Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks is once again at the center of questions concerning emails that seem to show her unconstitutional interference in a plan by the City of Thousand Oaks to develop a prominent parcel of privately owned land in Newbury Park.
“My fantasy is to restore the wetlands, theirs [Thousand Oaks City Council] is that they can ignore the flowage easement and the need for the land to hold stormwater to prevent flooding,” wrote Parks in an email dated May 27.
According to landowner Shawn Moradian, the flood easement to which Parks refers was established in 1978 and “since its inception has never been used.” Moradian told the Conejo Guardian that “the only requirement I have, as far as the county is concerned, is not to impact the flood plain.”
As previously reported by the Conejo Guardian, emails from early May, obtained via a public records request, show Parks using her dual positions as county supervisor and board member of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) to block the approval of a rezoning plan. This plan would allow for future construction of new housing and commercial buildings on the 37-acre “Borchard Property,” situated at the southwest corner of Borchard Road and Highway 101. The Moradian family has owned the parcel since the 1970s.
Now, a second round of emails has surfaced due to another public records request, this one to the County. They reveal that Parks’ campaign to acquire the land may have started as early as March and involved the participation of Thousand Oaks Mayor Claudia Bill-de la Peña, who is positioning herself to replace Parks as county supervisor in 2022.
Moradian has hired a team of lawyers led by attorneys Barry Groveman and Ryan Hiete to launch an investigation into Parks’ actions and those of two high-ranking SMMC officials. They are requesting that all agency documentation concerning the property be retained; that Parks, SMMC Executive Director Joseph Edmiston, and SMMC Deputy Director Paul Edelman immediately recuse themselves from serving on governing bodies with jurisdiction over the property; and that each agency conducts its own internal investigation into the activities of Parks, Edmiston, and Edelman.
Moradian’s lawyer also noted that any characterizations of the property as a “wetland” and “protected open space” have “no basis in law or fact and constitute, at a minimum, a slander of title.” Such facts appear to be supported by 2019 documentation from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which states that “waters of the United States do not occur on the project site.” Moreover, both agencies are requested to discuss the matter of the property at the next board meeting for all board members to review.
To date, Parks’ attempts to acquire the land have remained undocumented on SMMC board agendas from January through May, potentially in violation of the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act, which governs the conservancy’s decision-making process. Mandated by the California State Legislature, a multi-member board, such as SMMC, must adhere to a “consensus-building process” rather than an “individual decision-maker model.”
As is clear in the emails, Parks is working independently as well as collaboratively with Edelman and Edmiston, instead of within a full board-member consensus. According to state law, the board must also provide the public with the opportunity “to monitor and participate in the decision-making process,” yet neither the SMMC nor the county has contacted Moradian directly about any proposals for obtaining the property.
The widening circle of key players now includes Mayor Bill-de la Peña, which raises the question of her role in Parks’ quest to acquire Moradian’s land. On March 17, two months before the city would vote on the rezoning plan permitting future construction on the land, Parks wrote to Bill-de la Peña, stating that “the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy has also offered to purchase the property for parkland if he [Moradian] were a willing seller.”
In another email dated March 26, Parks wrote to SMCC Executive Director Edmiston, copying Bill-de la Peña, requesting that Edmiston contact Moradian with “the same offer we gave him before for the Borchard wetland.”
The Conejo Guardian requested from Parks, Edmiston, and Edelman copies of offers from the conservancy to purchase the land but has received no response. Moradian maintains that “no formal offers have ever been made.”
In emails dated May 4, Parks again acted independently of both the county board and the SMMC board, soliciting a “comment letter” from SMMC Deputy Director Edelman to the City of Thousand Oaks. In that chain of emails, Parks reveals that the property is “on the conservancy’s acquisition list” and that her motivations are driven by a “vision of acquiring it [the land] and have it be a wetland.” Parks later tweeted on May 16 that the conservancy “just needs a willing seller.”
As the May 4 thread continued, Edelman stated that Moradian should “suffer more” to get to the point of becoming a willing seller. This was later deemed by Parks to be “completely inappropriate,” though email records show she did nothing at the time to rebuke or correct the remarks.
It remains unclear how Moradian has suffered already, if Edelman’s opinion is that he should “suffer more.”
In a May 18 letter to the city, drafted by Edelman under the directive of Parks, Edelman urged councilmembers “not to up zone the subject property by even a single unit,” stating that “solving housing needs on already protected open space that happens to function as a wetland would be a horrible mistake by the city.”
SMMC Executive Director Edmiston admitted to authorizing the letter even though he knew it had not been submitted for full board review, unlike dozens of other comment letters considered by the board and placed on meeting agendas between January and July.
The same day the letter was received by the city, council members voted on the General Update Plan for rezoning Moradian’s land, ultimately approving a new Preferred Land Use Map in a 3-2 decision on May 18 and 25.
On May 26 and 27, two days after the council’s approval to up-zone Moradian’s property, Parks again wrote to Edelman and Edmiston, allegedly seeking clarity on the issue of whether an appraisal had been conducted, noting “Moradian’s objection” to it, and if documents could be shared concerning “the effort to purchase it [the Borchard Property].”
Moradian vehemently denies “any notice of an authorized appraisal or formal offers” to buy his property.
Additionally, on May 27, Parks wrote to Ventura County Public Works (VCPW) Director Jeff Pratt and VCPW Assistant Director David Fleisch, stating “I would like Transportation to review what the County can do both design wise and legally to limit traffic from the project….”
According to Moradian, “This is just another example of Linda Parks exceeding her authority and abusing her power by asking County employees to block development on the property without a formal application before them to consider traffic impacts.”
The Conejo Guardian sought comments from Mayor Bill-de la Peña and other county officials, but received no response except for an invitation to watch the city council meeting.