Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks has made a 25-year political career out of battling developers and land prospectors in the name of preservation.
Now one high-profile Thousand Oaks landowner is arguing that the staunch environmentalist and her colleagues at the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, where she’s served on the 12-member board on behalf of the county for over 20 years, have gone too far in trying to oppose private development outside their jurisdiction.
Shawn Moradian, whose family owns the hotly debated “Borchard parcel” next to the 101 Freeway, told the Acorn this week he may sue the supervisor and the conservancy itself for what he describes as a blatant attempt by Parks and longtime conservancy Deputy Director Paul Edelman to use their positions of power to try to devalue his property so they can obtain it at a lower price.
Edelman told the Acorn in May that the 37-acre property is on the conservancy’s so-called work program, a legislatively required “wish list” of acquisitions. He said no official offer had ever been made because Moradian had made it clear in negotiations he would not sell to the conservancy out of “pure stubbornness to not concede.”
In a private May 4 email exchange between Parks and Edelman obtained by Moradian via a California Public Records Act request, Edelman suggests Moradian “needs to suffer more” to get to a point where he would offer the land at the end of Alice Drive for “fair market value.”
Edelman’s response was to a lengthy question from Parks asking “What makes a wetland a wetland?” that mentions Moradian and the possibility of the conservancy acquiring the land so it can 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.”
“Moradian seems to be knocking down the barriers in his way,” Edelman writes to the supervisor. “That momentum may change abruptly with the Fed agencies with Trump gone.”
Edelman tells Parks he will inquire with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Army Corps of Engineers on whether the land qualifies as a wetland, then states: “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.”
The Acorn attempted to contact Edelman seeking an explanation for his “suffer more” comment but did not receive a response. Edelman told the paper in May he had always hoped there would be a compromise regarding the parcel where the “non-flowage part provided housing and the rest was dedicated to public agency or at least put in a conservation easement.”
In concluding his May 4 email to the supervisor, Edelman asserts his hope that Moradian’s efforts to develop the vacant land within city limits is blocked by the County of Ventura, which holds a flood easement over the entire property.
The Board of Supervisors serves as the de facto board of the Ventura County Watershed Protection District, which has the power to determine the parcel’s fate.
“I just hope at all levels the county holds firm,” Edelman writes, before referring to the Southern California Association of Governments and the state’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment, which requires that cities show they have the capacity to build a certain number of homes.
The desire to allow more homes was one of the council’s stated reasons for supporting the zone change at Borchard.
“Fine if T.O. can benefit from having ghost SCAG units there as long as they are never built,” Edelman writes. “What body and what action were you thinking for an SMMC comment letter?”
Parks’ response: “Would it be appropriate to comment on the property as proposed for development in the city’s General Plan update that’s coming to the council for decision May 18 and 25?”
Asked about Edelman’s choice of words in the email, Parks told the Acorn his comments were “completely inappropriate” and she referred them to Conservancy Executive Director Joseph Edmiston for review.
Beyond that, Parks said she could not comment because “it is a personnel matter.”
Thirteen days later, May 17, Edelman emails Parks: “LP does letter go to City Council? Planning? Venco flood—please help me steer.” To which she replies:
“City Council, they’re voting on the GPU Tuesday (May 18) and next Tuesday (May 25) that recommends increasing its density.”
Edelman wrote a letter to the City Council on SMMC letterhead stating the agency opposed any “up zoning” of the parcel, which he described as “protected open space.”
The Borchard parcel has been zoned single-family residential since the Moradians bought it in 1978, although the property cannot be developed without county permission due to the easement.
“Solving housing needs on already protected open space that happens to function as a wetland would be a horrible mistake by the city,” the letter says.
Ahead of the meeting, city staff recommended that Moradian’s land be rezoned from single-family residential (allowing a maximum of 170 units) to mixed-use low, which allows up to 1,000 units and structures up to 50 feet tall.
The council, which did not bring up Edelman’s letter, voted 3-2 in favor of the mixed-use low designation, with Councilmember Ed Jones and longtime Parks ally Councilmember Claudia Bill-de la Peña voting no.
Moradian, whose family has been at odds with Parks over the land for two decades, says no mention of the letter was included in a conservancy meeting agenda leading up to May 18, suggesting Parks and Edelman acted independently of the board and without its consent.
At the June 21 conservancy meeting, Moradian addressed the board during public comment, demanding to know who authorized the letter sent to the City Council attacking his property.
Edmiston responded forcefully.
“That is me. I authorized it pursuant to the public resources code as the department head,” Edmiston said to Moradian over Zoom. “And if you want to sue me, here I am.”
Edmiston then recalled a meeting involving Moradian, Parks and himself “within the last 10 years” to discuss the possibility of SMMC acquiring the land, which is still defined by USFWS as a wetland.
“I want to be very blunt with you,” Edmiston said. “The offer that you or your family put on the table was so egregiously beyond fair market value that I had to tell you that, as a fiduciary to the state of California, I could not entertain the amount of money that you were demanding. And now I am shocked that you would come back and attack a staff member of the conservancy for doing what we’re supposed to do, which is interface with the governmental affairs folks of Thousand Oaks and everybody else, about something that has a vital effect . . . upon a wetland in the Santa Monica Mountains.”
Regarding Moradian’s suggestion that she acted improperly regarding the letter, Parks said in an email that “comment letters happen all the time, it’s common procedure. I didn’t write or give input to the letter.”
“I am on the Conservancy, and they regularly write to agencies in favor of protecting properties on the SMMC acquisition list when those properties are threatened with development,” she added via text. “That’s why I asked IF the SMMC staff thought it was appropriate.”
Emails obtained by Moradian show that Edelman forwarded his letter to Parks before sending it to the city. Parks was adamant that the content of the letter was completely Edelman’s doing.
“I did not ‘direct him’ to send it to the city,” Parks told the Acorn. “And I did not direct the letter. And I did not comment on the letter because I do not micromanage my staff, that is not my role.”
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Moradian called on the council to pass a resolution condemning Parks and the conservancy for what he described as their attempt to undermine the general plan process and hurt a local family. The Moradians are among the city’s most prolific private landowners, especially along T.O. Boulevard.
“You have the deputy director of a state agency saying to a county supervisor that a private citizen needs to suffer more in order to buy their property at below fair-market value,” Moradian said during public comment July 6.
“You have a county supervisor making a backroom deal with a state agency to inflict suffering on one of your citizens to steal their family land,” he added.
When Moradian went beyond his allotted three minutes, Bill-de la Peña, the city’s current mayor, started to interlude.
“Mr. Moradian your time is up,” Bill-de la Peña said.
“I need to finish this, with all due respect,” Moradian pleaded, prompting the mayor to ask her colleagues if anyone “would like to ask a question so this can drag on further.”
Both council members Kevin McNamee and Al Adam spoke up and said they would. Moradian was a prominent backer of Adam’s recent reelection campaign.
“I’d like to hear the end of it,” Adam said.
In an interview with the Acorn, Moradian was asked if the timing of his threats of a lawsuit and public campaign against Parks has anything to do with the current attempt underway to gather enough signatures to force a recall. He said absolutely not.
He also said he had not made any financial donations to the recall effort nor was he planning to.
“Would I be happy to see (Parks) recalled? Of course. But that’s not what this is about. This is about corruption. It’s about an abuse of power. The same rules that apply for the average citizen, the person with one parcel of land, apply to me and my family,” he said.
Asked for comment on Moradian’s request, Adam said he would like to know who authorized the letter.
“The letter said we shouldn’t up zone by one single unit, which seemed a little peculiar because they’re a state agency and I don’t have to tell you how the state feels about housing,” Adam said. “The State of California is pressuring us to do the exact opposite. It left me kind of perplexed.”
Reporter Becca Whitnall contributed to this article.
This story was updated at 4 p.m. July 15, 2021, to correct an error in chronology. The original story said Edelman’s May 4 “suffer more” email was in response to an email from Parks asking about sending a letter to the City Council; it was actually in response to a different email sent earlier. The initial story also said Parks never responded to the Edelman email when in fact she did.