MP council begrudgingly approves settlement


They were peeved and frustrated in doing so, but Menlo Park City Council members last night (July 20) gritted their teeth and unanimously supported a settlement agreement with an anonymous plaintiff, Concerned Citizens of Menlo Park, which in November 2009 sued the city and would-be developers of the property at 1300 El Camino Real.

The settlement agreement scales back the size of a planned grocery store on the site. The only person to emerge as being a member of the Concerned Citizens group as the settlement was made public last week is Tony Alexander, the political director of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents employees of grocery stores including Draeger's and Safeway.

Mr. Alexander has not returned The Almanac's phone calls.

The lawsuit, which challenged the city's approval of the environmental impact review for the planned project at the site, named the city and the developer: Peter Pau, president of Sand Hill Property Management; and SHP Los Altos LLC.

The original plan called for a grocery store of about 51,000 square feet. The agreement limits the size of a grocery store to 32,000 square feet. It also prohibits the "self-checkout of alcohol sales" by any retail business on the site.

The anonymity of the plaintiff was a sore point for council members. But City Attorney Bill McClure said the law protecting citizens' right of association also protects their privacy as members of a group, making the filing of this type of lawsuit by anonymous members of a group legal.

The terms of the settlement were worked out by the developer and the Concerned Citizens' attorney. Developer Jeff Warmoth said the lawuit had "no basis in fact," but he urged the council to approve the settlement. "It's not something we're happy about," but the company wants to move ahead and build the project.

The plaintiffs agreed not to oppose future housing the company may want to add to the retail development, Mr. Warmoth said.

Councilman John Boyle noted that, given the anonymity of individual plaintiffs, it would be difficult to know whether one of them files another legal action against the developer once a housing plan is brought to the city for approval.

Before voting to approve the agreement, Councilman Heyward Robinson said that, "as distasteful as it may be," approval is the right thing to do.

Mayor Rich Cline said: "I really have a problem with it. ... It sets a real wicked precedent. If I had my druthers, I would get in the ring" and fight the lawsuit. But the developer, he added, "has been up here too many times."

In 2008, when details of the planned development of the site began emerging, Whole Foods specialty grocery was said to be interested in moving there, which raised concerns by several business owners. Among them was Richard Draeger, whose family owns Draeger's market. When the lawsuit was filed, Mr. Draeger said his store was not involved.

Moving ahead

Mr. Warmoth said passers-by will soon see some action at 1300 El Camino Real, the former site of a now defunct Cadillac dealership. PG&E is scheduled to disconnect utilites on July 26, and building demolition should begin soon after, he said.

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Like this comment
Posted by Jeesh
a resident of another community
on Jul 22, 2010 at 5:05 pm

What gave the citizens of Menlo Park the town was modeled after the town next to the residence Louis XVI?
In actuality, Versailles is a quaint and charming place with a lucrative tourist trade, some charming shoppes, and a lot of antique stores.
51,000 sq.ft. is not that big an area...after all, I would rather see a well designed grocery store (not quaint) than an auto show room------unless it was like the fabulous show rooms which housed the autos on Van Ness in S.F made of marble and 40 ft. high ceilings with magnificent Victorian designs-------San Mateo County just seems to always be in a huff about something they deem "culturally aesthetic"....hogwash.
I hope that a grocery with a Gaudi design is placed there to escape the boring architecture which has become a symbol of the Peninsula.
It is odd how many people from similar NEW MONEY all think alike along the Peninsula Corridor. Hillsborough was the only place that had style and homes to match the individuality of the owners.

Like this comment
Posted by thank you, council
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 23, 2010 at 7:51 am

Seems that Draegers and Beltramos know whom to contact when they need a hitman. Pretty clear who calls the shots in our city now: the Mob, aka our local unions.

Like this comment
Posted by joan
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 23, 2010 at 8:34 am

I've heard of vile tactics used to bully others into doing what you want, but reading about this one makes me want to take a shower.

I find myself saying with much less frequency these days that I'm a die-hard union supporter. Union leaders, wake up. You're committing suicide.

Like this comment
Posted by Curious
a resident of another community
on Jul 23, 2010 at 11:54 am

[Off-topic post removed; posters can begin a new thread to discuss another topic]

Like this comment
Posted by Long time resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 23, 2010 at 4:28 pm

If the City's general plan were modified to eliminate features like Level of Service traffic standards for intersections, these frivilous lawsuits would be much more difficult to file. This lawsuit claimed the EIR was inadequate - relative to the standards set in the general plan. Our current council majority is no/slow growth and thrives on restrictive environmental standards. This lawsuit exploited that perspective and the general plan drafted by their predessors/supporters.

Like this comment
Posted by Question Mark
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 23, 2010 at 8:45 pm

The council majority may have expressed annoyance this time, but they definitely encourage this type of behavior by and large- it is never too late to bring up a petty last-minute accusation or litigation. When it's his Preferred Citizen Squad (Paulie C and the Killer B's), Andy loves that kind of stuff- just look at the Bohannon process. Menlo Park, you make your bed, you sleep in it.

Like this comment
Posted by Deep Insider
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 24, 2010 at 10:29 am

Some facts. The lawsuit is an EIR lawsuit, not a referendum, brought by an anonymous special interest, not by a neighborhood group, that attacks the city's GHG emissions standards not its traffic LOS standards.

So at least three of the comments above are totally irrelevant.

Were the city to lose an EIR lawsuit it would simpy have to redo the analysis properly, Recirculate the EIR and could then re-approve the exact same project. This would cause delay and make future reApprovals subject to election risk and a future council. EIR lawsuits never give plaintiffs power over projects. They can only be used to compel full disclosure of impacts.

The developer is the real party in interest. The developer spends the money to defend the suit and chooses the defense attorney. If the suit prevails the plaintiffs are entitled to recover their litigation costs. I don't know whether the city or developer pays those costs.

This means that the developers attorney believed that a) the plaintiffs were sufficiently well funded, and B) that the plaintiff was likely to prevail. (I would guess that the plaintiffs revealed their identity to the developer.)

It also means that Menlo Parks standards for evaluating and determining significance of a project's impacts on climate change are legally inadequate. Hence a Green council that has had four years to develop a strong and defensible legal basis to set GHG emissions standards for Menlo Park had every reason to settle rather than admit the inadequacy of their work and suffer the political implications in an election year.

You may agree or disagree with the "Green Agenda", but the point is Green leadership, particularly Heyward Robinson and Kelly Fergusson are unable to deliver that agenda, preferring instead to engage in symbolic gestures that have no substantive impact on furthering real results. This settlement in part covers up their incompetence, and worse it allows the legal inadequacies to persist and be applied to more projects, giving the illusion that Menlo Park has enforceable standards when it doesn't.

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

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