Sierra Vista denied legal fees over Campus Pointe theater suit

The Fresno BeeJanuary 24, 2014 

The Clovis shopping center owner who sued to halt a commercial development at Fresno State — citing problems with an environmental study and a university trustee's conflict of interest — won't be reimbursed for his legal fees, an appellate court ruled last week.

Sierra Vista Mall's corporate entity, LandValue 77, maintains the attorney fees — which could total $1.8 million — cost far more than the corporation would have lost with the opening of a Campus Pointe movie theater, and that its suit uncovered public malfeasance.

But the Fifth District Court of Appeal ruled that LandValue, and its principal, James Huelskamp, were unable to prove that LandValue's attorney fees were greater than the financial gains for the company by halting the project, which includes a shopping center and movie theater, for four years.

The judges said a cost-benefit analysis would have helped, but was not provided.

Competition among theaters was a major concern for LandValue, which opened a theater at Sierra Vista Mall in Clovis in 2006 and will vie with Campus Pointe.

Huelskamp's lawyer, David Doyle, said he plans to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.

He said the lawsuit uncovered a conflict of interest by former CSU board trustee Moctesuma Esparza, who had signed an agreement to operate a multi-screen cinema at Campus Pointe, violating state government code.

A year later, he resigned from the CSU board.

And because of LandValue's lawsuit, a judge also required the university to redo parts of the environmental document that were deemed inadequate, delaying the project for years.

But the appellate panel also ruled that Sierra Vista Mall owners did not get a clear-cut victory because they were not successful in stopping construction or getting the agreement between the university and shopping center developer Ed Kashian voided.

Proposed in 2005, the 250,000-square-foot commercial project is only now getting its first leases signed.

A theater groundbreaking is planned next month, with an opening date by early next year, Deborah Adishian-Astone, Fresno State's associate vice president for auxiliary operations, said Friday.

The multi-screen cinema will offer a mix of first-run movies along with cultural and arts films.

Other commercial uses will cater to students, especially the large number of Campus Pointe residents who don't drive, she said.

"We are very excited to have things moving forward," Adishian-Astone said. "We think it will serve the campus and not compete with what's going on east of us."

And, even with a possible appeal by LandValue, she is optimistic the case is nearing an end.

"We think this is the final chapter in the legal matter," Adishian-Astone said.


The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, or @beebenjamin on Twitter.

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