Two sides square off in Agoura Village Cornerstone dispute

Lawsuit says development received inadequate environmental review


COMMUNITY ACTIVISM—The STACK (Save the Agoura Cornell Knoll) organization and members of a new activist group called PRISMM (Protectors and Residents in the Santa Monica Mountains) meet recently at Malibou Lake to discuss opposition to the Cornerstone development in Agoura Village. Courtesy photo

COMMUNITY ACTIVISM—The STACK (Save the Agoura Cornell Knoll) organization and members of a new activist group called PRISMM (Protectors and Residents in the Santa Monica Mountains) meet recently at Malibou Lake to discuss opposition to the Cornerstone development in Agoura Village. Courtesy photo

A March 13 trial date has been set to determine whether the developer of Cornerstone—the first big project approved for Agoura Village in Agoura Hills—should take additional steps to protect native trees and plants at the site and preserve Chumash archaeological findings that are there.

The 116,000-square-foot development at Cornell and Agoura roads calls for the construction of seven buildings containing retail, residential, restaurant and office space.

STACK (Save the Agoura Cornell Knoll) and the California Native Plant Society filed a complaint with the Los Angeles County Superior Court against the City of Agoura Hills and property owner Doron Gelfand of Agoura and Cornell Roads LP hoping to stall the Cornerstone development.

STACK leader Steve Hess, a Cornell resident, alleges in the complaint that the mixed-use development approved by the City Council in March 2017 is flawed on several fronts.

The complaint said the city did not adequately study the project’s full impact on the Agoura Village location and that a new and more thorough environmental impact report pertaining to the site should be conducted.

“The community will benefit from a new EIR,” Hess said.

An older environmental report used by the city, he said, looked at issues that aren’t pertinent to the current project.

“It’s a disparity between what was studied in a planning (session) to what actually came about in the city approval process,” he said.

Hess contends Cornerstone is in the middle of a sensitive area for plant species and wildlife, and that the planned removal of almost 30 oak trees will violate the city’s tree ordinance.

Agoura Hills Councilmember Illece Buckley Weber told The Acorn earlier that the city’s Agoura Village Specific Plan calls for protection of all knolls in the area, but declined to comment about protections for the Cornerstone knoll due to the pending lawsuit. Agoura Hills Mayor Bill Koehler also declined to comment.

Cornerstone spokesperson Brad Rosenheim said the environmental report for the development is adequate.

“The city concluded that a mitigated declaration was appropriate. Based on their conclusions there was no significant unmitigable impacts associated with this project, which is consistent with the provision of the specific plan, and for which a full EIR was (already) completed,” Rosenheim told The Acorn.

The STACK complaint also contends that an archaeological study shows the Chumash people left an array of artifacts at the site.

“Studies have concluded the site is a significant heritage resource under the California Environmental Quality Act, and meets the signifi- cance requirements for California Register of Historical Resources inclusion,” the lawsuit said.

Another concern for the opponents is traffic.

Hess said Cornerstone and other Agoura Village projects in the works will bring 20,000 car trips per day to the intersection of Kanan and Agoura roads. During an emergency, egress from the canyon areas would be “severely impacted,” he said.

The lawsuit does not request that the project be reduced or modified, only that the Cornerstone development be sized according to the findings of a “modern and accurate” environmental report, Hess said.

“We are asking for a new EIR to examine the natural resources, which are not addressed in the 10-year-old ‘planning EIR.’” he said, adding that the Native American sites “were never mapped, water quality is way under assessed, greenhouse gasses (now a part of all EIRs) is completely absent and, finally, the city (violates) its own oak tree ordinance.”

The lawsuit is being funded by local residents.

A second citizens’ group has joined STACK in opposition to Cornerstone.

Carlos Lluch, a member of PRISMM (Protectors and Residents in the Santa Monica Mountains), said he and other residents who live in the mountains don’t believe that the project is appropriate for the area.

“The original plan and what is being proposed now is drastically different,” Lluch said.

“We know that the only thing that is keeping the developer from breaking ground is the lawsuit. We believe Cornerstone will set the standard for the rest. If that development is scaled down, we think that will affect Agoura Village projects (overall),” Lluch said.