FINAL VICTORY – Calleguas Land Co throws in the towel
Saved until 2050 with a vote of the people –
Camarillo SOAR measure will stand
Court approves settlement over open-space initiative
The Camarillo open-space initiative will stand under a settlement approved in court Wednesday.
“OK, it’s done,” Ventura County Superior Court Judge Vincent O’Neill said after a brief hearing in Ventura.
Under Measure J, Camarillo voters renewed growth boundaries around the city and designated a “Voter Participation Area” for hundreds of acres of farmland at the base of the Conejo Grade. The city cannot re-designate that land for urban use without voter approval, said attorney Richard Francis, who wrote the initiative.
Voters passed measures setting growth boundaries for eight Ventura County cities including Camarillo and one for the county in November. They renewed the so-called Save Open-space & Agricultural Resources initiatives until 2050, requiring voter approval for development of protected farmland and open space.
The Calleguas Land Co. and Camarillo resident Wayne Davey sued last year to stop the Camarillo measure from going on the ballot. After losing that bid, the plaintiffs asked the court to find that the measure was invalid based on allegedly misleading ballot language and interference with the state’s authority to approve annexations.
Calleguas owns most of the land at issue, according to the lawsuit. The company had plans to develop 895 acres but the project was rejected by the Camarillo City Council in the face of stiff community opposition.
The plaintiffs proposed the settlement a couple of weeks ago, Francis said.
Attorney Chuck Cohen said the plaintiffs settled because recent filings showed the defendants did not contest that the state-authorized Ventura Local Agency Formation Commission held authority to approve annexations.
“You cannot by ballot measure control the decision- making of LAFCo,” said Cohen, a Westlake Village attorney who worked on the case with a San Rafael law firm with expertise in election law, Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni. The settlement says the city will interpret and enforce the measure consistent with all applicable laws, including state law over annexation. The same goes for any amendment to the city’s general plan for land use.
Brian Pierik, the attorney representing Camarillo, said the city never contested the authority over annexations held by LAFCo.
“We understand the role of LAFCo and what the stipulation provides,” he said. “The city will comply with the the law, which we would do whether we signed the stipulation or not.”
Francis, who represented backers of the petition drive, saw the settlement as a victory for the defendants.
“Measure J shall stand,” he said.
Francis said the plaintiffs settled because they knew they couldn’t win, not because of the annexation issue.
“They made up that argument and it was a dead loser,” he said.
His client Tad Dougherty welcomed the court ruling. Dougherty and other backers collected signatures twice to get the initiative on the ballot because of an error the first time. In light of the court decision Wednesday, they won’t have to try again.
“We’re pleased with the outcome and agreed to a settlement that works out for everybody,” Dougherty said. “There was not a conflict over annexation law that they thought there was.”