Contentious Debate Rages over Rasmussen Development

James Rasmussen defends his development project at recent community update. Photo by Suzanne Guldimann

A Liberty Canyon subdivision project continues to generate controversy. The plan, which currently features a gated, eight-residence compound in previously undeveloped land adjacent to public open space, has drawn fire from its inception more than 10 years ago.

A recent meeting at Los Angeles County Third District Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s Calabasas office, intended to provide an opportunity for the community to receive an update on the project from the developer, turned into a two-hour-long airing of grievances. 

Members of the public criticized developer James Rasmussen’s project on everything from the impact on the road to the gate around the exclusive compound. 

The subdivision has been stalled repeatedly over the past 12 years. Issues over importing unpermitted fill shut the development down in 2007. The economic downturn then kept the project on hold for nearly a decade, according to Rasmussen. 

“The market is back now,” he said, explaining the new push to develop within the next 18 months.

One participant wanted to know why the developer was not required to remove the unpermitted fill that triggered the original “stop work” order, and was told that the environmental impact of removing the fill would be greater than the impact of importing it in the first place.

Former Agoura Hills Mayor and current Liberty Canyon homeowner Joan Yacovone wanted to know what reassurances the developer could offer to ensure that the project gets built once the pads are graded.

“[Rasmussen] graded [another site] in the 1980s and left it for years,” Yacovone said.

“We share your concern,” responded Dennis Hunter, deputy director of Los Angeles County Public Works. “We want this project finished as quickly as possible.”

A more recent county-issued “stop work” order bogged the project down in the middle of the road work. Nicole Englund, planning director for Kuehl’s office, confirmed that the most recent issue stemmed from the work on the water and sewer line. 

“The ‘stop work’ order was issued because the DWP erroneously issued the permits not realizing the grading ‘stop work’ order was still in place from about 10 years ago,” she explained to the Messenger Mountain News.

Rasmussen told the meeting participants that the order was being lifted and that work would resume soon on the road and sewer connections. He assured them that the roadwork would be completed rapidly. 

Although the debate over roadwork and construction equipment grew heated, the gate that will shut the development off from the rest of the community was the main point of contention. 

The Liberty Canyon community is in a small pocket of unincorporated Los Angeles County. Negotiations have been proposed to annex the neighborhood to adjacent Agoura Hills. However, Agoura Hills’ general plan does not permit gated communities and there are no other gated enclaves in the area.

Critics of Rasmussen’s project argue that the gates are out of character for the residential neighborhood. They also object to the loss of an un-deeded local segment of trail that for decades has provided area walkers with a direct link to public lands and the popular Phantom Trail.

Rasmussen responded with a definitive “yes,” when asked if he was building the gate to keep the public out. “If I don’t build a gate, how many people will walk through?” Rasmussen said.

Englund explained that the trail crossing the property was not an official public easement. “It’s not a public trail,” she said. She pointed out that the Phantom Trail will still be accessible via a trailhead located outside the development.

That did not reassure residents who stated that they have used the existing trail for decades, and others who argued that the gated enclave doesn’t fit with the residential character of the community and would not be permitted if the area is eventually annexed by Agoura Hills.

“I think citizens of Agoura Hills should protest,” one speaker said. “If there are no gated communities in Agoura Hills, how can this be in Agoura Hills?”

“We’ll be the only gated community in Agoura Hills,” Rasmussen responded.

The developer’s efforts to share details on the house design—tan, rancho style, equipped with media lofts, and stainless steel and granite kitchens—also received a contentious response. 

“It’s a gated community,” one audience member responded. “We won’t get to look at them anyway.”

Las Virgenes Homeowner Federation President Kim Lamorie sought information on when a 63-acre portion of the site set aside as a wildlife corridor as one of the conditions for the project will be transferred to the Mountains Restoration and Conservation Authority. 

Rasmussen responded that the transfer will take place as soon as the title report is complete. 

Englund noted that the transfer is required before Rasmussen begins building. “It has to happen before he can actually start driving nails,” she said.

Lamorie also sought and received assurances that heavy equipment would not be used in the environmentally sensitive area.

The meeting was one of several required as part of the project’s conditions. Additional update meetings are expected to be scheduled as the project moves forward.


Suzanne Guldimann

Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting on local news and issues for more than a decade, and is the author of nine books of music for the harp. Suzanne's newest book, "Life in Malibu", explores local history and nature. She can be reached at

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