News


Suit filed over Palo Alto's park 'undedication'

Opponents of Measure E claim city failed to follow City Charter in making land available for waste-to-energy facility

Opponents of Palo Alto's plan to build a waste-to-energy facility in the Baylands have filed a lawsuit against the city challenging the November election that made land for such a facility available.

Thomas Jordan, a local environmental attorney and opponent of Measure E, is alleging in his lawsuit that the city did not follow the proper procedures when it went ahead with the vote, which "undedicates" 10 acres of parkland at Byxbee Park and makes this land available for a possible anaerobic digestion facility. The measure passed overwhelmingly on Nov. 8, with 64 percent of the city's voters approving it.

Jordan, who is one of several prominent conservationists who opposed the measure, is asking the Santa Clara County Superior Court to declare Measure E "null and void" and to issue an injunction that would restrain the city from "engaging in any activity pursuant to, or implementation of, Measure E," and for attorney fees.

Jordan alleges in the suit that the city didn't follow the City Charter when it proceeded with the undedication of parkland. The Charter, he wrote in his suit, requires the council to declare that it is considering a vote on the undedication, make findings of "public interest" and convenience that require the undedication and hold a hearing at which protesters have a chance to state their objections.

"Circumvention of any one of these protections violates the City Charter and dilutes the City Charter's protections of parkland that jealously guard parkland unless the Council and the electorate both agree that it is no longer necessary to hold such land as parkland," the suit states.

Though the council remains deeply divided over the proposed waste-to-energy plant, members had voted unanimously to bring the item to the voters. The council placed the item on the ballot after a large coalition of volunteers gathered more than 5,000 signatures, more than enough to qualify it for the election.

The coalition, known as the Palo Alto Green Energy and Compost Initiative, was led by former Mayor Peter Drekmeier, attorney Walt Hays and curbside-recycling pioneer Bob Wenzlau.

Hays disputed Jordan's allegations, saying that the provisions cited in the lawsuit apply to instances in which the council undedicates parkland. In this case, he noted, it was the voters who undedicated it.

"Jordan's petition relies on provisions in the City Charter stating that if parkland is to be undedicated by the Council, it must follow certain procedures that were not followed in Measure E," said Hays, who wrote the ballot initiative. "However, the whole purpose of the initiative process is to enable citizens to enact laws when their elected representatives fail to do so, and since Jordan's interpretation would deprive the public of that right, his lawsuit should fail."

The heated debate was prompted by this year's closure of the city's landfill, which includes the city's composting operation. The current plan calls for shipping local yard trimmings to the Z-Best station in Gilroy. Drekmeier's group has argued against exporting local waste to another city.

The Measure E result does not guarantee that the new plant would be built, but it gives the council an option for where such a facility could potentially be located. The city has hosted numerous public hearings, featuring packed houses, on the proposed anaerobic digestor over the past two years.

City Attorney Molly Stump disputed Jordan's argument that the Measure E process prevented citizens from registering their opposition to the undedication.

"On the contrary, there was a lengthy and robust public debate leading up to Measure E," Stump told the Weekly in an email.

Wenzlau said his group had expected the lawsuit from the opposition camp, which includes prominent conservationists and former council members Emily Renzel and Enid Pearson.

"We expect this lawsuit to be defeated, but our campaign will in any case always make sure that this project is respectful of the adjoining natural habitat, even though the project itself is on the very unnatural site right next to the sewage treatment plant," Wenzlau said in a statement released by a coalition.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Park be Park
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 16, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Thanks Thomas Jordan. I had given up hope.


Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 16, 2011 at 7:59 pm

Typical sore loser. Find a technicality and file a lawsuit. Then the city has to take another vote, waste taxpayer money doing so and then get the same result.

Do you also represent the Firefighter Union?

What a joke.


Like this comment
Posted by get over it
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 16, 2011 at 8:19 pm

Yes, it's one thing to take on the council because you don't like their decision. It's completely another to try to get a vote that passed with a 2/3 majority overturned because you don't like the result.


Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2011 at 9:03 pm

The voters have voted. This will waste so much precious time and money. Please grow up and put you efforts somewhere useful.


Like this comment
Posted by Good
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 16, 2011 at 9:29 pm

Good, I hope they tie up peter, cedric, walter and the rest of this gang in the corys for years to come.


Like this comment
Posted by surprist
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Dec 17, 2011 at 7:44 am

all part of the process, the other side would have sued had it lost

surprised at the negative comments above


Like this comment
Posted by Dave
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 17, 2011 at 9:13 am

This is another prime example of "whaa, I didn't get my way so I'm going to sue". Emily and Enid, get a life and let it go.


Like this comment
Posted by Democracy--Where-The-Minority-Can-Be-The-Majority
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 17, 2011 at 9:30 am

> passed with a 2/3 majority

Well .. maybe, and then again .. maybe not.

The final Measure E "Yes" count was 9,946 out of a total registered count of 35,366 and a total residency count of over 64,000.

At best, this 9,946 "voters" comprises less than 35% of the registered voters, and about 16% of the total residency count for the city.

Yes, this is the way that "democracy" works .. but it's clear that the system clearly needs a quorum added, so that minorities, like the Measure-E supporters, can not win elections by "wide majorities" .. which do not really exist.


Like this comment
Posted by waste
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 17, 2011 at 9:47 am

This lawsuit is a big waste of the city's time and tax payer's money. Don't we have bigger problems to work on?


Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2011 at 4:27 pm

All the voters had the opportunity to vote. When they chose not to vote, they nullified themselves as voters. This is how democracy works. You're dreaming if you think there lurks a passionate majority for the losing side among the non voting numbers.


Like this comment
Posted by Democracy--Where-The-Minority-Can-Be-The-Majority
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 17, 2011 at 5:16 pm

> You're dreaming if you think there lurks a passionate majority
> for the losing side among the non voting numbers.

Why people don't vote is a real problem for democracy. That's why we have super-majorities for jury decisions, many legislative decisions, and why Prop.13's 2/3rds majority for tax increases is so important.

Clearly 10,000 is not a majority of Palo Alto. With a 2/3rds requirement for most votes, this would give the election process more legitimacy, and with a 2/3rds quorum, even more so.

Post election legal action is necessary to keep the playing field as level as possible. There is so much fraud in government to begin with, that even if the election process is "clean", there is every reason to be suspicious of the process leading up to the question being put on the ballot for the voters to make their opinion known.



Like this comment
Posted by Grumpy Granny
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 19, 2011 at 10:49 am

Good old Palo Alto at it again. Sore losers is right. Spoiled kids, that's what...don't get their own way, go to court, never mind the will of the voting public. Hmph!


Like this comment
Posted by get over it
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 19, 2011 at 11:29 am

"... There is so much fraud in government to begin with, that even if the election process is "clean", there is every reason to be suspicious of the process leading up to the question being put on the ballot for the voters to make their opinion known."

Even after you've got a 2/3 majority against you, you *still* insist on throwing mud to justify frivolous litigation.


Like this comment
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2011 at 11:46 am

How frickin' STUPID is this lawsuit!!! We voted, it's done. PERIOD!

@ Observer - THAT"S THE TRUTH!
Everyone had a chance, and if they cared, they DID vote!

@ Democracy - REALLY???! Get over it, accept it, and quit crying - you make our little city look hella stupid when you can't take what the outcome brings.


Like this comment
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2011 at 11:48 am

@ Grumpy Granny - That's right - Tell it like it is!


Like this comment
Posted by JF-Granny
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2011 at 12:10 pm

What else can we expect from a lawyer, but a stupid lawsuit like this. If people were interested in voting, they made it to the polls, those who didn't have to accept the results.

There must be money in it for him or he wouldn't be wasting his precious time!


Like this comment
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of University South
on Dec 19, 2011 at 12:46 pm

YIMBY is a registered user.

I take some solace in knowing that the city will speak for the Measure E proponents now, but it is disturbing this propensity of city activists to sue the city - thinking of Cal' Av streetscape plan now....


Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 19, 2011 at 12:48 pm

"Sore losers..., etc., etc."

As an American, I get concerned big time when our government blows off its own rules. Let's hope it was only carelessness or incompetence by our city attorney and/or city clerk.

Either way, it could be an expensive mistake. If Jordan wins his suit it's time for a big housecleaning at city hall.


Like this comment
Posted by Please, please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 19, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Please counter sue him for attorney fees.


Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 19, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Democracy..etc. One cannot use the "64,000" residents as a way of determining the percentages. That number includes those unable to vote - either by being below 18 or because some chose not to register.

Your registered voters total of 35,366 is a better basis for making comparisons. If some of them chose not to vote, that doesn't mean they either approved or disapproved of the measure.


Like this comment
Posted by Open Space Guardian
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 19, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Parks, open space, and conservation lands are the most valuable land there is — anywhere. Today because of our increasing population and urban sprawl, parks and open space near urban areas are increasingly rare. There are no more baylands to buy in Palo Alto. What we have is all we are going to have.

It is sad to see our parks and open space reduced by allowing a vote of Palo Altans that think they are doing a green act by bringing an anaerobic digester into our city. This is throwing away 10 acres of parkland that you can never get back. It's very sad.


Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 19, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Reading the relevant sections of the ciy charter (Web Link, Article VIII and Appendix A) shows that Jordan has it right. Hays, Wenzlau, and our city attorney have completely goofed up and their legalistic stammering confirms they know it.


Like this comment
Posted by Civic Harmony
a resident of another community
on Dec 19, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Please people, no more controversy in Palo Alto!


Like this comment
Posted by jerryl
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 19, 2011 at 7:36 pm

The lack of fair play of the prop E opponents never ends.
From their ballot arguments implying that 10 acres of the park as we now see it will be turned into an industrial site, until their "sore loser" tactics now, I am just sick of it.

The truth is that 10 acres of the dump were un dedicated (and the worst 10 acres at that). A spot sitting next to the regional sewage treatment plant for heaven's sake. This is hardly one of our most precious resources.

The people who cared expressed their wishes. More people wished the 10 acres be made available for the alternative use. Those people longing to spread their picnic tablecloths right next to the sewage treatment plant were fewer in number.

Why is it that people these days won't take NO for an answer and always turn to the courts to get second, third and fourth chances?


Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 19, 2011 at 7:59 pm

From the Palo Alto City Charter

22.08.003 Lease, abandonment, disposition of parks - State law to govern.
Lands owned or controlled by the city which are used or intended to be used for park purposes shall be sold, leased or otherwise disposed of, or their use abandoned or discontinued only in accordance with the provisions of this chapter. Except as otherwise provided in the Charter, the general laws of the state of California as they existed January 1, 1965, authorizing municipal corporations to abandon or discontinue the use of lands dedicated or placed in use for park purposes, authorizing the sale or other disposition of such lands, and providing procedures therefor and for matters relating thereto (designated as Government Code Article 2, Chapter 9, Part 2, Division 3, Title 4, commencing at Section 38440) shall be applicable to the city of Palo Alto and to all lands owned, used or held by it for park purposes, and said laws shall govern and control exclusively in respect thereto.

(Ord. 4368 § 3 (part), 1996)


Like this comment
Posted by Garden Gnome
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 20, 2011 at 10:50 am

"Democracy", thanks for the laugh!

So according to your logic the current president of the US is also illegitimate. Got it.


Like this comment
Posted by sharon
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 20, 2011 at 11:16 am

Thomas Jordan (aka: "The Grinch"). Move on with your life Thomas Jordan, you cannot always win, Measure E passed. Get a life, move on. The people of Palo Alto voted, you lost----Measure E won it's as simple as that! No more sour apple attitude Thomas "The Grinch" Jordan. :-((


Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 20, 2011 at 8:04 pm

OMG, are they going to allege voter fraud over this? Did someone break the kneecaps of all the would be supporters of keeping the ten already toxic acres as parkland? Cement overshoes? Come on! We have homeless, hungry people right here in town. Please don't bring this lawsuit! I'm an absolute greeny and even I can see that this is wrong.


Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 21, 2011 at 1:51 pm

"OMG, are they going to allege voter fraud over this?"

No, city hall ineptitude.


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

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