Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks and high-ranking officials at the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) remain silent in the wake of damaging allegations of misconduct and interference into the development of a 37-acre, privately owned parcel of land in the City of Thousand Oaks.
As previously reported by the Conejo Guardian, emails obtained in May via a public records request demonstrate Parks seems to have used her dual positions as county supervisor and SMMC board member to block the approval of a rezoning plan.
In May, the Thousand Oaks City Council voted 3-2 to approve a General Plan Update that allowed for future construction of new housing and commercial buildings on the vast stretch of vacant land located at the southwest corner of Borchard Road and Highway 101, locally owned by the Moradian family since the 1970s.
Landowner Shawn Moradian has long sought accountability for Parks’s “improper motives” and “incompatible use of both public offices,” he says, yet both the county and the SMMC have largely stayed quiet, ignoring Moradian’s requests for an investigation into the actions of Parks, SMMC Executive Director Joseph Edmiston and SMMC Deputy Director Paul Edelman. Both entities have also refused to demand Parks recuse herself from any discussion on the matter of his property.
The Conejo Guardian sought comment from Parks, Edmiston, and Edelman, but none returned a request.
Concerns surrounding Parks’s role in what Moradian defines as an “ongoing effort to devalue his property, intimidate him, and obtain possession of the property without due process of law or just compensation” have most recently been raised on September 21 with California Attorney General Robert Bonta through a formal complaint filed by Moradian’s attorneys Barry Groveman and Ryan Hiete of the law firm Groveman Hiete LLP.
Groveman and Hiete have requested that Bonta investigate Parks’s “use of combined powers and resources of both offices to intentionally interfere through coercion and/or intimidation” with Moradian’s constitutional property rights.
On September 24, County Counsel Tiffany North issued a statement to AG Bonta calling Moradian’s arguments “meritless” while defending Parks’s service in dual positions on the county board and the SMMC as lawful. North said the county “vehemently disagrees” with Moradian’s narrative that outlines Parks’s attempts to acquire his land, even though it is not for sale.
On October 20, a series of tort claims were filed against the County and the conservancy. Tort claims are legal claims brought before a government entity facing litigation, presenting the opportunity for a response from that entity to respond to the claims before the party sues. It is yet to be determined whether the SMMC or the County will represent Parks and, if so, in what capacity, should they find her conduct was outside the scope of the authority she holds in each office.
In May, Parks escalated the situation by posting to Twitter her “fantasy” plans for the conservancy to acquire the land, that SMMC “just needs a willing seller.” Parks has long characterized the property as a “wetland” and in private emails obtained via public records requests referred to it as “protected open space” despite 2019 documentation from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stating that “waters of the United States do not occur on the project site.”
Further emails exist between Parks and SMMC officials, as well as various county officials, including Thousand Oaks Mayor Claudia Bill-de la Peña, who is positioned to replace Parks as county supervisor in 2022, discussing the acquisition of Moradian’s property. These emails show Parks working independently, as well as collaboratively with Edelman and Edmiston, instead of within a full board-member consensus, potentially violating the state’s Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act.
Moradian has yet to receive a response from Attorney General Bonta, Supervisor Parks, or the SMMC following the October 20 filing of the tort claims.
On November 1, a county spokesperson issued this statement: “The County has received the tort claim which is being reviewed and evaluated through the County’s normal process. As written to the Attorney General, the County disagrees with Mr. Moradian’s narrative. Supervisor Parks’ actions were legal. If a lawsuit is ultimately filed by Mr. Moradian, the County will vigorously defend against the meritless claims.”
Still, Moradian is not backing down.
“If Parks and these agencies don’t take responsibility for their actions, they leave us no choice but to bring suit for injunctive, monetary, and remedial damages, including a public apology for calling it a wetland,” says the 40-year-old Thousand Oaks native.