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.
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.