Kim threatens lawsuit against city for Sand Canyon Resort denial

Santa Clarita City Hall, as pictured on Feb. 26. Watson/The Signal
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Attorneys representing Steve Kim, the owner of the Sand Canyon Country Club, sent the Santa Clarita City Council a letter last week indicating that Kim will take the city to court “if the city maintains its denial” of Kim’s proposed Sand Canyon Resort & Spa. 

The letter contends the city had no legal basis to deny the project, and further asserts that “racial prejudice” against the Korean-American property owner may have motivated opposition to the project. 

Last month, the City Council upheld the Santa Clarita Planning Commission’s decision to deny the proposed resort, which would include a three-story, 250-room hotel, an inn, villas, conference rooms, restaurants and other amenities across approximately 50 acres of land north of Robinson Ranch Road and east of Sand Canyon Road. 

Council members unanimously rejected the project due to concerns about traffic, fire evacuation routes, past promises about the land’s use and the project’s compatibility in the equestrian neighborhood of Sand Canyon. Their denial was with prejudice, meaning Kim would not be able to apply for a similar project on that property for one year. 

Garrett Hanken, Kim’s attorney, wrote to council members that the Planning Commission’s unanimous June 1 project denial “had no lawful basis.” 

“If the city persists in its simple and total denial of the (project) without any valid legal justification and does not demonstrate any legal willingness to engage in good faith discussions with (Kim) to reconsider and approve the project, then (Kim) must, and will, turn to the courts to enforce all of (Kim’s) legal claims and remedies,” he wrote. 

Hanken argued in his letter that Kim has addressed all of the city’s concerns about the project’s economic viability, traffic impacts, open space, and emergency access and evacuation routes. 

He also alleged that a court might find that Kim’s race influenced opposition to the project. 

“Mr. Kim is a Korean-American immigrant, and, in the contentious debate regarding the project, there have been statements and comments suggesting that xenophobia and racial prejudice are motivating the hyper-aggressive and factually inaccurate opposition to the project,” wrote Hanken, a partner at Greenberg Glusker. 

Kim’s attorney wrote that the city’s denial of the project has made the city vulnerable to legal claims. 

The denial, he stated, “effectively forces (Kim) to maintain a money-losing use of the land” and “precludes (Kim) from developing the land for any profitable use in furtherance of a purported open space requirement that is neither recorded nor binding on the city.” 

Kim is seeking compensation for that and for the investment he’s made in the property, noting that property improvements were made “in reliance on information and encouragement provided by the city.” 

Kim’s proposal to replace the open space he would use by offering the city twice that amount, Hanken argued, “improperly allocates the burden of the city’s purported goal of maintain(ing) this open space on (Kim) and (Kim) alone.” 

Hanken also alleged that Kim was denied property rights without “due process of law” and that Kim could bring charges under federal, state and local law against the city. 

“The litigation itself will likely be very costly to both the city and (Kim),” wrote Hanken of Kim’s claims for compensation. “At the end of that significant litigation, (Kim) is likely to prevail, and city will likely have to bear not only its own attorney fees but also (Kim’s).” 

The City Council is scheduled to discuss Kim’s letter Tuesday during its closed session meeting, which is not open to the public. Council members are scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. to discuss the possible lawsuit, before convening at 6 p.m. for their regular open session meeting at Santa Clarita City Hall. 

The city does not comment on matters discussed by the City Council in closed session, Carrie Lujan, a spokeswoman for the city, told The Signal on Friday. 

Hanken had not responded to calls from The Signal by press time Friday.  

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