardo Perez and Chris Evans approving the project and Wozniak and Hunter rejecting it.

But Teasley, who is a Moorpark real estate broker, castigated project opponents, accusing them of using “guerrilla tactics” to keep her from voting on the development.

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“This local group of environmentalists are self-serving and threatening in their politics,” she said. “The only people they wanted to vote on the project are the ones who have the same views as them.”

Perez, whose wife also sells real estate locally, was targeted by opponents who suggested that he also has a potential conflict.

Wozniak said he changed his vote Wednesday because the developer’s revised plans addressed his concerns to his satisfaction.

He said Messenger Investments has agreed to reduce the amount of total grading by 20% and to ensure that grading projects for homes and for a golf course would not occur simultaneously.

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The councilman said the company agreed to set aside an extra 360 acres of permanent space to provide a buffer between Hidden Creek and the Simi Valley city limits.

Additionally, Messenger agreed to build only 2,000 homes if it did not meet two conditions--to construct an intersection between Hidden Creek and the California 118 and to make sure that traffic continues to flow smoothly through the existing intersection of Collins and Campus Park drives.

“If that never gets fixed, 2,000 is where it stops,” Wozniak said before his vote.

The veteran councilman, who has served for 17 years, told the audience of more than 60 residents that he was offended by recent comments from voters suggesting that he might have traded his vote for future campaign donations.

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“What makes me angry is being told if I change my vote, ‘How much did you get?’ [It’s] not going to happen. Not going to happen, people,” Wozniak said.

The Hidden Creek project now has to be reviewed by the Local Area Formation Committee, which will have to decide whether to allow Moorpark to annex the land into its jurisdiction.

Yet if Moorpark voters approve a measure by open-space activists on the city ballot this November, it could move the decision on Hidden Creek out of the council’s hands.

Passage of the Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources initiative would mean that voters must approve any development outside city boundaries. If the initiative is approved, Messenger Investment would need a majority of voters to authorize its development, which is expected to increase the size of the city by a third.

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“We should hope the Moorpark SOAR gets on the ballot so that people can vote on it the way they should be able to,” said Roseann Mikos, who strongly opposes Hidden Creek.

Approval of a competing city-designed measure to restrict growth, however, would allow Hidden Creek to be developed with just the council approval.


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