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Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Ventura County Judge to weigh 3 arguments by neighbors opposed to plan for Mountclef Ridge Greenbelt

A contentious battle over a hilltop between Thousand Oaks and the Santa Rosa Valley took another turn Monday when a Ventura County judge ordered bulldozers to stop grading the foundation for a 6,000-square-foot house just north of the crest of Mountclef Ridge.

The temporary restraining order was issued by Judge Glen Reiser, and it prevents developer Michael Dubin from working on his land until the judge makes a final determination on three legal arguments made by neighbors opposed to the construction.

Some residents in the area want the land preserved as open space, part of a narrow neck of undeveloped wildlands that link the Santa Monica Mountains to Los Padres National Forest. The Thousand Oaks City Council has already bought three adjacent Mountclef Ridge lots from Dubin for open-space use, but voted 4-1 last November to allow the house to be built.

Dubin's attorneys said their client will idle the bulldozers until the judge makes a ruling, which is expected late next month.

"It simply keeps the status quo until he makes a final decision," said lawyer Chuck Cohen.

Mark Burley, a Santa Rosa Valley resident and member of a group called "Save Our Ring of Green," said the restraining order "is important so that while the judge makes a decision, the habitat doesn't get destroyed.

"It's an important wildlife corridor, and one of the last connections to prevent the Santa Monica Mountains from becoming a wildlife island," he said.

The house in question would be built on the Santa Rosa Valley side of the ridge, northwest of the California Lutheran University campus.

Federal biologists have said hilltops east and west of Thousand Oaks are key links for animals like mountain lions to migrate.

Radio tags have detected mountain lions crossing Highway 118 near Simi Valley.

Thousand Oaks assistant city attorney Tracy Noonan said the judge's order is not unusual in a lawsuit based on environmental laws.

The city is defending Dubin's right to build the house because it has issued him lawful building permits and was named in the environmental group's lawsuit.

The action claims that state environmental protection laws and city hillside grading ordinances were not followed. It was filed by Santa Monica attorney Frank Angel.

Burley said his group still holds out hope that Dubin can be persuaded to sell the parcel, the last of four pieces of the property he bought in 2001 for $700,000.

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