Viewpoint - June 9, 2010

Editorial: Time to clear the air on Lewis' house

City Council member Elizabeth Lewis becomes defensive about claims that she did not following legal procedures when she built a new home in 2006, which apparently went beyond the original plan to simply remodel the structure at Emilie and Alejandra avenues in Atherton, and instead became a new home.

In denying wrongdoing, Ms. Lewis claims she and her husband "... followed every rule, every regulation ... every approval process" prior to the project's being signed off by the building department in March 2006.

Unfortunately, the traditional paper trail of the approval process for the home is no longer available to the public or the mayor, which makes Ms. Lewis' claims sound hollow, since at this point, she has shared little evidence that could back them up.

Critics of the Lewis construction project, which was completed long before she was elected to the City Council, strongly suggest that the home did not go through the legally required permit process. Now Mayor Kathy McKeithen, largely seen as a supporter of former finance director John Johns — who recently was awarded $225,000 in a wrongful termination settlement with the town — is rightly calling for an outside investigation of the process that led to approval of the home.

It is no surprise that Ms. McKeithen, who with Mr. Johns spearheaded an investigation of the building department in 2006-07, is now taking a hard line on Ms. Lewis' house, which was approved when Mike Hood was the top building department official. Mr. Hood abruptly resigned and left the state in 2006, taking much of the department's institutional memory with him and perhaps damaging the ability of investigators to find out what really happened.

In a story last week, The Almanac provided some details of the home's path through the building department, but also found that most department records of the home's approval process are no longer in the files and are only available on microfiche, which cannot be copied or removed from the office.

When Ms. McKeithen requested planning and building department records from the Lewis project, she received only one document, from 2003, a pitiful result for records of decisions made less than five years ago. It does nothing for the town's credibility when such records, especially in a high-profile case, have gone missing.

City Manager Jerry Gruber and City Attorney Wynne Furth say they believe the town can conduct its own investigation into the matter, despite the obvious conflict of interest that might entail. Atherton has a small staff, so an in-house investigation could mean that friends are investigating friends, which would not be the best way to conduct an unbiased assessment of this matter.

If planning and building department records of the Lewis project are not readily available, as they should be, it makes sense to bring in an outside investigator to determine if proper procedures were followed in approving the Lewis home. That will provide the best outcome for the town, and for Ms. Lewis.


Posted by Transparency, a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 8, 2010 at 3:25 pm

And the worm turns. Documents missing? Lewis staying silent? McKeithen getting stonewalled? In court when documents are missing, I believe the evidence instruction is to assume the worse case scenario for what the documents would have established since anyone can shirk responsibility simply by not turning them over.

Can anyone seriously believe that not only Atherton doesn't have the document, but ELIZABETH AND JOE LEWIS don't have the documents? On top of that, PACIFIC PENINSULA GROUP AND STEVE ACKLEY don't have the documents?

Exactly how dumb does Elizabeth Lewis actually think we are?

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 8, 2010 at 3:53 pm

I do not believe that either the Town Council or the Town Attorney can render an impartial answer to the questions regarding Council member Lewis' home.

I urge the Town Council, with Elizabeth Lewis abstaining, to appoint a Special Counsel, who is otherwise unaffiliated with the Town, to investigate and recommend appropriate remedial actions, including referral to the District Attorney if there is evidence of any illegal activities.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 8, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Transparency asks: "Exactly how dumb does Elizabeth Lewis actually think we are?"

Pretty dumb, considering her response when asked about her assault on a citizen, which was witnessed by numerous people was, "it must have been someone else." Nothing has ever come of that assault nor has the council censured her for her behavior, which surely it should have. So yes, she thinks you all are pretty dumb. Given the average Athertonions interest in the corruption of their city government (a la the total lack of response to the petition of 100) I think she may be right. Atherton gets the governance it deserves. It is really disgusting.

Posted by Louise, a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 10, 2010 at 2:10 pm

[Post removed; unsubstantiated accusations of illegal actions violate terms of use.]

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 10, 2010 at 2:25 pm

All it takes is a tape measure to see if the home is in compliance.

After that, it is the property owner's burden to prove conformity and legality (legal permitting), not the town's. Ms. Lewis has to have the proof...

Posted by John P Johns, a resident of another community
on Jun 10, 2010 at 5:21 pm

I believe POGO has the proper perspective on this.

One of the more striking aspects of this current controversy is that all the Town of Atherton was able to provide in response to Kathy McKeithen's inquiry, which was treated as a formal public records request was a copy of the building permit, that had expired before construction was initiated.

There is no evidence that has been produced so far that a certificate of occupancy was given in Ms. Lewis' case. Nor has Ms. Lewis provided any explanation for the fact that the plans upon which the house was built were drafted up by Pacific Peninsula Architecture, when the plans approved by the planning commission were drafted by a firm named Abagail Hayes.

If the building does not meet the Town's zoning requirements then the burden of proof does lie on the owner.

In short, nobody, not the Building Department nor Ms. Lewis has offered any explanation how Ms. Lewis' house got built.

Worse yet, there is no record that the code violation complaint I made to Mr. Bob Cushing was even investigated. All that was provided by Atherton in response to my public records request was a handwritten note by him logging in the complaint.

Now we have the City Attorney taking charge of the investigation. One must wonder what documents she will rely upon since the Town of Atherton denies the existence of the very documents that are necessary to determine whether or not the

This is clearly a ruse. Clearly the City Attorney will issue a report that is nothing more than a double negative.

We can expect her report will say something like: "there is nothing in the record that would indicate that Ms. Lewis acted improperly, so we cannot conclude that Ms. Lewis acted improperly".

I would submit to the readers of this forum that the very lack of permit records may constitute a coverup.

As we all know the coverup is worse than the crime. For this reason I have asked Chief Guerra to verify that the records that appear not to exist no longer exist and if appropriate to initiate a criminal investigation into what appears to be the illegal destruction of records in order to eliminate the paper trail.

Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Jun 10, 2010 at 8:37 pm

Conspiracy to obstruct justice comes to mind.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 10, 2010 at 9:15 pm

First things first.

It's relatively easy to determine if the house is compliant or not. Any competent building official could do so (as I've said before, with a tape measure...).

If the house is not in compliance, the property owner always has the burden of proving that proper permitting and variances were obtained.

As an example, if a property owner were to build a structure without a permit, the town would have no record of the construction. The burden of proof is with the property owner.

If this home is truly non-compliant, I would strongly suggest that Ms. Lewis step forward proactively, admit the error (blame the contractor), and seek appropriate permitting and variances. Expensive, yes. But that strategy will certainly be preferable to litigation and the significant risk of an order for demolition.

Posted by King Solomon, a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 11, 2010 at 1:31 am

POGO has outlined a rational solution to this issue. First, it's a "YES" or "NO" question, and can be answered, as he pointed out, with a measuring tape. (But, if you drive by the home at the corner of Emilie and Alejandra, it will be immediately obvious that the setbacks are not anything remotely close to what's required in Atherton).

The solution:

1. Lewis should step forward, admit the error, and pledge to fix it. This statement should include an apology.
2, Lewis should voluntarily, or be forced to, recuse herself from any legislative decision involving zoning and planning in Atherton for the remainder of her term.
3. Atherton should slap a hold on the title of this home so she cannot sell it until it's back in compliance. Let her hash it out with Ackley in court if need be.
4. Lewis should pay the costs of Furth's "investigation".

Why must this (and nothing less severe - many would argue for more severe) be the solution? If a council member won't obey the rules, no one will. If there are no rules, let's just disband the entire planning and zoning staff in Atherton and save that money. If there are, we should enforce them. It starts at the top. This isn't the time for Furth to make more weak excuses for this conduct. She's run out her welcome on that with Marsala gate.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 11, 2010 at 7:08 am

There is one simple way to force this issue to resolution. The Building Official can slap a red tag on the home. The house cannot be occupied if it is red tagged. Think that might get Elizabeth's attention? It will never happen, but it would force Elizabeth to prove she is in compliance (we all know she's not).

Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Jun 11, 2010 at 7:48 am

Elizabeth Lewis should be thanking the Almanac for making this story public. In the event that she ever decided to sell this house she would need to produce the documents to the prospective buyer, to assure them that the house was built legally.

I'm including DDA Steve Wagstaffe's e-mail address for anyone who thinks this qualifies as illegal activity to forward this thread directly to the District Attorney of San Mateo County.

Keep copies of your e-mails

Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Jun 11, 2010 at 8:05 am

I just sent my e-mail, so at least we know Wagstaffe knows.

Legal or illegal House in AthertonFriday, June 11, 2010 8:02 AM
From: "Michael Stogner" <>Add sender to Contacts
To: "Steve Wagstaffe" <>

The Atherton Almanac has been writing about this question/story for awhile now. It doesn't look like it will be yesterdays news anytime soon. This is not a new story either many people have known for years that this house was built illegally.

Would you please assign an investigator to this.

Editorial: Time to clear the air on Lewis' house.
Was councilwoman's house built lawfully?

Thank You

Michael G. Stogner

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 11, 2010 at 9:17 am

Sorry, but when you ask for the DA to investigate an allegation of an improper building permit, you sound like a lynch mob. Building without a proper permit is not a criminal offense.

When you cry wolf to the DA's office about every little thing, it's no wonder he ignores you when it really matters.

Use some judgement...

Posted by Criminal Conduct, a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 11, 2010 at 9:34 am

POGO, agreed. Building without a proper permit is not criminal, but permit falsification and committing fraud in the process is. Ironically, it would have been better from this criminal liability point of view for Lewis to just go ahead and do what she did without interacting with the Town of Atherton whatsoever.

Posted by peter carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 11, 2010 at 9:37 am

I totally agree with Pogo regarding declaring this a criminal offense in the absence of any evidence to that effect.

As I stated earlier, I believe that the Town Council should appoint someone otherwise unconnected to the Town, perhaps a building inspector from another jurisdiction or a non-Atherton retired building inspector, to review all the facts and examine the house and render a judgement as to its conformance with Atherton ordinances.

Posted by seen enough, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 11, 2010 at 10:23 am


Lewis applied for a permit to remodel her house, she demolished the old house completely and built a new one in its place.

The permit had long expired before the project started.

All that remains of the records is a one page permit application.

The firm that designed the house was a major contributor to the Lewis campaign and provided gifts to employees of the building department.

These facts have all been documented, this is not conjecture, nor rumor.

There is plenty here to refer the matter to the DA.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 11, 2010 at 11:14 am

Seen enough -

With all due respect, everything you have said are pure allegations. They are not "facts." They absolutely are conjecture and rumor.

Until shown otherwise, this is not a criminal matter. Sorry.

If the objective is to throw Ms. Lewis in jail, that is one thing and that isn't going to happen. If the objective is to bring her residence into compliance that is another.

Ms. Lewis isn't the first property owner to build without proper permitting and she won't be the last. No one goes to jail for it.

For those of you who keep insisting on this as a criminal matter, you discredit the central issue. Find out if the residence is compliant first, get it compliant second.

The voters can decide if she's fit for office.

Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jun 11, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Ladies and gentlemen, you are wasting your time. In the grand old United States of America, there is a voluminous library of laws that afflict the little people like you and me. These laws do not apply to our political master class. So be quiet, and keep your proper place, while your betters go about their affairs.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 11, 2010 at 4:18 pm

POGO states: " Find out if the residence is compliant first, get it compliant second."

As a builder who has and does build in Atherton and as one that is familiar with what was done at the property, I can tell you without a doubt the house was not built in compliance with the town's zoning ordinance. It was NOT a remodel which would have allowed the impingement on the setbacks to be grandfathered in. It was NEW construction and as such is subject to the current ordinances (or what was current at that time). The ordinance requires a 60' rear setback (there is an exception for accessory structures). I can see with my own eyes, and the fact that after all of these years building I can judge distances, the house is not 60' away from the rear set back.

In addition, knowing what the square footage of the lot is from the accessors parcel records, I know she has exceeded the allowable FAR for that lot. I base that on getting rough dimensions while standing outside the property. It is so grossly over FAR as to be laughable.

In order to build what she built and as much of it as she built requires a variance. Given that there is no record of a variance and Elizabeth has not claimed a variance, instead claiming "remodel," I think I can state with my expertise that the structure in question is not in compliance with the zoning ordinance and was not built with appropriate planning approval nor variances.

As I have stated before, if this property was really in compliance I'm sure Elizabeth could produce the requisite paperwork and prove it. I would hazard a guess that just about anyone of us, accused of doing the same thing Elizabeth is accused of and knowing we were not guilty of same, would produce said paperwork in a flash and put an end to all speculation. I think it speaks volumes that Elizabeth has not done so.

So, the structure(s) is/are not compliant. The town needs to go to working forcing Elizabeth and her husband to make them compliant. That isn't going to be pretty and it will require MUCH more than a few folks posting on this site to accomplish. It will require the citizens of Atherton actually giving a damn about the people that govern them and caring about the rule of law. So far I have seen very little evidence that such exists.

I do have to agree that, at this point, there is nothing that has been produced to prove criminal conduct. It may be speculated and likely that some occurred, but until there is further investigation by the town or better an independent investigator contacting the DA will gain nothing.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 11, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Correction - I meant to say the house is not 60' from the rear property line.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 11, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Menlo Voter -

You and I are often in agreement and I appreciate and respect your posts.

Unfortunately and with all due respect, we don't make determinations about compliance with building codes based on your assessment from the street. You may be correct and your assessment is certainly professional and well intentioned, but it does not hold the power of law. Your opinion is no substitute for a definitive determination.

In that regard, I agree with earlier posts that call for a simple assessment from an independent expert. The Atherton Town Attorney and internal staff is no without bias. Finding a building inspector or plan checker from a nearby municipality is inexpensive, easy and would be definitive. It would remove all doubt - definitively. The Atherton attorney and council should welcome that determination.

The town should get that done before anyone discusses remediation or punishment.

Posted by informed citizen, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jun 11, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Paper copies CAN be made from microfiche. If Atherton can afford to blow over $600K on the John Johns affair surely they can afford to purchase such a device!

Posted by Here's the Problem, a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 11, 2010 at 5:03 pm

POGO, I have agreed 100% with all of your posts until perhaps now.

While everyone should agree that determining whether the house is in compliance needs to be the first step, here is the script I think will play out. It's the "easy" way out for Furth.

Furth's Report: The house is out of compliance. We could "red tag" it, sue for a court order to force Lewis to put it back in compliance, etc. HOWEVER, since the former building inspector signed off on it, she has what is called a "detrimental reliance" legal argument. She could turn around and sue us for all the costs involved in doing so since our agent (former building inspector Mike Hood) said everything is okay, and she reasonably relied on that representation.

Now, I know certain people have cited the Atherton code, and that it states that no one's okay (not even the building inspector's) can override the code requirements, and that technically Lewis is still on the hook even if it was "Hood's fault". That really is no different than the language on the back of an amusement park ticket that says if you die due to their negligence, they're still not on the hook. A judge can toss that language because of basic fairness, etc.

Here's the important part: the "detrimental reliance" argument only works if the approval was due to Hood's mistake, incompetence, etc. It would not work if there was any time of chicanery involved in getting his approval.

It has been pointed out that Mr. Hood resigned after being put on administrative leave pending an investigation. I cannot personally understand why anyone would risk their job to approve out of compliance structures with nothing in return for it. I personally don't believe Mr. Hood was incompetent.

This is why the report is taking weeks to come out. Is it to determine how far the house is from the fence? I don't think so.

Thus, the issue of whether any criminal conduct actually took place really is inexorably linked to this issue once you go beneath the surface. I believe my prediction of the way Furth will come out will prove to be quite accurate.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 11, 2010 at 5:44 pm

POGO: thank you. I get quite a bit from your posts and opinons as well. I have to say that if I didn't risk arrest for trespassing I would walk on the property with a tape measure and make a definitive measurement. You are correct that it will be rather easy and inexpensive to show the house is not in compliance. If one wanted to get really serious a site survey could be done for about $1800 as I just recently had done on another, larger property.

Unfortunately, I think Here's the Problem is likely right in what Furth will come back with. It all comes back to the citizens of Atherton demanding this be investigated properly by an outside agency. I just don't see it happening. Which means Elizabeth has been able to "assault" the citizens of Atherton again.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 11, 2010 at 5:50 pm

informed citizen:

yes copies can be made form microfiche, however, in my experience the cities or towns that have them require a letter of permission from the architect or engineer that drew them. I seriously doubt PPG is going to write such a letter. That leaves a public document request lawsuit and a court order to force release of the microfiche or copies of same. I predict such a lawsuit is going to be necessary to get these documents released. In the mean time Elizabeth can keep working to get the zoning rules rewritten so her house will become compliant and the release of said documents moot.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 11, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Here's the Problem and Menlo Voter -

I don't think we disagree on these issues and you may be correct about Ms. Furth's report. This crew has consistently failed to meet even the lowest expectations. Nevertheless, I prefer to wait for the report before contemplating or even discussing more serious sanctions.

With regard to possible fraud and collusion by Mr. Hood and Ms. Lewis (or, more likely her contractors), that would certainly rise to the level of criminality. But even adverse reliance - a key element of fraud - is no excuse for non-compliance. Even if true, the residence will ultimately have to be brought to code. It is precisely for that reason that I believe Ms. Lewis should get in front of this issue.

PS to Here's the Problem: If this is the first issue that you've disagreed with me, you must seek professional counseling as soon as possible.

Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2010 at 7:59 am

"Sorry, but when you ask for the DA to investigate an allegation of an improper building permit, you sound like a lynch mob. Building without a proper permit is not a criminal offense."

Thank you for your input, and I see that I did not clarify my request. I was not asking the DA to investigate an improper building permit. I was asking the DA to investigate the destroying of public records. You might recall Wagstaffe did open and kept open a criminal investigation involving an i-Pod. This investigation request is at least equal if not more serious than the IPod in my opinion.

The other point I want to make is that Steve Wagstaffe is now aware of this request and the public is now aware of the request. Citizens should never be afraid to make a criminal complaint the DA can always say no.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 12, 2010 at 8:48 am

Thank you for the clarification, Michael.

My first point is that this controversy does not YET rise to the level of criminality. If there is ever evidence that documents were fraudulent or destroyed, that might be a time to call the DA.

I agree that no one should ever be afraid of contacting the DA's office TO REPORT A CRIME. In this instance, there is no evidence of a crime, at least not yet.

So my bigger point is that calling in the DA is a very serious step. If people contact Mr. Wagstaffe's office about every complaint no matter how large or small, those complaints will be discounted. It's like a diner in a restaurant who complains about everything; eventually the restauranteur just ignores him.

Unfortunate, but true. Show discretion and contact the DA when it is appropriate.

Posted by John P Johns, a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2010 at 9:47 am

Dear Pogo

I did an audit of the Building Department, I know the Town's zoning ordinance.

I have also examined in depth the Lewis property.

Menlo Voter is right. The property is, without a doubt not in compliance with the code. This is a no brainer. Anybody with internet connectivity and knowledge of how to get to Zillow, the Assessor's records, Google maps and the Atherton Municipal Code can make a determination without even setting foot in Atherton that this property is illegal.

I man no disrespect. However I speak with impatience and admittedly intemperence. You Pogo have cautioned against people speaking without established facts at hand. You have said that calling for a criminal investigation is unwarranted.

You do not know what you are talking about in this case Pogo. As a result, you have lost credibility with me.

I was subjected to a nine-month criminal investigation by the DA on evidence that doesn't hold a candle to the dossier I have assembled on Lewis.

In my view there is plenty of evidence to launch a criminal investigation. Not only on the apparent falsification of a permit but on what appears to be the destruction of public records after the fact.

The fact that McKeithen asked for records on the Lewis case and received only one piece of paper, the permit application, seems to have gone unnoticed by you Pogo.

I would even go so far as to say that, when taking into account the Topliff and Bayer personnel investigations of Atherton Building Department employees in 2006 and 2007, there is sufficient information to launch a criminal indictment.

Rest assured Pogo, I do know that I am talking about. I am an internationally recognized expert in both forensic accounting and in public sector auditing. I have chased down criminals across nine time zones.I have spoken at the invitation of the Indian, Swiss, Belgian and Italian governments on accountability and transparency at the local government level.

Because no consulting firm has the courage to take on this issue, I have offered to come back to the Town as a consultant to examine this matter in greater detail. Perhaps I am betraying a bias in my thinking here and that apparent bias may give the City Council pause. If such is the case so be it.

Rather than snipe from the sidelines, Pogo, do a little legwork on your own. Until you have done so, your comments don't amount to much here.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 12, 2010 at 11:15 am

Thank you for your kind comments, Mr. Johns.

Respectfully, please do not put words in my mouth or misquote me. I have never said that "calling for a criminal investigation is unwarranted" as you charged in your last post. I have said it is premature and I'm very comfortable with my statement. Let's see what this investigation reveals FIRST. Hopefully, they will find more documents than the one originally presented to the Mayor and we will all be pleasantly surprised. And, no, I'm not holding my breath.

I also appreciate that you are asking for an independent investigation as have many others, including me. But I think it's incredible that you have seriously nominated yourself as that independent investigator - to the point of quoting your hourly billing rate and providing an estimate. Regardless of your qualifications which are obviously impressive, Mr. Johns, you are hardly independent - and someone with your credentials and experience should know that.

While you were undeniably mistreated by these officials - and you never miss an opportunity to remind us with every post you make (we get it...), you are NOT unbiased. In fact, being the victim of their prosecution makes you ANYTHING BUT independent. With all due respect, the very fact that you would suggest such an absurd role for yourself shows a shocking lack of situational awareness.

Whether Ms. Lewis's residence is in compliance or not is an objective determination. Sorry, but I prefer to take the word of a qualified building inspector or plan checker who has actually measured the property over someone who has eyed it from the street or claims anyone can easily tell it's too big for the lot. Fortunately, we don't have long to wait, do we?

While I understand that some people are absolutely certain there is fraud, unfortunately, we don't indict people based upon these assessments. Perhaps you could run for District Attorney and then you can make those determinations every day.

We are a government of laws, not men. Of all people, Mr. Johns, you should understand that.

I hope you enjoy your trip to Alaska. Take insect repellent.

Posted by John P Johns, a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Dear Pogo

You have called into questioned my independence and objectivity in this matter. I object to your characterization of my position and perspective with respect to this matter in the strongest possible terms.

I know how much time and effort a follow-up audit would take. I can provide a reasonable estimated because I have "been there and done that". Lest you forget, I was the one who did the original investigation of the Building Department. It is also standard practice in my profession to do these kinds of studies. There are times when further review is called for and in my professional opinion, this is one of them.

As far as your statmement about my reminding readers of my experience with the Town ("We get it...") I doubt that you do. In fact to truly "get it" I respectfully submit that one must have suffered a similar kind of violation.

I know of people whom have had similar experiences as have I. Yes they do get it and no they do not tell me I sound like a broken record.

You, however, do complain about my reminders of how I was treated. I doubt you are one of the people who have suffered the kind of violation I suffered and others have suffered. If you have, I encourage you to share your experience.

I have forgiven the likes of Charles Marsala for the witch hunt that was perpretrated upon me. However I have not forgotten. To do so would be a disservice to this community and to those who are aggrieved as well and who seek positive and lasting change.

Unless the Town confronts the deamon within, there is little hope that the Town can rectify itself.

If you want to ask anyone about my indepenence and objectivity, ask the five members of the audit committee who issued a letter of protest at my suspension, which of course was ignored by all involved.

I also dare say that your pop psychology is out of place here. You have described my suggestion to perform a follow-up study as a "shocking lack of situational awareness". You also had the temerity to state to "Here's the Problem" that he (or she) "must seek professional counseling as soon as possible".

You have posted under a psuseonym so there is no way one can verify your credentials. There is no way one can determine whether you can legitimately draw conclusions as to my state of mind and mental health or others (especially those who post under psuedonyms as well).

The mere fact that you would draw conclusions of your own, in my view constitutes a shocking lack of awareness of your own arrogance.

You Pogo have done grave injury to your own credibility by cautioning against a rush to judgement over the case of Elizabeth Lewis apparent permit fraud (yes apparent) and call for a criminal investigation, all the while questioning the "situational awareness" of me and encouraging another poster to "seek professinal counseling at the earliest opportunity.

By the way, I have not stated that there is an absolute certainty of fraud. I believe that it is an establishef fact that Ms. Lewis made a fraudulent misrepresentation. There is a distinction between these two statements, a slight but important one.

As far as criminal indictment goes, I have seen the DA indict and try people on flimsier evidence. Need I remind you what happened to Mr. Troy Henderson? He was indicted on a silent film in which there is strong circumstantial evidence that he was manuevered in front of the camera.

Thank you for the reminder about bringing misquito repellant. However in Alaska as in Atherton, there are far more dangerous creatures to be concerned about.

I also


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 12, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Mr. Johns:

we are on the same side on this issue and of the same belief about Elizabeth Lewis, however, you may be able to conduct an independent investigation in this case, but because of your history with the city there is no way you will be percieved as independent. In this case perception is as important as reality. Don't be surprised if they don't take you up on your offer.

Posted by John P Johns, CPA, a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Like I said, and like "Cease and Desist" points out, there are far more dangerous creatures than mosquitos lurking in Alaska, as there are in Atherton.

I challenged the legitimacy of the State of Alaska's Single Audit Coordinator's conclusion that my client was out of compliance with the Single Audit reporting requirements. She in turn asked her friends in professional licensing to launch an investigation upon me.

I want to thank "Cease and Desist" for bringing this to my attention. I am in receipt of an e-mail from the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development that my out of state application was being processed normally. I received this e-mail after I protested what I considered to be unprofessional and retailatory behavior on the part of the Single Audit Coordinator.

There is one other thing worth mentioning about Atherton. The FY 2006-07 Civil Grand Jury did refer the Atherton Building Department and the irregularities I discovered during my audit of the Building Department to the San Mateo County District Attorney. I know this because a former colleague of mine was interviewed as part of the DA's investigation.

Now that additional information has come to light, I would respectfully suggest that the DA reopen its investigation.

About that Alaska Cease and Desist Order the Board "Resolved to Recommend". Funny thing, I never got it even though my address is on file with DCCED. When I'm in Juneau I'll ask when I should it expect to be forthcomming.

Posted by John P. Johns, CPA, a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Dear Menlo Voter

I don't expect the Town to take me up on my offer. Pogo is right about one thing. The report I would right would be rejected out of hand due to the perception of bias.

I know from personal experience that in our business perception is reality.

Having said that, I must ask, who will answer the call?

Who will have the nerve to stand up to what has been a $200 per million year industry in a community with only 2,250 parcels and just over 7,000 residents.

I brought this issue to the attention of Bob Cushing, the Town's code enforcement officer who's got a $56,000 contract up for renewal. He passed my complaint up the food chain to Lisa Costa Sanders. She in turn thought it was too hot to handle and has passed it up the food chain to Wynne Furth who will no doubt try and keep a lid on this simmering pot.

So if the thought of my comming back to do an administrative investigation is unpalatable and if we can't get anyone honest to do an administrative investigation (Wynne Furth has already shown her lack of honesty), then this matter should go straight to where it belongs, to the District Attorney or the Attorney General.

The time for bold action is now.

Let us see if Kathy McKeithen has the smarts and the stomach to do what is necessary.

Again and with no apologies for belaboring the point, the District Attorney has already been asked once by an authoritative outside body (the FY 2006-07 Civil Grand Jury) to do a criminal investigation.

Now is the time for the DA to pick up where it left off back in 2007.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 12, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Mr. Johns -

Thank you for your thoughtful post.

Once again, you put words in my mouth. I never questioned your integrity, I have questioned your objectivity.

The requirement for independence is not for the benefit of the investigator (you), it is for the benefit of the person being investigated, in this case, Ms. Lewis, to assure them of objectivity. Surely the Town of Atherton can find a person to conduct this audit with fewer conflicts and less motivation than you.

And, although I have my own beliefs about Ms. Lewis (that are probably similar to yours), I will continue caution others about rushing to judgement. You, of all people, should know the dangers of that.

Please don't assume you are the only person who has suffered from unfounded allegations and been vindicated. I was unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of a similar charge. I spent four very expensive years in litigation and ended up suing that party. Fortunately, I won the largest jury award that year in the state of New Jersey. But I don't define myself by that event and I don't note it on my posts because vindication does not connote any special qualification.

Finally, you said "I have not stated that there is an absolute certainty of fraud. I believe that it is an ESTABLISHED FACT [emphasis added] that Ms. Lewis made a fraudulent misrepresentation." I'm not sure I can add anything to that.

Posted by Double Standards, a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2010 at 2:59 pm

To anyone who thinks John Johns cannot investigate the permit violations due to bias, it has to cut both ways. You'd also have to agree that Wynne Furth cannot investigate Charles Marsala or Elizabeth Lewis because of bias. Johns' potential bias is from being mistreated; Furth's is from Marsala and Lewis being her bosses. While we're at it, what about the story about the district attorney investigating the police report falsification? They have bias in that they've already been in an adversarial relationship with Buckheit (and, quite likely, a cozy relationship with the cops, but that, unlike the lawsuit with Buckheit, is speculative). Doesn't it have to cut both ways? And if the cutting both ways is only in theory, but not in practice, Mr. Johns' suggestion is not out of line.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 12, 2010 at 3:13 pm

You are absolutely correct.

It cuts both ways and Ms. Furth is no more independent than Mr. Johns.

Posted by John P Johns, a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2010 at 4:01 pm

The Town Forum has become a great place to exchange thoughts and to engage in very provactative discussion.

Pogo, Menlo Voter and others have provided numerous thoughtful posts. I have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy matching wits and trading the occasional barb with people who take the time and who care enough to express their well reasonded and carefully considred positions on this matter and on other matters of significant public conern.

I have made a caricature of myself by offering to do a follow-up study of the building department indeed. There is even some truth in Pogo's notion that I lack situational awareness by suggesting something so outrageous. But then again, by doing so I have made a point that I was, quite honestly not aware of having made.

I do hope that Double Standard's message is heard by the Council.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 12, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Mr. Johns -

You are an honest and classy guy and are guilty of nothing more than enthusiasm. That is far better than being guilty of omission or obfuscation, which Ms. Lewis may soon discover.

While there is some disagreement on process, Ms. Lewis would be wise to note that of the more than 100 posts on The Almanac's Town Square web site about this issue, not one person has come to her defense or refuted the allegations. My advice to her is to get ahead of this issue, it is not going to go away. Surely your architect or contractor will fall on their sword.

Posted by Disgusted, a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 12, 2010 at 5:13 pm

According to the "special closed session" agenda for this Wednesday night (that was e-mailed, but not on the website), Ms. Lewis will get to evaluate Ms. Furth's job performance at the closed session preceding the council meeting. This is while Furth is investigating whether her home (most likely the largest part of her net worth) is illegal. How much insanity like this can we take?

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 12, 2010 at 5:45 pm


I suggest you go to the next council meeting and bring it up. And keep bringing it up unitl it becomes so painful for those involved that they will have to answer or do something. It will require dedication on your part. Are you up to the task?

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 12, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Mr. Johns:

I agree with POGO's sentiments. You are to be commended for your enthusiasm.


I will bet you lunch Elizabeth doesn't get in front of this. Her arrogance won't allow it. Anyone that assaults a citizen that she serves and then expects the electorate will believe "it must have been someone else" is so amazingly arrogant as to be beyond belief.

Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jun 12, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Elizabeth should continue to ignore the issue. The Atherton code doesn't apply to her because she is part of the master class. The citizenry may babble and squawk for a bit, but in the end, they will return to their slumbers, leaving Elizabeth firmly ensconced in her luxurious abode.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 12, 2010 at 8:01 pm

Menlo Voter -

I never said Ms. Lewis WOULD get in front of this issue, I said she SHOULD. Regretfully, we are on the same side of that lunch bet.

Let's hope that either Ms. Furth will provide a credible investigative report or the Council will finally have the good sense to procure an independent assessment. Council members should realize that an independent report will be cheaper, faster, easier and most importantly, definitive.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 12, 2010 at 9:32 pm


you're right of course. I'd buy you lunch anyway. I would enjoy the conversation. It will be interesting to see how this develops. I don't have a great deal of hope that it will resolve on the side of the citizens of Atherton.

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