Charges of misrepresentation and fraud are flying from both developers and Louise Street residents after the Menlo Park council voted to revoke a driveway permit.
The council voted 3-1, with Cat Carlton dissenting and Ray Mueller recused, on March 5 to revoke Sam Sinnott's permit to build a driveway on Louise Street. Now the developer and his business partner, Mircea Voskerician, want a rehearing.
The pair purchased a home at 1825 Santa Cruz Ave. last year, planning to demolish it to build a new single-family house to sell. The rear of the lot could exit on Louise Street via a driveway. The proposed exit would have partially paved over some land and greenery in the public right-of-way. A couple living next door currently use part of the space for unlicensed parking.
Louise Street couple Michael Schwarz and Kiki Kapany, along with neighbors, appealed the driveway permit to the council and won. They also got the council's agreement to start an "abandonment process" to grant the public right-of-way to adjacent homeowners. The neighborhood group is now drafting an agreement to preserve the green space in perpetuity with easements for pedestrian access, according to Ms. Kapany.
Building the driveway would've bolstered Mr. Sinnott's desire to switch the address of the home from Santa Cruz Avenue to Louise Street. Although city staff said no when he asked twice during the past 12 months if they'd support changing the address, the property is being advertised as a future Louise Street home on Craigslist and other online outlets.
One ad for the planned $5.5 million, 5-bedroom house appeared on Craigslist four days after the council said no to the driveway:
"Access to Louise Street is expected after development will be complete: 1100 Louise St. Frontage of house will be on Louise (cul de sac) since the property always had a Drive way and access to Louise through existing gates. To all neighbors on Louise St. Thanks for participating to the public hearing. Hope you will be able to make it at the rehearing. Stay tuned."
Mr. Sinnott told the Almanac he neither knew about nor condoned the ad, which his partner posted.
Mr. Voskerician told the Almanac in an email that his "craigslist statement is based on the Law. What is the issue?? The Law provides the option of Rehearing and if that is not met then the last resort is Legal action which will be unfortunate but on the table. Every city council member will do the same to protect their rights. ... I want people to understand one thing and one thing only.. WE HAD THE RIGHT OF ACCESSING from Louise from day one and by the time we are done we will ensure the entire street will be Legally Compliant with city regulations with their parking right away. That is what the neighbours want and that is what City Council will want too, right? We all have to respect MP city regulations, no Exceptions."
Saying he was done "being the nice neighbor," Mr. Voskerician said this was a matter for the police and district attorney because the petition submitted by Louise Street neighbors to the city was fraudulent.
Ms. Kapany said after she realized 17 to 18 signatures were added without permission, she deleted them and turned in a revised petition with 214 signatures remaining. A petition started online has now gathered 295 signers and counting.
Whether invalid signatures invalidates the council's decision appears moot. City Clerk Margaret Roberts told the Almanac that the petition "is not a petition in the true sense of a legal petition that the city would be required to take action on. A petition such as this is really a letter of support submitted by whoever signs the document."
No guidelines exist about whether a decision would need to be reconsidered if signatures are invalid, she explained.
Mr. Sinnott challenged the notion that deleting unauthorized signatures fixed the problem. "Gee, maybe it is ok to rob a bank if you give the money back," he said in an email. "The fraud is a symptom of general misrepresentation. They had a motive -- secure public land to be incorporated into a private front yard. Saving their illegally obtained extra parking. Even the language in the petition is misleading. The parking is described as 'a wooded buffer zone.' Borderline fraudulent."
That allowed the neighbors to get away with claiming this was "a developer destroying a green belt," Mr. Sinnott said, despite his documentation to the contrary. "Many people fell for it."