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Elizabeth Lewis and her oversized house

Original post made by John P. Johns CPA, another community, on Apr 6, 2010

During my Phase III audit of the Atherton Building Department I noticed an anomoly in the processing of a building permit for 1 Emilie Avenue, the home of a former member of the General Plan Committee and now a member of the Atherton City Council, Ms. Elizabeth Lewis.

The anomaly I noticed was that Ms. Lewis had been granted a series of extensions to her permit that went beyond the 180 day limit imposed by California law.

Subsequent to my termination from Atherton, I submitted a series of public records requests, including requests for records documenting the circumstances surrounding the application by Ms. Lewis for a building permit and the processing thereof.

Here is what I found out:

Ms. Elizabeth Lewis improperly characterized her residential building project as a remodel, when in fact it was a completely new residence. Ms. Lewis signed the permit herself as an owner builder.

During or proximate to Calendar Year 2000, Ms. Lewis was granted a conditional use permit by the Planning Commission for a smaller structure to be build on the lot after a partial demolition of the older residence.

Ms. Lewis was instructed to return to the Planning Commission if any changes were to be made to the plans that the Planning Commission had approved.

Ms. Lewis never went back to the Planning Commission despite abandoning her original plans and proceeding with a completely new set of plans for a much larger residence. These plans called for a complete demolition of the existing residence, rather than a partial tear-down as called for in the original plans.

During construction a neighbor complained repeatedly about the size of Ms. Lewis' home. She was told by the former Building Official Mike Hood that there was nothing wrong.

During construction the current Building Official Mr. Mike Wassman conducted numerous inspections and ultimately granted final approval to the structure. Apparently, Mr. Wassman never once verified that proper approval had been given to the plans.

During his inspections, Mr. Wassman never once appears to have taken the time to verify that the new structure adhered to the maximum floor area ratio allowed by Title 17 of the Atherton Municipal Code.

A visual inspection of the plans for Ms. Lewis' residence combined with an analysis of building permit fees paid suggests that Ms. Lewis house and accessory structure has a floor area ratio of 25 percent, significantly greater than the 18% coverage ratio allowed by Title 17.

Ms. Lewis' permit was approved in 2003 but was not pulled until more than one year later. Contrary to state law, Ms. Lewis was allowed to proceed with construction on her property, despite the fact that her permit had expired and was required to be subject to a complete re submittal.

In view of the facts I have assembled, supported by documentation which I will present to the City Council during my attendance at tomorrow night's meeting I urge the City Council to investigate this matter along with the conduct of Councilman Marsala.

I would remind Councilman Jerry Carlson that he was the one who championed my Phase III audit of the Building Department. As such I believe he owes it to the Community that this matter be given careful scrutiny.

Finally, I have brought this matter to the Attention of City Manager Jerry Gruber and the San Mateo County District Attorney. To date my complaints have fallen on deaf ears.

Now that my good name has been returned to me. Now that my reputation has been restored, I do hope that my voice will be heard this time.

Comments (15)

Like this comment
Posted by Math
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 6, 2010 at 9:48 am

Zillow says she has 5,520 square feet on an 18,810 square foot lot. I don't know whether the 5,520 includes a basement or not, or her garage or not. That's 29% of the lot footprint. My house is 6,000 square feet (excluding garage and pool house; I don't have a basement) on a 43,500 square foot lot, or 13.8% of the lot footprint. If I added my garage and poolhouse I'd get another 2,300 square feet or so, or 19% of the lot footprint. Something definitely seems out of kilter with how large her house is for that sized lot. She is setting a terrible example by being on the council.

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 6, 2010 at 9:55 am

As with the questions regarding other Council members, can this Council, given its highly dysfunctional state, properly address issues of alleged impropriety by one of their own members?

I make no judgment about this or any of the other alleged improprieties but someone needs to examine each of them carefully and then issue a very clear public statement. Who will that be??

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Posted by I nominate Jon Buckheit
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Apr 6, 2010 at 10:22 am

To answer Peter's question, there is currently one person in the Town of Atherton who has the unquestionable integrity to perform that job. Judges have gone to him in times of crisis to appoint him as conservator for a resident in need. He has also shown the courage to take on the corrupt police department and win. This person is Jon Buckheit. He can examine all of this and at least as far as I'm concerned, come to his own decisions of who goes and who stays, that should be binding. This examination should extend to the city staff as well. I trust Mr. Buckheit could replace whomever her decides needs to go with a different management team that would follow his standards of integrity and excellence. My faith is in him.

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Posted by code blue
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 6, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Everyone knew the house was illegal
This is why Ms. Lewis carefully changed the address on her corner lot from Emilie to Alajandra--to obscure the trail on her building records.
Its also why she has worked so hard to rewrite the entire Zoning ordinance and Building code ----all a desperate attempt to legalize her property.

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Posted by just a thought
a resident of another community
on Apr 6, 2010 at 11:02 pm

After all these years, I think I can see the light of day breaking through.

I am so grateful to read these strong, kind, considered voices of reason that I never heard when things were so hard for so many years.

When you've been alone for so long, you have no idea how moving it is to just have a little company.

So please accept my heartfelt thanks, and be encouraged in the gentle soundness of your reason and expression. These things are more powerful than the hateful personal attacks and distractions of your opponents can ever be.

This is not about circumstance or personality.

Please focus on becoming the authors of the creation and maintenance of the actual mechanics of accurate and culpable government.

This is, and always been, the only relevant activity.


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Posted by code blue
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 6, 2010 at 11:59 pm

Say! Are you the guy who once said something great and kind of zen about how
"the truth dose not care particularly, if it is ever recognized--it only demands to remain available"
or something along those lines?????
So! How the heck are you???
Stop by the council chambers tomorrow evening if you are in the neighborhood--we think of you often.
P.S. update: the truth is in a pretty big hurry lately

Like this comment
Posted by John P. Johns, CPA
a resident of another community
on Apr 7, 2010 at 6:04 am

The purpose of this evening's meeting will be to discuss the conduct of Councilman Marsala. At 6:02 PM, public comments will be heard for items not on the agenda however.

During this public comments section pertaining to items not on the agenda, I will be requesting 3 minutes to alert the City Council, City Manager and City Attorney to the apparent case of permit fraud by Ms. Lewis. During these three minutes I will ask the City Council to call for an investigation by the California Attorney General of the circumstances surrounding the issuance of Ms. Lewis' permit.

I will ask that this investigation include an examination of the conduct of Mr. Mike Wassman. Specifically, I will ask that the investigation by the Attorney General include an assessment as to whether Mr. Wassman as the building inspector for Ms. Lewis' residence knew or should have known that the residence does not conform to the zoning ordinance and that Ms. Lewis misrepresented the nature of her construction project.

I will ask whether Mr. Wassman as building inspector knew or should have known about other properties during his tenure that did not conform to the zoning ordinance and that he inspected, including those identified as a result of my Phase III audit of the Building Department.

I believe an investigation of this matter and of other matters by the Attorney General is necessary because Ms. Furth has heretofore failed to provide an honest and objective assessment of the conduct of her client.

Ms. Furth knows upon which side her bread is buttered. Ms. Furth dare not bite the hand that feeds her. Ms. Furth has failed to consider the fact that her first obligation is to the taxpayer.

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Posted by I smell a rat
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 7, 2010 at 8:44 am

Fact: Steve Ackley, Principal of Pacific Peninsula Group had an accessory structure built at his Atherton residence west of the Alameda red tagged because of multiple permit violations.

Fact: Pacific Peninsula Group was the principle beneficiary of fees avoided as a result of the improper processing of building permits before and shortly after the implementation of the Excavation Surcharge.

Fact: Steve Ackley contributed to the political campaign of Elizabeth Lewis.

Fact: Pacific Peninsula Architecture, a subsidiary of Pacific Peninsula Group designed Ms. Lewis\' home on Emilie Avenue.

Fact: Elizabeth Lewis voted to refund $1.6 million in road impact fees and to appropriate $1.1 million from the General Fund to do so.

Fact: Pacific Peninsula Group submitted a claim for a refund in Road Impact Fees on January 21, 2009

Fact: The Pacific Peninsula claim for a refund of road impact fees was discussed in closed session on September 16, 2009.

Question: Did Elizabeth Lewis violate California law regarding a conflict of interest by participating in closed session discussions after having taken money from Mr. Ackley?

Question: Did Pacific Peninsula Architecture conspire with Ms. Elizabeth Lewis to violate Title 17 of the Municipal Code?

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Posted by just a thought
a resident of another community
on Apr 7, 2010 at 11:05 pm

The truth doesn't care whether we know it or not. It goes right on being true. Therefore, it behooves us to have the humility and discipline to seek to know what is so.

I'll tell ya, habits have a cumulative effect, and unlike many, I have not lived a life that I regret. I've been willing to suffer the actualization of my convictions, and to experience the gratifications that can only come from the same.

I wuz there. It was pretty sad, really.

As regards how I am...financially ruined, disappointed in all of you, and conscious that my path was inviolable and unavoidable.

Like Mr. Johns, I'm just one of those dangerous people who can't keep from doing the right thing, even though it is clearly self-destructive. Just can't help it. Guess that's life.

Don't see a lot of hope for you folk, however.

Wish the best for you, though.


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Posted by code blue
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 7, 2010 at 11:21 pm

Mr. Johns:
You need to supply the supporting documents than you brought for distribution to tonight's meeting directly to the administrative officials and or press, and or residents, that you intended them for.
Ms Lewis tried to highjack them from the podium, and I was unable to obtain a copy.
Can you post them on line here or with a link?
I'm not even sure what topics they covered but am curious to know what you had to bring to the table.

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Posted by get a life
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 7, 2010 at 11:36 pm

Just a thought has spent an awful lot of time sharing his thoughts on this forum.

Some may think he should just get a life. I have met just a thought in person. Although penniless, he has a very rich existence.

Unlike the Lewis\' of the world who pursue money, power and privilege and sell their soul in the process, it is people like Just a Thought that honor the social contract and have what money can never buy: self-respect.

When Mr. Johns rode up San Juan Hill with the hopes of making the Town of Atherton an ethical, efficient and transparent municipal corporation, he did not ride alone. Just a thought was on his stalion as well galloping along by his side. They were both crushed. They were both crucified, blackballed.

Their lives have changed, beyond what they would have recognized. They are better for the experience.

At the very same time they celebrated their new lives together over dinner, Ms. Lewis was engaged in an altercation with a resident, trying to conceal what Mr.Johns and Just a Thought discovered during the audit of the building department. Ms. Lewis actually fought for documents revealing her involvement in building permit fraud that Mr.Johns had left with the City Council after his speech.

Poor Pitiful Elizabeth. In newspapers and through word of mouth, word of her illegal dwelling will spread like wildfire. Her efforts to quell the uproar, to keep her secret will be as futile as would be one fighting a raging forest fire with a garden hose.

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Posted by e.grimley
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 8, 2010 at 2:11 pm

'I nominate Jon Buckheit'......
Great suggestion....throw away democracy for a monarchy...

"Judges have gone to him in times of crisis to appoint him as conservator for a resident in need." Interesting comment as well.
Could one of these judges be the one who found him 'factually innocent?'

Just curious.....

Like this comment
Posted by Jon Buckheit
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 8, 2010 at 2:42 pm

To satisfy your curiosity Mr. Grimley, the answer is no, and I do not believe it is appropriate for you to question my integrity based on the exuberant and anonymous comments of posters clearly dissatisfied with the current regime. Of course, you may do so based on my actions and comments.

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Posted by code inspector
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 9, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Ms. Lewis thought she could protect the secrets of her illegal property by being on the council and using a position of power to keep them obscured--by "updating" the ordinances to legalize her house .
Big mistake.
People who run for office are, and should be, held to full account.
If she had stayed out of politics she might have continued to get away with having abused the system to her own advantage.
Everyone would still know what she did--but they would likely have continued to ignore the transgressions.
Maybe it would be best for her to develop a family emergency of some kind, and quietly step down from the council and out of the limelight before she is very publicly exposed.

Like this comment
Posted by unimPRESSed
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 10, 2010 at 11:53 pm

So let me get this straight-
The entire stack of stapled sets, of supporting documents that Mr. Johns handed up to the council dais, in order to substantiate his comments from the speakers podium, were whisked straight away into Ms. Lewis' binder and never distributed to anyone else? You have got to be kidding me.
She absconded with the very evidence presented against her, right in full view of the public and the press?
She's gotta have secrets that she does not want scrutinized!
I realize it must have been an emotional evening and everyone might have been a little distracted--
but COME ON PEOPLE! RIGHT IN FROUNT OF YOUR EYES! What's in the water over there?
And why wasn't anyone from the press astute enough to notice, or curious enough to seek out copies for themselves?????????

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

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