The city of Calabasas won permission Tuesday to continue its court battle in its long-running fight against Ahmanson Ranch, where 3,050 homes are slated to be built in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Both the city and the target of the suit, developer Washington Mutual, claimed victory after the hearing, one of many legal disputes that has stymied development of the 2,800-acre property. The issue has drawn the attention of environmentally conscious celebrities such as Rob Reiner, Robert Kennedy Jr. and Al Gore.
Most of the legal disputes involving Ahmanson have been transferred to Riverside County because of conflicts of interest by judges in Los Angeles County.
In Tuesday’s hearing, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Dallas Holmes ruled that the legal process could continue on the issue of whether Ventura County violated the public’s due process rights when planning commissioners visited the site last year.
In the lawsuit filed in December by the city of Calabasas and five individuals, attorneys claimed that the county failed to adequately notify the public about the visits, in violation of both state and county law.
Holmes sustained a previous ruling that the Ventura County Planning Commission did not violate the state’s open meeting law, known as the Brown Act, when members visited the site last September and October.
He also ruled that the Planning Commission did not violate any Ventura County ordinances or a state law known as the Subdivision Map Act, as Calabasas had alleged. But Holmes gave the city 30 days to amend its complaint on those two issues.
Richard Terzian, an attorney for the city, said he would file amended complaints and begin the discovery process.
Washington Mutual had sought to have the lawsuit dismissed on the grounds that Calabasas did not have a reasonable chance of winning if the case went to trial. Holmes denied the request.
He also ruled that Calabasas could move forward on a request for a declaration by the court that its rights had been violated.
“We’re pleased that the judge sharply pared down the number of claims that Calabasas can proceed with,” said Washington Mutual spokesman Tim McGarry. “We’ll continue to do fact-finding in search of support for our claims.”
In a related decision last week, Holmes dismissed a motion by Los Angeles County that sought to transfer a lawsuit from Los Angeles County to Riverside County.
The lawsuit filed by Washington Mutual is seeking to force Los Angeles County to process an appeal for an oak tree removal permit.
Los Angeles County wanted it to be heard in Riverside because six other Ahmanson-related lawsuits are set to be heard in the Inland Empire.
The dispute dates to 1993 when Washington Mutual asked to remove 10 oak trees so it could extend Thousand Oaks Boulevard into the project. After the permit was granted in 1994, the cities of Calabasas and Los Angeles appealed. The appeal has been pending ever since.