Fresh off a settlement agreement that cost taxpayers nearly $2.5-million in legal fees, the city of Pleasanton is back in the courts again, this time hiring a Los Angeles law firm to defend the city against a lawsuit by property owners in the southeast hills who want to build 51 luxury homes there.
The City Council, at the recommendation of City Attorney Jonathan Lowell, voted 5-0 last night to hire Amrit Kulkarni, an attorney with the firm of Meyers/Nave. Kulkarni is a principal and land use chair of the firm's Land Use Litigation Practice Group. Lowell said the firm, which also has a branch office in Oakland, is skilled at handling municipal litigation of land use issues and has represented the city of Dublin on similar matters.
The council's action came after landowners Jennifer and Frederic Lin filed a suit against Pleasanton demanding that the city honor their bid to develop a portion of the nearly 600 acres they own at the end of Hearst Drive and above the Kottinger Ranch community. They cite the council's approval three years ago of Ordinance 1962, a development agreement that allowed for the development, called Oak Grove.
That ordinance, along with Ordinance 1961, approved at the same time by the council in a 4-1 vote, ended four years of public hearings, community meetings and public debates over Oak Grove, or so backers of the measure believed.
A citizens group, Save Pleasanton's Hills, organized by former Councilwoman Kay Ayala, opposed the development and gathered enough signatures during the Thanksgiving holidays in 2007 to force a public referendum to overturn the council's decision.
The Lins successfully sued in the Alameda County Superior Court to block the citizens' group from proceeding, claiming the signatures were improperly collected. The state Court of Appeal and subsequently the state Supreme Court overturned the Superior Court ruling by Judge Frank Roesch. The referendum, asking voters to approve the Oak Grove development, was defeated on June 8.
That same date the Lins, through their San Francisco law firm, filed another suit, claiming that the referendum only dealt with the planned unit development Ordinance 1961 and that the major development agreement, Ordnance 1962, still prevails.
It is that lawsuit that Kulkarni and the Myers/Nave law firm will now defend.
Lowell said that the decision to hire Meyers/Nave and defend the city against the Lins' lawsuit was approved unanimously after a series of closed door meetings on the issue. Councilwoman Cindy McGovern made the motion to proceed with the defense, seconded by Mayor Jennifer Hosterman, and then approved by all council members.
He said the first courtroom action will come later this month when Kulkarni and other representatives of the law firm meet in Superior Court with the Lins' attorney Andrew B. Sabey of the San Francisco law firm of Cox, Castle & Nicholson LLP.
Last month, the council approved a settlement agreement with two affordable housing coalitions to pay $1.9 million toward their legal costs in a four-year court battle over the city's housing cap, which the city lost. Another $500,000 was paid to the city's outsider counsel.
The council's action Tuesday came the same day that a Palo Alto law firm representing Allen Roberts, an active member of the Save Pleasanton's Hills citizens' coalition, hand-delivered a letter to City Attorney Lowell urging the City Council to fight the Lins' lawsuit.
In her letter, Robin B. Kennedy of the law firm of Miller Starr Regali argued that it is "the Council's duty and obligation to follow the law and bring the citizens' and voters' manifest intent to fruition."
"When the project was finally put to the voters on June 8 of this year," Kennedy wrote, "a majority of those voting supported the referendum, thereby reversing the city's approval of the PUD Ordnance."
"The fates of the PUD Ordinance and the Development Agreement are inextricable linked," Kennedy continues. "Pursuant to the unambiguous 'poison pill' reciprocal language wisely inserted by the City Council in Ordinances 1961 and 1962, the referendum of the PUD Ordinance automatically voided the Development Agreement Ordinance and, along with it, the Development Agreement itself."