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Tuesday, Aug 9, 2022
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ONE MORE THING

 Nearly 25 years ago, the city of Agoura Hills started brainstorming about how to create a new city center. City leaders and concerned citizens decided it should be pedestrian friendly and entertainment oriented. It would be called “Agoura Village,” and it would be centered at Agoura Road and Kanan Road on land that was surprisingly untouched even though it is only one block south of the busting 101 Freeway.

The Agoura Village Specific Plan eventually was hammered out and approved by the city in 2008, but if you drive to Agoura and Kanan today, you will see that the land is still… surprisingly untouched.

Why, after all these years, has nothing been built? I’m seriously thinking the city really, really doesn’t want to have Agoura Village built at all.

You can’t help but wonder that if you read a lawsuit filed a few months ago by a Westlake Village development firm named California Commercial Investment Group Inc. after it was jilted by Agoura Hills.

The development firm, which goes by CCI, in September 2015 applied for permits to build a pedestrian friendly mixed-use center – a hotel, residential units, some retail, etc. – on 18 naked acres on the southeast corner of Kanan and Agoura roads. 

The proposal was in keeping with the Agoura Village plan. In fact, CCI’s project would be called “Ave” – or Agoura Village East. 

But according to the lawsuit, what followed reads like a city planners’ version of a death march. For three years, the city kept dinging CCI with what are called “deemed incomplete” letters or basically orders to cure something. But they didn’t want just one or two things cured. The lawsuit says on such letter, sent in June 2016, included 114 individual items, several of them with sub-items. A January 2018 letter had 39 such items. 

The city may have figured that its industrial-scale nitpicking would frustrate CCI into walking away. But the company kept plugging at it, changing what the city wanted, “believing that it was working in good faith,” as the suit says.

Finally, in September 2018 – three long years after CCI applied to build basically what the city said it wanted – the city declared the application was complete. Victory was finally nearing for CCI, you’d think.

But no. The death march continued. “The city sent a series of letters to CCI making additional requests for information and alleging several new inconsistencies with the (proposal), requiring CCI to submit 11 additional planning sets,” the lawsuit reads.

CCI claims the “inconsistencies” resulted from shifting demands from the city. Nonetheless, the back-and-forth continued for three additional years. Then the city planning commission abruptly rejected the application over the summer with the city council finally axing it in September. 

At the time of the rejection, Agoura Hills City Council members said CCI’s plan had numerous defects and failed to adhere to the city’s standards for such things as height and setbacks.

OK, let’s say that’s true. But wasn’t the time to get all that straightened out about 5 years and 11 months earlier? 

Anyway, the lawsuit tells a different story. It alleges that Agoura Hills has created “a system so tortured, convoluted and interminable that it is set up for applicants like CCI to fail.” You know, like a death march.

CCI is not alone. A separate plan to create essentially Agoura Village West did not go forward. A separate plan to develop bare land on Agoura Road about a third of a mile east did not go forward. Makes you wonder if Agoura Hills’ reputation as anti-development might be deserved, no?

But I mostly wonder about this: If the city of Agoura Hills really, really doesn’t intend to allow Agoura Village to be built, why doesn’t it just say so?

Charles Crumpley
Charles Crumpley
Charles Crumpley has been the editor and publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal since March 2016. In June 2021, it was named the best business journal of its size in the country – the fourth time in the last 5 years it won that honor. Crumpley was named best columnist – also for the fourth time in the last 5 years. He serves on two business-supporting boards and has won awards for his civic involvement. Crumpley, a former newspaper reporter, won several national awards and fellowships for his work, and he was a Fulbright scholar to Japan.
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