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June 01, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, June 01, 2005

A sign of things to come? A sign of things to come? (June 01, 2005)

Messy chapter in Palo Alto politics ends as restraining order against potential City Council candidate withdrawn

by Bill D'Agostino

A restraining order against Palo Alto neighborhood leader and potential City Council candidate Doug Moran has been withdrawn, but other likely contenders are worried the incident could be a sign of ugliness to come.

"I hope it's not a harbinger of how nasty the election is going to get," said Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto, who confirmed she is running for re-election in November. "We all want to stay focused on the issues."

Earlier this year, local real estate developer Mark Migdal applied for, and received, a temporary restraining order against Moran, the president of the Barron Park Association. Migdal claimed Moran asked a neighbor to kill him.

But last Friday, the restraining order was withdrawn because the neighbor, who reportedly has cancer, was being treated in a New York hospital and unavailable to testify.

The legal move seemingly ended a bizarre chapter in Palo Alto land-use politics, although recriminations and allegations continued to spiral afterward.

Moran, who lives across the street from a property that Migdal tried for years to develop, has repeatedly denied the accusation. Last week, he wondered if politics played a role in the restraining order, or at least in its publicity.

"My reaction is this a clever variation of a SLAPP ("Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) lawsuit," Moran said.

"It's a level of ugliness which I would have hoped didn't exist," he added. "You don't want it to warp who you are."

Before he was asked about the potential relationship between the restraining order and local politics, Migdal mentioned Moran's presumed aspirations. "A person like this does not belong on the City Council and, God forbid, to be mayor some day," he said.

However, Migdal denied that politics played a role in his decision to seek a restraining order.

"This was not motivated by anything at all but my safety," Migdal said. "He simply did a very wrong thing and the police told me to take it seriously."

Another wrinkle in the tale is the fact that Owen Byrd, Migdal's land use attorney, first alerted the Palo Alto Daily News to the restraining order, thereby making it public, according to the developer. One of Byrd's former clients is architect John Barton, the president of the school board, who is also seriously considering running for City Council.

Byrd was unavailable for comment. Barton, who described himself as Byrd's friend, said the notion that politics played a role in Byrd's decision to raise the issue publicly is "patently false and borders on libelous," and described it as "standard Palo Alto rumor mill nonsense."

"It makes me angry," he said. "We have so many issues to deal with in this community, so much work to do, and we're going to waste political capital on silliness."

If the intent of the legal maneuverings or its publicity was indeed to get Moran to not run for council, it may be successful. Via e-mail, Moran noted that he is taking "a little time to see how this story plays before making a definite decision one way or the other."

Staff Writer Bill D'Agostino can be e-mailed at [email protected]

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