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City denies wrongdoing in response to lawsuit

City officials have rejected accusations of wrongdoing as cited in a complaint filed with the Los Angeles Superior Court by Mike and Sue Verbal of Claremont’s Pizza ‘N Such restaurant.

Last August, the Verbals filed the complaint claiming the city of Claremont had violated an agreement connected to more than $150,000 of in-lieu parking fees the couple paid to the city in the early 2000s. The Verbals believe the city misused the money, which was intended to pay for development of parking for use by customers dining at their restaurant in the Village. Mr. Verbal says he later learned that his money was instead used for the 4-story parking structure just west of the Packing House on First Street in Village West.

City administrators and attorneys refused comment: “The city will respond through litigation,” City Manager Tony Ramos stated earlier this month.

In a response to the Verbals’ claim filed with the Superior Court last week, the city denied “each and every allegation and cause of action,” while further asserting that the Verbals “are not entitled to relief against the City as sought by the Complaint.” In turn, the city is asking that the court grant a recovery of its legal costs associated with the suit.

Officials claim 18 legal defenses against the Verbals’ case, as detailed in the response. They first state that the Verbals do not have sufficient facts to take legal action against the city and that the Verbals’ claim does not meet “the necessary statute of limitations,” which gives a maximum time period in which legal action can be taken against an alleged wrongdoing.

Matters in the Verbals’ case date back to the early 2000s, at which time they have affirmed that they were encouraged by then City Manager Glenn Southard to expand their business. They decided to do so in 2002, paying $108,000 ($119,333.66 with interest) for 12 parking spaces as agreed upon with the city and dictated by the city’s development requirements. Because there was not enough space to add 12 new spaces to the already packed Village area, the Verbals’ money went toward an in-lieu parking fund, which the Verbals’ contract said “can only be spent for the acquisition and development of off-street parking for the Claremont Village, or reimbursement of private providers of such parking.”

The Verbals paid additional in-lieu parking fees, for a total of $45,000, in order to rescind a previously imposed occupancy restriction.

Similar to their first in-lieu parking agreement, the second contract stated that the fees would be placed in a fund, which can only be spent for use in creating more off-street parking for the Claremont Village. If not used for that specific purpose, the agreement promised “reimbursement of private providers of such parking.”

After discovering their money was used for the Village West parking structure, the Verbals filed a claim last August, hoping for an explanation and possible reimbursement. However, their request was denied. Mr. Verbal said he felt he was driven to take matters a step further in filing a complaint and leading toward possible litigation.

“Mr. Verbal paid the money and the city was contractually obligated to use that money within 10 years to do an assessment. It was not used,” explained Lawrence C. Ecoff, the Verbals’ attorney. “[Mr. Verbal] is being blamed for the city’s wrongdoing.”

Though they list 18 arguments against the Verbals’ case, Mr. Ecoff asserts the city’s defense is “frivolous” and lacking in any real substance.

“There were no facts given to support their defenses,” Mr. Ecoff said. “It was your typical boilerplate response to a lawsuit.”

Mr. Verbal plans to get the explanation he is looking for, even if that means taking the matter to court, according to Mr. Ecoff. He shared that his client has filed a challenge to the city’s response because Mr. Verbal feels it fails to adequately address the issues brought forward in the initial complaint.

“We plan to take the city to task and get some answers,” Mr. Ecoff said.  “We want to know why the city didn’t use the money as they were obligated to do so.”

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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