UPDATE: Melody Ranch files 2nd lawsuit over Placerita Canyon gate

Residents pass through the gate on Placerita Canyon Road on Thursday, October 29, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal
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Adds comment from attorney for Melody Ranch

Melody Ranch is once again suing Placerita Canyon Corp., a mutual-benefit corporation that owns and operates an electronic gate in Placerita Canyon to prevent thru traffic from entering the Newhall enclave.

In the suit, filed Oct. 7 in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio is claiming multiple instances in which Melody Ranch staff or set teams were prevented from entering through the gate and/or had their vehicles damaged by the gate.

“We’re trying to get a gate that complies with the court-ordered injunction,” said Diane Stanfield, a lawyer with Alston & Bird representing Melody Ranch, in reference to a 1998 judge’s order following the movie ranch’s` first lawsuit against PCC. “We are trying to cause PCC to be transparent and accountable to the community.”

In response to these accusations, PCC distributed a letter to gate-key-carrying residents of Placerita Canyon indicating that the organization would be filing a countersuit against the studio. 

“PCC will try to minimize the amount of PCC’s time, efforts and, most importantly, your funds spent on this suit,” PCC said in its letter to residents. “You should also know that PCC vigorously oppose the allegations made therein and that PCC intends to file a cross-complaint to protect the community’s interests.”  

Multiple calls were made to reach the numbers listed for the parties associated with PCC in the lawsuit. As of this story’s publication, no call was returned. 

The Gate

During the 1990s, a campaign was started by a handful of residents in Placerita Canyon known as Homeowners Against Liability and Traffic, or HALT. The campaign’s goal was to slow and reduce traffic into Placerita Canyon from Highway 14 and Newhall Avenue.

A judge in 1995 sided with HALT and ruled the road heading directly to and from Placerita Canyon from Highway 14 would be reclassified as privately owned by the property owners on Placerita Canyon Road. 

In March 1995, an organization calling itself PCC erected an electronic gate with sensors that allow people with special keycards through. PCC is not a government entity nor are its positions on its board of directors elected. However, the organization permits residents within Placerita Canyon to pay an annual fee in order to use its gate, and have access to a shorter route to the freeway from Placerita Canyon than if a resident were to take Newhall Avenue to Highway 14, and vice versa. 

Since its installation, Melody Ranch and the various movie crews coming onto its set reported having issues with the gate or being prohibited from entering, according to the complaint. 

On May 8, 1998, a judge ordered PCC to allow Melody Ranch, which is owned by the Veluzat family, “unlimited and continuous access … through the gate with no delay between uses,” according to the 2020 court filing. 

Also ordered was a requirement for a type of gate that accommodates large studio vehicles, installation of a keypad and 12 keycards to be given to Melody Ranch.

The Road

More than two decades after the 1998 decision, Melody Ranch once again filed a lawsuit in court saying the gate was altered enough over the years that it was no longer in compliance with the original order; that the non-complying gate was delaying or causing damage to studio or production property when the gate arm drops onto large vehicles and the tire spikes make “it impossible to continue through the gate … or in some instances popping tires, (and) disabling vehicles;” and that the PCC has abused its powers as the gatekeeper. 

“PCC has repeatedly abused its power, including unilaterally revoking keycards purchased by community members when PCC decides they have been misused,” reads the complaint. “Most recently, PCC revoked a keycard of a community member because he used his card to hold the gate open so that vehicles fleeing a fire could get through — cars whose drivers had been diverted down Placerita Canyon (Road) toward the gate by Fire Department officials and who were otherwise stopped dead by the closed gate.”

PCC denied the allegations made by the Veluzat family, in its response.

“Despite the recent filing of this lawsuit by Melody Ranch Studio/Veluzats, PCC and its board continue to work to meet our responsibilities to the community of maintaining the road and gate, as well as our obligations under the agreement,” said the PCC letter to keycard holders. 

“But now, PCC must also focus our time, efforts, and unfortunately your funds, dealing with this recently filed lawsuit rather than other planned projects, such as road and gate improvements, re-striping, signage repairs, and e-filed documentation for gate card privileges,” the letter added. 

After the letter from PCC was sent out to Placerita Canyon residents, the 20-year-old debate over the gate resurfaced. The current price of a keycard is $200 a year. 

Stanfield said Melody Ranch’s goal with the lawsuit is not to have the gate torn down, but to have the gate be in compliance with the 1998 court order. 

The two parties are expected to meet in court March 8 for a case-management conference at the Chatsworth Courthouse.

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