Lease negotiations for a piece of land related to the planned 410-acre Aramis solar power plant north of Livermore fell through after the energy company behind the renewable project was served a cease-and-desist order last week.
In a Jan. 7 letter, San Francisco-based attorney Jacqueline Phillips -- who represents Leland and Mary Stanley, the owners of one parcel totaling 38 acres sought for development as part the original plans -- notified Intersect Power counsel that "any and all negotiations between any of the Stanleys and any Intersect Power entity ... are hereby terminated. This decision is final."
Intersect was further told "to immediately cease and desist from entering upon the property, contacting any of the Stanleys except through this office," and not to violate California's Rule of Professional Conduct 4.2 relating to attorney communications and consent, or the state's criminal elder abuse law, Penal Code Section 368.
In a statement to the Weekly, Intersect's principal Marisa Mitchell said the company was "disappointed" by the outcome of the negotiations but did not expect omission of the Stanleys' land to impact its Aramis project "or jeopardize it in any way."
"In fact, the parties have always contemplated the exclusion of this parcel," Mitchell said. "The inclusion of the property, which was authorized at the outset by the property owner, gave optionality for both parties to possibly include it in the final project footprint, and offered the opportunity for the county to assess the largest possible project under CEQA."
Mitchell added, "We respect the Stanley family's decision to withdraw this property from the project," and maintain the company "never represented that it has a lease agreement in place for the Stanley property."
Phillips also told Alameda County Counsel Donna Ziegler and deputy counsel Heather Littlejohn on Jan. 11 that "our clients neither made a conditional use permit application nor provided valid consent to the application."
The notice comes just several weeks before a scheduled appeal hearing for the Aramis project before the Alameda County Board of Supervisors that had been postponed from its original Jan. 12 date.
Both proponents and opponents of the project had requested the delay, in part to give newly sworn District 1 Supervisor David Haubert more time to familiarize himself with plans after taking the oath of office on Jan. 4.
According to Phillips, the standard application form submitted to the county was not prepared by her clients, who did not have legal counsel at that time. Instead, Phillips said "it was presented to the Stanleys completely filled out by Aramis/Intersect."
Phillips also contended that Intersect "made representations and promises to our clients to induce them to sign," and said the Stanleys' signature was needed "to investigate the feasibility of a solar project on the property" and negotiate the terms of solar lease option, but "there would be no binding agreement between Aramis/Intersect and them, unless and until such time as the parties completed negotiations and signed a final solar lease option agreement, which has never occurred."
After making "extensive, detailed comments" to Intersect's proposed lease agreement with the Stanleys, Phillips said her firm had no contact of any kind with the company until sending the Jan. 7 letter.
"Completely unbeknownst to us, Aramis/Intersect dealt directly with the Stanleys, in the course of which dealings, Aramis/Intersect rejected and sought to persuade our clients to walk away from virtually all of our comments to the document," Phillips said.
Without her firm's knowledge, Phillips said that "in or about early December 2020, representatives of Aramis/Intersect, met with our clients, in person, at our clients' home, for approximately five hours, going over Aramis/Intersect's proposed lease option agreement."
Phillips continued, "Perhaps most horrifying, on or about Dec. 16, 2020, Aramis/Intersect sent our clients, directly, without advising us, an execution-ready set of documents to sign. This document rejected virtually all of the comments that we as counsel for the Stanleys had provided in July 2020, and set forth a cash bonus for the Stanleys on a reverse sliding scale."
Depending on when they signed the paperwork, the Stanleys were offered $5,000 up to $75,000, according to Phillips. If the couple signed by Christmas, they would have received $75,000, $25,000 between Dec. 26 and Jan. 4, and $5,000 for signing from Jan. 5 to 12.
"After consultation, our clients elected to terminate all negotiations and approved our January 7, 2021, letter so notifying Aramis/Intersect, et. al. and the Planning Commission," Phillips said.
Chris O'Brien, chair of Save North Livermore Valley, one of three opponent groups who appealed the solar farm approval, called it "remarkable that Intersect would indicate it had secured all the property to develop its Aramis project when that clearly was not the case."
The group's attorney Robert Selna said, "The loss of the Stanley property also means the Aramis project is no longer economically viable," arguing that Mitchell "has stated publicly on numerous occasions that the Aramis project needs all of its planned acreage for the project to work."