Explosive emails obtained by a public records request show Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks using her position as a supervisor and board member of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) to keep the City of Thousand Oaks from developing a prominent parcel of private property in Newbury Park.
In an email exchange in May 2021, Parks and SMMC deputy director of natural resources and planning Paul Edelman discussed ways of obtaining the property from property owner Shawn Moradian, who does not want to sell it. Edelman wrote to Parks, in part, “Since Moradian has shifted the tide, he is still an unlikely willing seller at fair market value. He needs to suffer more to get to that point.”
Parks told the Conejo Guardian that she condemned Edelman’s comment that Moradian should “suffer more,” but maintained that the county easement prohibits the construction of any buildings on his land. Further, she indicated the property was ineligible for rezoning, citing an outdated Thousand Oaks General Update Plan not concurrent with the city’s recent approval for Moradian to develop his land.
Despite backing away from the comment, Parks may be on the brink of a scandal that threatens to compromise her position as a public official, as the emails reveal her latest attempts to interfere in the development of a 37-acre parcel of land in the heart of the Rancho Conejo Valley. She wishes to block the construction of a city-designated “opportunity site.”
This Land Is My Land
Adopted in 2017 as the largest “opportunity site” in the city of Thousand Oaks — per a unanimous 5-0 vote by the Thousand Oaks City Council — the “Borchard property,” located at the southwest corner of Borchard Road and Highway 101, has been locally owned by the Moradian family since the 1970s.
This vacant stretch of mostly flat, mostly arid land, has remained undeveloped for more than 43 years, and constitutes 50 percent of the scarce 83-plus acres of underutilized land in the greater Rancho Conejo area of Thousand Oaks.
On May 18 and 25, under the city’s new General Update Plan — the city plan was last updated 50 years ago — the Thousand Oaks City Council approved a Preferred Land Use Map recommending rezoning of the Borchard property, allowing the Moradians broader flexibility for multi-use development of the land once the plan is adopted.
In an April 26 report to the city planning commission, property owner Shawn Moradian confirmed that “the city and its consultant took into consideration every aspect of the Borchard Opportunity Site prior to taking its final vote.” The 40-year-old Thousand Oaks native continued, “… consideration included the [land’s] strategic location in the Rancho Conejo area to support the booming bio-tech community, its flat contour, the lack of any sensitive trees, plants, or habitat, its potential to address a wide range of housing needs, and its activation as a community gathering destination for the residents and businesses of Newbury Park, which currently has no village concept or town square.”
The proposed development has drawn overwhelming support and little criticism from the public. In one survey, 81.76 percent of residents were in favor of future development of the property, excited for the prospect of new revenue and expanded housing in the area. Residents wishing to keep the property as it is cited privacy and environmental concerns and the potential for new construction to create “busy and dangerous” streets.
The SMMC, on whose board Supervisor Parks serves, staunchly opposes the development and also seeks to acquire the land for its own purposes, claiming it is “ecologically valuable property.” This government agency has taken a strong position against Moradian, attempting to force him to sell.
On May 16, just two days before the city council was to convene to discuss the General Update Plan and proposed rezoning of the property, Supervisor Parks tweeted: “The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy is looking to acquire this property to make it into a wetland park. Just needs a willing seller.” The tweet was accompanied by an aerial view of Moradian’s land.
“The land is not for sale,” Moradian told the Conejo Guardian, “and has never been declared a wetland or federally protected.” Moradian supported his claims with 2019 documentation from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirming “waters of the United States do not occur on the project site.” Moradian further noted that “the land is evaluated every five years to determine whether conditions have changed to alter its status.”
But on May 18, SMMC sent a letter to the City of Thousand Oaks urging it not to up-zone the property “even by a single unit.” In the letter, the SMMC’s Edelman alleged the conservancy has “long recognized the 37-acre Borchard wetlands property as a unique, irreplaceable, ecological and watershed resource…. Solving housing needs on already protected open space that happens to function as a wetland would be a horrible mistake by the City.”
Upon learning of the SMMC’s attempt to thwart the city’s rezoning efforts at the last minute, Moradian submitted a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request for all correspondence relating to the authorization and execution of the SMMC’s letter, seeking answers as to why he and his family were never notified by the agency directly.
Moradian’s records request — the first of several he would submit between May 20 to June 20 — returned stunning internal emails between Parks and Edelman, going back to early May, in which Parks and Edelman appear to conspire about the nature and the future of the Moradians’ property.
In a May 4 email, Parks discusses the Ventura County Watershed Protection District’s “flowage easement” placed over the property. Yet, she also admits that multiple government agencies, such as the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have deemed the area is not a wetland. Parks also insinuates that in the past these agencies have declared it a wetland, writing, “Moradian, through litigation, got some re-routing of water that was entering his property,” seeming to suggest that he has shifted the status of his land unlawfully, even though all of his actions have not only been lawful but within his jurisdiction as the property owner.
According to Moradian, the flood easement, established in 1978, “since its inception has never been used. The only requirement I have, as far as the county is concerned, is not to block the flood plain.”
Parks’s May 4 email further states: “…This [Borchard property] is on the Conservancy’s acquisition list. It may be worth a comment letter [to the city]. The vision of acquiring it and have it be a wetland, perhaps with a boardwalk so the herons/egrets and other waterfowl that are often seen there aren’t disturbed, and we could restore the habitat instead of having it disked away annually.”
Responding immediately to Parks’s email, Edelman wrote, in part, “Since Moradian has shifted the tide, he is still an unlikely willing seller at fair market value. He needs to suffer more to get to that point.” Edelman continued, “I just hope at all levels the county holds firm. Fine if TO [Thousand Oaks] can benefit from having ghost SCAG [Southern California Association of Governments] units there as long as they are never built.” He concluded, “What body and what action were you thinking for an SMCC comment letter?”
Edelman’s suggestion that Moradian should “suffer more” for simply owning land and wishing to build on it, in compliance with state law, seems troubling on its face. So does the fact that the SMCC, a state agency, in concert with a county supervisor, is working together against the city. Parks’s representation of both the county and the conservancy, without involving the county directly, have called her actions into question.
Uncovering the Truth
The Conejo Guardian contacted Thousand Oaks City Councilmembers, including Mayor Claudia Bill de la Peña, for comment but [as of this writing] received no response.
Asked to clarify his remarks that Moradian should “suffer more,” Edelman offered no comment. However, on the topic of the conservancy’s interest in the property, he told the Guardian that “as long as the County easement is there [on the property], no houses can be built where the easement is located…. The zoning change does not wash away the County easement or the hydrological conditions.”
In addition to submitting several public records requests, Moradian spoke out during the public comment session at the June 21 SMMC board meeting on the matter of the letter and the emails between Parks and Edelman. During that meeting, SMMC executive director Joseph T. Edmiston admitted to authorizing and executing the letter to the city.
Moradian later remarked, “Neither the Conservancy nor the County have any jurisdiction when it comes to the City of Thousand Oaks’ General Plan Update or its land-use decisions.”
Moradian now plans to submit an agenda item to be considered at the next County Board of Supervisors’ meeting in an attempt to hold Supervisor Parks accountable for using her political leverage as well as her position on the conservancy board to disrupt the development of his land. In order for Ventura County to insert itself into the city’s process, all county supervisors would have to vote on a motion of action. Supervisor Parks alone does not have the jurisdiction to block Moradian from developing his own property.
There is also the issue of SMMC’s closed-door meetings about the matter. As recently as July 19, the SMMC board, including Parks, Edelman and Edmiston, held a closed session to discuss “possible action regarding pending and/or potential litigation: Moradian v. Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.”
In response, Moradian has taken steps to protect his family’s property. Moradian’s attorney, Ryan Hiete, attended the SMCC meeting and made statements during the public comments session:
“We are here because your agenda alerted us to your upcoming closed session concerning this matter [SMMC’s urgent message to the city not to approve the rezoning of Moradian’s property].”
Hiete continued: “We request that your staff has all necessary safeguards in place to make sure that all communications in this matter… are retained and not deleted or destroyed. Second, we strongly recommend in this closed session tonight that you [SMMC board] do not include Mr. Edmiston, Ms. Parks, and Mr. Edelman. These three individuals must be recused from any further involvement regarding my client’s property. Without this safeguard, you risk further embroiling the Conservancy and yourselves in a conspiracy. And one last statement: you are likely all aware that when you infringe upon someone’s property rights, you are infringing on that person’s Constitutional rights. We ask that the violations end tonight with you chartering a new and lawful course.”
The SMMC board failed to adhere to Hiete’s request: Edmiston, Parks and Edelman did not recuse themselves and leave the meeting. Coming out of closed session, the board made the ambiguous statement: “Give direction to staff.”
Moradian said he will initiate litigation if the SMMC refuses to comply, and on July 21, his attorney submitted a letter, placing the County and SMMC “on notice,” asking them to “carefully review this entire matter and act in accordance with all legal and ethical requirements.”
The letter concludes: “We further note that we are not aware of any public action or authorization by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to place on agenda and, in public, authorize Supervisor Parks to procure the SMCC letter, to lobby, or to act in this fashion on behalf of the citizens of Ventura County.”