News - April 22, 2009

Councilman blasts report by grand jury

by Andrea Gemmet

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.


Posted by Charles Marsala, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 21, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Additional details on these topics:

Regarding the Non-School Events Ordinance. The Ordinance requires non-school events at schools that go after 9pm indoors to pay for a permit from the Town of Atherton and to inform all neighbors within 500 of the school. There are fifty homes within 500 feet of Sacred Heart and M-A High Schools and almost one hundred homes with 500 feet of Menlo College.

Permits are also required for outdoor activities going after 7pm on weekdays and after 5pm on Saturdays.

So should the Cub Scouts Pinewood Derby need use of a school facility past 9pm to clean-up, they need to pay for a permit and inform the neighbors within 500 feet of the school they use for the event.

In the case of Pop Warner, in 2006 the neighbors came to a council meeting and requested the council advise the city manger to deny the permit request. Pop Warner has been lobbying ever since to have the ordinance modified, bringing in 150 signatures of Atherton residents to a council meeting in 2007.

As a neighbor of two high schools, I do not want my address given out to any group who seeks a permit so that I can be informed. As a resident of Atherton, I do not think it is a wise use of Atherton staff time and finances to monitor compliance of the ordinance.

Regarding the Grand Jury rumor: It is a misdemeanor for a member of the Grand Jury to have made such a comment. The comment attributed to the Grand Jury member by whoever started the rumor is false.


Charles Marsala
Council Member

Posted by fara fawcett, a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 21, 2009 at 6:37 pm

I can think of a better name for the FY 2008-09 grand jury

Charlie's Angels

Posted by woodsider, a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Apr 21, 2009 at 8:03 pm

Why would the people of Atherton I'm sorry {Lindenwood} get so upset if it wasn't true. I think Athertoin's don't play well with others.

Posted by julian, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 21, 2009 at 9:33 pm

Way to go Charles

It's about time somebody blew the whistle on those lindenwood lunatics.

Posted by rich, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Apr 21, 2009 at 10:18 pm

sounds as though civil war has broken out in Atherton

maybe they ought to send in the national guard,
better yet, a UN peacekeeping force,
nah, lets not fool around - send in the marines

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.