Thousand Oaks, Farris Call Truce

Times Staff Writer

Taking his anti-development fight from the courthouse to City Hall, Thousand Oaks Planning Commissioner Michael Farris has decided to drop his appeal in a lawsuit against the city.

The commissioner agreed this week to abandon his appeal in exchange for the city dropping its pursuit of nearly $6,000 for providing copies of documents tied to the lawsuit. A final settlement is still being worked out, according to the city's legal staff.

Farris' original suit had accused the city of violating its own open-space protection statutes when it gave permission last year for construction of three estate homes on an 8.7-acre site in Newbury Park once proposed for a private equestrian center.

But a Superior Court judge ruled in October that the city adhered to state environmental regulations, did not violate state zoning laws and was not required to seek voter approval to allow development of the property near the upscale Dos Vientos neighborhood.

"We were happy that we prevailed in the litigation," said Deputy City Manager Jim Friedl. "We believe the city's position was the right one all along."

Farris said he wants to prohibit building on the land and to dedicate it as permanent open space. "The fight is about preserving land next to the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area as open space," he said.

Farris was running for City Council when the judge ruled against him. Though unsuccessful in his council bid, two of his slow-growth running mates -- Claudia Bill-de la Pena and Bob Wilson Sr. -- were elected to the council and shifted its political majority to slow-growth adherents from one that critics complained was too accommodating to development interests.

Since then, the new majority has returned Farris to the Planning Commission from which he was removed last year by the previous council. Another slow-growth advocate, Laura Lee Custodio, also was appointed to the commission.

"The election in November made a big difference in the way things get handled in Thousand Oaks and our lawsuit became less important," said lawyer Richard Francis, who represents Farris.

Bill-de la Pena took the first steps to unravel the city's approval of the luxury homes in December when she received council approval, on a 3-2 vote, to reopen negotiations with Operating Engineers Pension Trust, which owns the 8.7-acre parcel.

In exchange for permission to build, the landowner agreed to give the city $2.5 million to help pay for an equestrian center on nearby public open space at Rancho Potrero.

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