Judge says county violated state law when it built Ventura medical tower

A Superior Court judge ruled Friday that the county violated state environmental laws when it deviated from original plans for Ventura County Medical Center’s new outpatient tower.

In a 12-page ruling, Judge Glen Reiser sided with Ventura hillside residents challenging the county’s claim that it stayed within approved plans when it built the $50 million Family Medicine Residency and Specialty Care Center at the VCMC campus on Loma Vista Road.

Reiser said the county proposed to build a medical facility “up to 75 feet in height” but instead constructed a 90-foot-tall building when rooftop utility structures and parapets are included.

The county has 30 days to file a response to the ruling. Reiser said the appropriate protocol would include the county doing a supplemental environmental impact report that would analyze the height impacts.

Friday’s ruling comes almost six years after the residents filed suit to stop construction of the clinic, which they said was sprung on them without adequate notice and blocked their views of the ocean and foothills. The group, called Ventura Foothill Neighbors, also complained the project had changed significantly since its 1994 approval and required another comprehensive environmental review process.

Reiser said the building’s 20 percent height increase was not addressed in any addendum, notice of determination or final EIR.

Ventura Foothill Neighbors members said they were pleased with Friday’s ruling and urged the county to address their concerns.

“We are grateful Judge Reiser ruled the county must follow state environmental law just as any private developer must do,” member Jackie Moran said in a statement. “This project greatly impacts our community and we look forward to a fair public process and mitigation.”

County officials argued the plans for the five-story building never changed from 1994 to the clinic’s completion in October 2010. Reiser disagreed, saying the county’s argument that roof structures and parapets should not be included in the building height “traversed the labyrinth of logic.”

Reiser said it was even plausible that someone directed the EIR consultant to understate the true height of the building to quell public criticism.

The judge did not order the building to be torn down.

“Since it is not a reasonable mitigation measure to reduce the size or height of the new medical clinic as constructed,” he said, “assuming a finding of significant impacts at the revised 90-foot height in the new location, the county is obligated to consider other forms of mitigation in an effort to reduce significant impacts to levels of insignificance.”

Jeffrey Barnes, assistant county counsel, said the county “strongly but respectfully disagreed” with Reiser’s ruling that the county failed to comply with state environmental laws.

Barnes said the approved 1994 plans always included a five-story building with about 70 feet of vertical habitable space and 15 to 18 feet of nonhabitable structures.

Barnes said if the county decides not to appeal, the next step would be a supplemental EIR studying impacts of the 15 feet in question. He said the county Board of Supervisors could also approve a “statement of overriding considerations” and retroactively approve the building as is.

In a court brief, Ventura Foothill Neighbors attorney Susan Brandt-Hawley said the residents want the hospital project to remain but seek other considerations. The county, for example, could remove or prune adjacent eucalyptus trees and put power lines underground.

Residents also want the county to review helicopter flight paths and night-lighting in the area and set clear standards for future development at the VCMC site.

“We believe the ruling will ensure the county’s future willingness to have a completely transparent process and support the needs of neighborhoods when planning future development,” resident John Brooks said in a statement. “It is our belief that it is possible to both protect the environmental attributes that make this community unique and still serve the needs of the community’s people.”

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Comments » 5

governmentleech writes:

Hmmm...is this the reason that people who work in the laboratory are quitting in droves, at the rate of about one a week? Or is it because of bullying by the manager?
Investigate that one, Star.

ocahan442#759518 writes:

Lying is not acceptable in any venue. Hope the bureaucrats get it where they live.

cvh#214155 writes:

Justice is so slow that the building is built before there is a legal finding. Since no one will go to jail even for a month, the laws and regulations are ineffective. If you are proposing a major project, ignore the environmental requirements. If you are seeking justice...forget it. Two floors of the building are not going to be removed. Our environmental regulation and legal system are both ineffective. You might as well do what you (meaning your organization) wants with no consequences...other than spending money on reports and legal fees.

Freedom1 writes:

Hey, they don't have to "tear it down" all they have to do is wait for the next earthquake http://www.vcstar.com/news/2014/jan/0...
and problem over!

nastyw2#272473 writes:

This seems to be a recurring problem at County planning, ie, the expedient or incompetent overlook of guidelines when a project moves through the system. There are certainly instances where planners should and can waive or adjust guidelines but never as a consequence of incompetence, never as a bait & switch bamboozle of the public and never as a favor to a developer. I'm still not clear on WHY this absurd situation occurred and I hope the matter gets a thorough investigation.

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