Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - August 13, 2010

The multi-million-dollar gamble

As we reported exclusively in our daily online edition Monday ( and in today's print edition of the Pleasanton Weekly, a multi-million-dollar development project called Oak Grove is still very much on the table. This despite a 54% vote by Pleasanton voters against Oak Grove in a referendum June 8. At that time, 6,065 voters cast ballot opposed to Measure D, which would have accepted the City Council's decision in 2007 that approved Oak Grove, with 5,104 voters favoring the plan. A total of 11,169 votes were cast overall out of a total of more than 38,000 registered voters. The landowners of the 562 acres called Oak Grove -- Jennifer and Frederic Lin -- want to develop 51 custom home lots on a portion of the land and have agreed to give 496 acres free of charge to the city of Pleasanton for use as a park. In a lawsuit filed June 8 and served on the city last Friday, the Lins claim that only Ordinance 1961 was part of the Measure D referendum. That ordinance dealt with the layout of the proposed lots, or the Planned Unit Development (PUD). The actual development agreement giving the Lins the right to develop Oak Grove was contained in a companion Ordinance 1962, which was not referended. It's still in force, the Lins' San Francisco law firm says. Because it was approved in 2007, the 30-day period to referend that ordinance has long since passed and the Lins' suit filed in Alameda County Superior Court seeks injunctive relief to let the project proceed.

This puts the council members, whether in favor of Oak Grove or opposed, in a dilemma. If Ordinance 1962 rules, they have to decide if it's worth what could be millions of dollars in legal fees to fight the claim in hopes that the courts eventually will rule that both ordinances were paired together. It was thought at the time the two ordinances were inseparable with a "poison pill" clause that rules that if one was declared invalid, the other one would be voided, too. That will no doubt be the argument City Attorney Jonathan Lowell discusses with the council behind closed doors early next month when a decision is made on how to respond to the Lins' lawsuit.

The suit comes at a difficult time for the council. Next Tuesday, it will sign a settlement agreement with two affordable housing coalitions that successfully battled the city in the courts over its 1996 housing cap law, which has now been declared illegal. As part of the settlement, the city will pay the coalitions $1.9 million in legal fees after already paying its own outside legal counsel Tom Brown $500,000 for defending the city over a three-year period.

Earlier, the city negotiated a costly settlement with the Guggenheim Corp. over the council's refusal to allow Daniel Guggenheim his bid to convert the 204-unit Vineyard Villa mobile home park from rental units to condominiums. Guggenheim had sued Pleasanton for $29 million in damages. The council reversed its decision after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that a similar action by the city of Goleta constituted "a taking of the Guggenheims' Rancho Mobile Home Park property" in that city.

If City Attorney Lowell and other legal advisors determine that the Lins are right, that Ordinance 1962 was not part of last June's referendum, it would seem foolhardy and costly to try to prove otherwise. Those opposed to Oak Grove at any cost have to look at their mistake in not clearly adding both ordinances to the Measure D referendum petition and ask if it's worth the risk of duking it out to the final bell where the courts could rule that the Lins can develop Oak Grove anyhow with Pleasanton taxpayers footing all of the legal costs.


Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Aug 13, 2010 at 10:16 am

Stacey is a registered user.

Opponents to Oak Grove,

Buy the land from the Lins. What choice is left?

Posted by Pete, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Google an answer Stacey... that will satisfy your needs. When commenting on a story with inaccurate information to begin with... no choices are required. Read above thread again. Thanks for your opinion. Be the journalist you appear to be. If your right... lay it out for others better than you have been.

Posted by Really! Really!, a resident of Bordeaux Estates
on Aug 13, 2010 at 2:07 pm

We need to stop this craziness. It would be financially irresponsible for Pleasanton to defend against this latest action. Let the Oak Grove development proceed. It is the product of responsible, intelligent planning which will benefit our city. Why fight a battle which will cost hundreds of thousands to prevent the inevitable and beneficial? Stop letting a few special interest groups (poorly) lead our town. We have Ayala and Brown to thank for this legal mess. If they want to keep fighting, they can do it on their dime, not mine. City council members, do your jobs and what is best for all your constituents.

Posted by Tim, a resident of Country Fair
on Aug 13, 2010 at 4:47 pm

It would be crazy to continue to send the message that Pleasanton will not stand up for our quality of life.

Posted by member, a resident of Stoneridge
on Aug 13, 2010 at 6:25 pm

I agree with the above posting in that we should buy the land. There are county parks districts which will be able to offer assistance. We will also need to put together a group of financial deep pockets. It is the only way for this issue to be fairly resolved. It is also the only way for the current three council members, who vote in favor of the development, to win their elections.

Posted by frank, a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Aug 13, 2010 at 6:56 pm

It seems to me that the PW as well as most readers still don't really get the basics of the lawsuit. It is not directly challenging whether the Development Agreement is valid. The lawsuit is claiming a Breach of Warranty against the city.

Whether the court rules for or against the validity of the poison pill will not get the city off the hook. The poison pill, if valid, will not have invalidated the Development Agreement until June 8, the day of the referendum. Up until that date the Development Agreement was alive, and in the Agreement the city had agreed to do everything in its power to assure the vested rights of the Lin's. One of the things it was asked to do at a council meeting was to remove the poison pill since it jeopardized the Lin's rights. The council refused to, and thereby breached the contract.

So, if the city agrees to go to trial their only defense is to somehow convince the court that the DA was not alive prior to June 8. However, a separate court ruling stated it was!!!! The city would somehow have to undue that ruling. So, if the DA is declared dead as a result of June 8, the Lin's will come back at the city for damages $$$$$$$. Breach of warranty!!!

Posted by frank, a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Aug 13, 2010 at 7:03 pm

The lesson here is in the November 2007 council meeting where the council "helped" Ayala carry papers for only one referendum instead of two by inserting a poison pill in the DA ordinance, they dug a hole for the city out of which we must now climb. The only one who voted against that approach was Cook-Kallio. They should have simply stated to Ayala she needed to carry two petitions. Creative attempts at circumventing state law come back to bite.

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