Moorpark City Council Approves Hidden Creek Ranch Proposal
Things are looking up for Hidden Creek Ranch.
The project’s developer, Irvine-based Messenger Investment Co., proposes to build 3,221 homes on 4,300 acres north of Moorpark, eventually increasing the city’s population by one-third.
The most significant battle--getting the City Council to approve the project--ended Wednesday when a key opponent on the council changed his vote.
And while opponents suggested they might challenge the approval because of concerns that Councilman Bernardo Perez, who supports the project, may have a conflict of interest, Perez said Thursday his wife changed jobs before the vote.
Also, a slow-growth measure that would require voter approval for Hidden Creek faces a court challenge today that, if successful, could clear another obstacle facing developers. The measure could reappear on a future ballot, however.
Messenger representative Gary Austin agreed that after eight years of the process, things are looking sunnier than they have been for some time.
“We feel that we are almost in a partnership with the city now which will extend over the next 15 to 20 years,” Austin said. “This has been a tough, tough process.”
Councilman John Wozniak on Wednesday changed his mind and voted in favor of the project, ending the council’s July 1 tie vote and approving the town’s largest development in history.
The project has been hotly debated during numerous public hearings over several years. Opponents fear the project will lead to urban sprawl, increased traffic and air pollution as well as loss of a small-town feel. Supporters say it would provide new homes for their children to buy, create some affordable housing and allow the city to plan its growth.
Opponents of Hidden Creek a month ago had argued that Perez should refrain from voting on the massive housing project because his wife’s job as a Moorpark real estate agent could create a conflict of interest. They urged the city to contact the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission for an investigation.
On Thursday, however, Perez said his wife quit the job to end the “potential for baseless charges.” On July 1, Victoria Perez moved to a job with a Pasadena financial services company.
“She was concerned about my political career,” said Perez, who plans to seek reelection in November. “She didn’t want these people to rob me of my good name and my good character that I have developed over many years of service. That was her prime motivation.”
Project opponent John Buse, an attorney for the Ventura-based Environmental Defense Center who raised the concerns about a conflict in a letter to the city last month, said the news may end his plans to question the validity of Wednesday’s vote.
“I think that may change the equation,” Buse said. “That may be significant.”
Another challenge to Hidden Creek comes in the form of a ballot measure, sponsored by Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources, that would require voter approval of such projects.
But the measure faces a hearing today in a legal challenge by the Libertarian Party over wording on the petitions that placed the measure on the ballot.
Moorpark is the only city affected by this lawsuit, because other cities avoided the challenge by agreeing to place a city-sponsored version of the measure on the November ballot.
Backers of the SOAR initiative say they have begun circulating new petitions to put the measure on a special election ballot in the event the Libertarian challenge succeeds. “I hope the judge can rule favorably to put SOAR on the ballot and end this petty lawsuit,” said Lori Rutter, a leading SOAR backer in Moorpark.
Because the county Local Agency Formation Commission is expected to begin work on the annexation in September, however, a measure approved in a special election could come too late to avoid legal challenges by developers, Austin said. It’s unclear whether a SOAR measure could apply retroactively, he said.
The city must now decide whether to approve the project’s development agreement. The developer made a number of promises to reduce grading and improve traffic, promises that caused Wozniak to change his vote.
For Wednesday’s vote to be valid, Wozniak said, those items must be in the development agreement to be discussed at the Aug. 5 meeting.