Monday, December 20, 2004

What Would This Guy do to Smokey the Bear?

Today's LA Times reports that a builder is suing two US Forest Service employees for "racketeering:"

San Diego businessman Irving Okovita, who filed the suit, alleges that the Eliasons, Zimmerman and Sandy Steers, a local environmental activist, engaged in a criminal conspiracy to block the Marina Point development, a luxury condominium project Okovita wants to develop with an Arizona company in this hamlet on the north shore of Big Bear Lake.

Okovita's attorney, S. Wayne Rosenbaum of San Diego, said his client had lost millions of dollars because of delays in the project, which would include 132 condominiums, a 175-slip marina and tennis courts.

Now this happens to be in an area with a dense stand of trees that is used for nesting by bald eagles. In fact, the two employees being sued are themselves the bald eagle experts for the San Bernadino National Forest. But this bigger question is this: Okovita has owned this slip of land since 1981, but has declined to develop it for the past 23 years. Why now? Perhaps because of the unprecedented building boom in Southern California which, most experts agree, is a big soap bubble waiting to burst. So why these people? Because they were knowledgeable government employees sworn to protect the natural resources of the US who urged officials not to allow the project.

The three Forest Service employees and Steers said the charges against them are patently false. The government workers maintain that they were acting in their official capacity as Forest Service employees and have done nothing wrong. Steers said Okovita's suit was brought partly "to intimidate other activists from speaking out. That won't work," she said.

The next time you hear a builder gripe about "the process," ask them if they think they're local police, fire, medical, and safety service employees are on par with Tony Soprano. That's what this lawsuit maintains. Mr. Okovita is therefore automatically nominated for the next Red Turkey Award.

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