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Schocken Hill appeal delayed

City postpones hearing over concern of legal action

By CHRISTIAN KALLEN

INDEX-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

A combined appeal to three home developments on upper Fourth Street East and Brazil Street, approved by the Planning Commission in August and September last year, was to be heard by the City Council at its Feb. 5 meeting. According to a Jan. 30 statement from Planning Director David Goodison, those appeals will not be heard at that meeting, but may be delayed for up to a month.

Goodison’s statement said that on Jan. 26, the deadline for submitting information for the agenda packet, “the City received additional information

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that requires review and analysis. In order to be fully prepared for the appeal hearing, the City needs additional time to review the submittals.”

That additional information was evidently, at least in part, a Jan. 26 letter from Zacks, Freedman and Patterson, a law firm representing Bill Jasper, the owner of the three properties, which questions the city’s legal standing in denying the developments.

“It is unlawful for the City to reject a housing development project for reasons not specified in the HAA” (California’s Housing Accountability Act), read the letter. It goes on to suggest that any action the council takes to modify or deny the permits “would be a violation of the HHA,” subject the city to a potential “order or judgment compelling compliance,” and that it would be liable for attorney fees and costs.

In other words, the firm suggests that the City Council cannot deny the Planning Commission’s decision, and could face legal action if they do so.

Reached by phone, Jasper denied that there was a threat in the letter. “Absolutely not,” he said. “The purpose of the letter is to bring forth the legal arguments to hear the appeal.” He said he would still be happy to have the City Council hearing on Monday, Feb. 5, but it was delayed by the city for reasons he didn’t understand. He pointed out that the Altamira affordable housing project appeal on Jan. 22 also had similar arguments presented, but that appeal was heard without delay.

“The Altamira appeal was filed three months after the first two appeals to ours, yet heard before ours,” said Jasper. City records show the Altamira appeal was filed on Nov. 27, 2018; the appeal dates for Jasper’s properties were filed on Aug. 25 and Sept. 29.

“The city has been dragging their heels on this for five months, at some point they have to hear it. We want it heard,” he said. Jasper is an investor with Sonoma Media Investments, which publishes the Index-Tribune.

The lawyers’ letter was not the only material that the city had to grapple with in the recent weeks, said City Manager David Goodison, both from the public and the applicant. “This information includes a preliminary detention analysis, a preliminary drainage analysis of the Fourth Street East/Brazil neighborhood, a video, new exhibits regarding the visual analysis, new additional information on drainage and legal correspondence,” said Goodison in response to an Index-Tribune inquiry.

“These items require analysis by City staff in order to be prepared to provide information to the City Council and community for the hearing of the three appeals.”

The three projects – one at 149 Fourth St. E., and on two as-yet-unaddressed lots near 95 Brazil St., a house owned by a trust in Jasper’s children’s name – were bundled together both in the appeals and by the ity council, because they share contiguous properties, a common driveway, common ownership and other development features, including the architect.

The properties are zoned Hillside Residential, and are on the lower slopes of Schocken Hill, as yet largely undeveloped. Those who brought the appeals to the Planning Commission’s approval contend the properties are subject to the city’s Hillside Ordinance, passed in 2003.

City Attorney Jeffery Walter was not available to weigh in on the letter, or respond to the press, as he is out of the office until Feb. 2. His absence may also be a factor the city’s delay of the hearing.

“Setting an appeal date is complicated by the fact that it needs to work for the City Council, staff, the appellants, and the applicants,” said Goodison. But he is expected to announce a new date at the Feb. 5 City Council meeting.

A view of Schocken Hill rising beyond Sebastiani Winery’s Cherry Block vineyard on Lovall Valley Road.

ROBBI PENGELLY/INDEX-TRIBUNE

‘It is unlawful for the City to reject a housing development project for reasons not specified in the (Housing Accountability Act)’

— attorneys with Zacks, Freedman and Patterson

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