There's been no official response from Atherton to the April 6 San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report advising the town to butt out of a dispute between high school neighbors and a local youth football league. That didn't stop Councilman Jim Dobbie from airing his opinion of the report.
"I am disgusted with the grand jury report," Mr. Dobbie said at the end of the April 15 meeting, during the agenda item for council member reports. "The (report) is biased in every possible way."
In 2006, the Atherton City Council passed a broad ordinance regulating events within the town, from weddings and fundraisers to youth sports practices, partly in response to Lindenwood neighborhood complaints about Pop Warner football practices and games held at Menlo-Atherton High School. In trying to regulate private, non-school-related events on public school campuses, the town overreached, according to the grand jury.
Mayor Jerry Carlson has said that the neighbors and Pop Warner officials are close to reaching a compromise. He said he was disappointed in the grand jury for taking up the issue, and declined to comment further.
Mr. Dobbie said the report mischaracterizes an incident where a neighbor confronted a Pop Warner team about a late-running practice, an event that Mr. Dobbie himself witnessed. "There wasn't even a piece of truth to it," he said of the grand jury's account.
According to the report, a Lindenwood resident who also serves on the town's Planning Commission came onto the field and "confronted coaches in an agitated manner."
Councilman Dobbie also said that Atherton is rife with rumors that a member of the City Council brought the issue to the grand jury in the first place. "If it's true, he or she should be ashamed of themselves," Mr. Dobbie said.
Councilman Charles Marsala, who has opposed the special events ordinance and spoken in favor of Pop Warner's right to use the field, said that he had nothing to do with the grand jury report.
After the meeting, Mr. Marsala told The Almanac that he was interviewed by the grand jury, but that he did not instigate the investigation.
"I've been an opponent of the special event guidelines, and whoever is starting the rumor stands to gain by keeping the ordinance in place," he said.
Councilwoman Kathy McKeithen said she agreed with Mr. Dobbie's assessment of the report.
"What the grand jury did was participate in a legal issue and I don't think that's within its jurisdictional purview," she said at the meeting.
The town of Atherton shouldn't impose restrictions on school groups using facilities at Menlo-Atherton High School, the report said. Difficulties and differences should be settled directly between the impacted parties whenever possible, said the report.
The grand jury also admonished Atherton for having a planning commission that "does not appear to be broadly representative of the town." The report advises the Sequoia Union High School District to exempt itself from the town's zoning ordinance, an option available to public school districts, if Atherton continues to include public school facilities in its regulations governing special events.