The latest round of the city’s ongoing legal battle against a hillside full of solar panels visible from Soledad Canyon Road involved whether Santa Clarita City Manager Ken Striplin will have to go through a deposition in the dispute, according to court documents.
The hearings discussed whether Canyon View Limited’s lawyers will have access to the city’s “apex-level” official, regarding the city’s decision to seek the removal of about 6,000 solar panels installed behind a mobile home park in Canyon Country.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge recently ruled that the defendants, which include Canyon View managing partners Kerry and Mark Seidenglanz, “present a valid basis for the deposition of Striplin” and “may therefore conditionally proceed with the deposition limited to the subject matter regarding the decision to seek removal” of the solar panels.
The city, which is listed as the plaintiff in the lawsuit, may object, “but any refusal to answer questions on grounds of privilege must conform to applicable authority regarding deposition conduct.”
Santa Clarita officials declined to comment on the city’s position Thursday because it was an ongoing legal matter.
The court’s decision stems from the city’s April 30 filing of a motion for a protective order to prevent the deposition of Striplin. On July 24, the court granted in part and denied in part the motion.
The dispute arises over statements made by Striplin to the City Council and city staff to the defendants in 2017, “regarding the lack of local authority by the city to issue solar panel permits,” the court ruling reads.
On Oct. 10, 2017, Striplin told the City Council, “The city of Santa Clarita does not have local control or permitting authority over solar panels in mobile home parks.”
The court ruling adds that city inspectors also informed defendants of the lack of any authority regarding solar permits, according to defendants, and “thereby allowing for the improvement work.”
The city contends that as city manager, Striplin is an apex-level employee and therefore lacks sufficient information to offer specific responsive testimony “relative to the burden of producing a city manager for deposition.”
Canyon View’s lawyers countered that the deposition seeks more than just privileged information, as they have “conducted depositions of five identified employees, none of whom could provide sufficient and direct testimony regarding the permit authority.”
“As a general rule, parties are not able to depose the city manager when there are other employees with direct knowledge of the issues who can be deposed instead,” City Attorney Joe Montes said via email in May.
The court ruling stated: “It is undisputed that Striplin is an apex-level government entity director. Nonetheless, the bar is not absolute and depends on a factual determination regarding relevant information.
“It’s not clear what was addressed in said depositions, and why the discovery remains deficient. It is also not clear what further information is sought given the lack of any argument that Striplin was in any way involved in the inspection or investigation of the solar panel project.”
Motions for summary judgment are scheduled in September and December, according to the court.