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Hidden Creek Ranch Foes Suggest Official Not Vote

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Foes of Hidden Creek Ranch suggested Thursday that a Moorpark councilman should abstain from voting on the massive development--potentially the second council member with a conflict of interests in the project.

Noting that the wife of Councilman Bernardo Perez is a local real estate agent who might profit if the project is approved, the Ventura-based Environmental Defense Center raised the objection in a letter to the city just as the council prepares to vote on the massive development after eight years of debate.

Hidden Creek Ranch, proposed by the Messenger Investment Co. of Irvine, would build 3,221 homes on a 4,300-acre plot north of town. If approved, the development would be annexed to Moorpark, eventually increasing the city’s population by one-third.

“Our intent is to indicate potentially that a decision by the city in which council member Perez participates may be in jeopardy,” said the center’s attorney John Buse, who asked the city to request an opinion from the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

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“We’re not asking that there be a disqualification,” Buse said. “We’re asking that there be further investigation into whether a disqualification is warranted.”

Perez, however, disagreed that he has a conflict of interests. And fellow Councilman Chris Evans blasted project opponents for attempting to smear Perez and derail Hidden Creek at the last minute. Council members decided Wednesday to consider final approval July 1.

Project opponents, Evans said, “are more interested in killing the Messenger project . . . than in what is better for the voters of Moorpark.”

The center, an environmental advocacy group, addressed the letter to Moorpark’s city attorney, Cheryl Kane. The center also sent a copy to the commission, Buse said.

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One council member already has withdrawn from discussion and votes on Hidden Creek. After questions were raised by opponents of the project, Councilwoman Debbie Teasley sought an opinion from the state commission on whether her job as a real estate broker created a conflict of interests. A letter from the commission last month strongly suggested she should abstain from votes on Hidden Creek.

Buse said the commission’s letter to Teasley suggests Perez also may have a conflict. The councilman’s wife, Victoria Perez, is a real estate agent with Troop Real Estate in Moorpark.

“Except for the fact that it is the council member’s spouse, rather than the council member, who has the direct interest in the real estate brokerage business, Mr. Perez’ situation closely parallels that of Ms. Teasley,” Buse stated in his letter.

Bernardo Perez disagreed. “I’m certainly aware of Ms. Teasley’s circumstances and I appreciate Mr. Buse’s concern and interest in looking at the similarities, but I think that there are enough dissimilarities.”

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Perez said his wife has worked at the agency for two months after being out of the business for two years but declined to further explain why he sees no conflict of interests.

Evans described the letter as an attempt to stall the project.

“They’ve already eliminated one, now they’re going for two” council members, Evans said. “And now they’ll say there’s only three of you so you should put off the decision.”

Project opponent Roseann Mikos, who contacted the center to raise the conflict-of-interests issue, denied that the move was a tactic to stymie Messenger.

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“We felt a responsibility to raise the issue so the city can resolve it, so everyone can feel comfortable about having the decision made,” said Mikos, who also heads Moorpark’s Environmental Coalition. “It’s not a tactic.”

Evans suggested the Environmental Defense Center should ask the state commission for an opinion on any conflict of interests, rather than the city.

Commission spokesman Gary Huckaby, however, said only the official involved can ask the commission for formal advice. Third parties can file a complaint only after an official violates a law, he said.

The city now faces several choices. The first is to ask the commission for advice on Perez. Typically it takes at least 21 days for a response, Huckaby said. Such a step could delay a vote on the project past the council’s self-imposed deadline of July 1.

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The second alternative is to allow Perez to vote and face the consequences later. Buse said the center has not decided whether it would file a complaint or lawsuit in such a case.

And the third option is to vote on the project without Perez. City Atty. Kane was unavailable to say whether a unanimous vote would be required in such a situation.


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