Lawsuits were a big theme at Tuesday’s debate


Posted by on Wed, October 26, 2005

Cheri Parr
The candidates consider their next move as Bonnie McClung takes the mike.

I can’t say that anyone learned anything new at the Chamber of Commerce’s debate for Half Moon Bay City Council on Tuesday night.  Most of the audience had come to support their favorite candidates, and the candidates didn’t say very much that was new.

Grady was stolid, Patridge was well-spoken, Skinner seemed like a very nice man, Muteff seemed like a very angry man, McClung seemed dazed, and Ferreira seemed avuncular.

I may post more later, but one particularly interesting part of the debate revolved around lawsuits. There was one mildly exciting moment at the very end.  In his conclusion, George Muteff very effectively waved a copy of the blacked-out due diligence report on the new park.  Mike Ferreira dedicated his conclusion to saying the city had redacted worst-case scenarios from their lawyers, and that the redacted paragraphs amounted to a manual on how to sue the city and stop the park. Ferreira noted that the judge agreed and allowed the redactions.

Speaking of lawyers, I did figure out one thing that I had been gnawing on, or had been gnawing on me, for a while.  George Muteff and his supporters have been pushing hard to make the city’s legal expenses a campaign issue. It seems backwards. The city is never the plaintiff. I don’t understand why Muteff isn’t angry at all the people suing his city.

Somebody, presumably a supporter of Muteff’s, lobbed a question into the debate about all the money the city is spending on lawyers. City Council members Ferreira and Grady made what I thought was a reasonable point: if you fold up every time some out-of-town attorney drops a lawsuit on you, the result is not going to be fewer lawsuits, it’s going to be more lawsuits. That’s the way it works with bullies.

Patridge, Muteff, and McClung took another approach. Patridge wanted to get rid of the city’s law firm and hire a full-time attorney. Muteff said to "Stop putting the Coastal Commission ahead of Half Moon Bay residents."  He talks like that—in folksy and common-sensical non sequiturs.

I’m a little slow on the uptake sometimes. I finally realized tonight why they’re making all this fuss about attorney fees. Not only can you save a bundle by cutting legal expenses, but you can strip the city of its ability to enforce the Coastal Act, and its own laws for that matter. It’s what they call a win-win.

You’re right on track with your analysis of the argument about legal expenses.  Good towns NEED good lawyers.  We save money when our law firm defends HMB against special interest groups that don’t agree with our land use policies or the wishes of our citizens and community.  We save money when our law firm settles litigation before it goes to trial (Wavecrest, for example). Our law firm is our strongest defense and the best way to protect the rights of our community. Cutting our legal budget will actually encourage more litigation by reducing our ability to mount a defense. It is ludicrous to think that we can protect the rights of our citizens if we undermine the strenghth of our legal team. (Steve “Agent” Skinner)

I am voting Ferreira, Grady, and Skinner on November 8. Naomi can’t fill Mike’s shoes and will only interrupt the business of a council that is good for HMB.  Heck, even the REVIEW dropped George ‘what is his last name again?’ and Bonnie MC Who?
Yes on O & P.  Pat Chimienti

Comment 3
Thu, October 27, 2005 3:45pm
Ric Lohman
All my comments

Another ironic thing about the “Too much being spent on lawyer fees” argument…
It is interesting to note that the candidates who always bring this up are those backed by the “Big Development” coalitions.
So, guess who is always suing the city…
Right, the “Big Development” coalitions. Maybe these candidates should simply look in the mirror.
Voters should pick Ferreira, Grady and Skinner because they solve problems, not create them.

Let me give a specific example to elaborate on Ric’s comment about “solve problems, not create them.”  The Terrace Ave area people are upset with Mike and Jim, blaming them for the Pacific Ridge settlement which will bring traffic from maybe 60 homes through Terrace.  But that was a solution, because Pacific Ridge was approved by Naomi to be hundreds of houses.  Naomi created the problem by approving a subdivision that should not have been approved.

Comment 5
Fri, October 28, 2005 10:17pm
HMB Ranger
All my comments

I’m curious Idw - why exactly should the Pacific Ridge subdivision not have been approved?

(1) Ag land
(2) approval of new subdivisions is generally discretionary
(3) under State law, approval of new subdivisions requires making findings that probably weren’t made for Pacific Ridge because I don’t think they can be made anywhere on the Coastside
(4) the Coastside already has an excess of residential, why create more
(5) since houses are a net drain on a city’s finances, new subdivisions end up costing existing residents
and most importantly:
(6) why SHOULD it have been approved?  There is exactly ZERO benefit to the city for approving that subdivision, but the costs are significant.

Comment 7
Sun, October 30, 2005 12:56pm
HMB Ranger
All my comments

(1) Huh? It’s zoned PUD (Planned Unit Development).
(2) See above. Development is not discretionary, it’s based on land use policies, planning & zoning.
(3) Not sure what specific findings you’re talking about here, but I’m sure if state law is being violated, a settlement would never have been reached.
(4) See (1) & (2). If the City wants to stop development, the General Plan (Local Coastal Program in this case) should reflect that.
(5) All land, developed or not, produces revenue. If there’s a net loss, then perhaps finances, i.e. expenditures, aren’t being managed properly.
(6) See 1,2, and 4 above.

(1) Somehow I don’t think it’s been zoned PUD forever.  It was previously ag land.  Notice that it used to be called Dykstra Ranch?
(2) The rezoning to PUD was discretionary.
(3) The law was violated at the time of the subdivision.  That’s long past.
(4) But the damage has been done by the rezoning / subdivision, and it’s very difficult legally to undo that.
(5) That statement is so ridiculous that it’s difficult to argue with.  If a house brings in $3000/year in taxes but it costs $3700/year to provide city services that are required as a result of that house being there, it’s a net loss.  Your thinly-veiled slam about managing expenses is a straw-man argument.  Every city in California knows that houses are a net loss.  Are you going to claim that every city in California is mismanaging their finances?
(6) You have given no reasons whatsoever why the subdivision should have been approved.  You can’t claim the PUD zoning requires the subdivision to be allowed because the only reason for the *discretionary* rezoning from ag to PUD in the first place would have been to facilitate development as a subdivision.  If there was no subdivision intent there would have been no reason to rezone to PUD.

I stand by my statement that the current mess is Naomi’s fault.

Comment 9
Mon, October 31, 2005 7:49am
HMB Ranger
All my comments

A couple of comments, because its pretty pointless to have a discussion when you throw out so many unsupported “facts”.

I highly doubt that residential improved land is a net loss for every city in California, but I can’t prove it at the moment. If you can back up your statement, I’d love to see that proof. Revenue comes from property taxes. Prop 13 holds taxes down based on FMV at time of purchase. If on the average, homes are a net loss, that means that new homes help close the gap since the owners pay substantially more in property taxes than long-term owners do. Every time a house is sold, revenue goes up as well. Say - maybe we should get rid of Prop 13 - do you support that?

You use the word “discretionary” alot, and I’m not sure why. There is a very formal process that creates land use policies, zoning maps, ordinances etc. You seem to imply someone (Naomi?) can come along and just change things at a whim. That’s simply not the case. You talk about laws being violated, but give no specifics. I guess you don’t want to be pinned down, but it makes your arguments pretty weak.

Why should a subdivision be approved? If it fits in with the City’s plans for growth, as reflected in the land use policies and zoning maps. We have measure A, and now we’re getting measure D, so it’s clear it’s going to be alot harder to propose new residential subdivisions than it has been in the past, no matter who wins on Nov 8.

From the City’s Fiscal Analysis

“...typical new residential in the City does not generate sufficient revenues to fully offset the costs of providing essential municipal services
to the new develpment.”

Is HMB Ranger arguing that essential municipal services could be delivered at a cheaper cost? The City’s biggest municipal expense is the Police Department I believe. So would HMB Ranger suggest cutting back on the Police Department’s budget?

Apparently that is what he’s suggesting.  He’s clearly a “houses everywhere, logic be damned” person.  Kevin, thanks for providing the link, and quoting the fundamental conclusion.

Note that this document was written by a firm whose business it is to analyze these things.

In response to HMB’s Rangers latest comment, yes, there’s a “formal process”, but the approvals are still discretionary.

I’m not going to argue with HMB Ranger any more on this, since he thinks that his “facts” are supported and that mine aren’t, there’s clearly no point.  He in fact has presented no support whatsoever for his claims.

You guys are rich. I can see now why your “facts” are so distorted. You make them up as you go, like the one where I’m supposedly advocating cutting the police services budget.

I never argued that HMB did not have a net fiscal loss per house - I challenged ldw’s statement that “Every city in California knows that houses are a net loss”. Nevertheless, Kevin’s reference contains a flawed financial model. Homes don’t sell every 7 years in one big bang. If the model showed turnover every year (like in the real world) property tax revenue would be somewhat higher based on compound appreciation. Finally, the conclusion points out that the breakeven point is a $1M per home sales price, and that even back in 2003 new homes were selling well in excess of that. But don’t let documented facts get in your way boys.

HMB Ranger obviously wasn’t a math major.

I agree that the City’s Fiscal Analysis makes some simplfying assumptions, as does any model. That does not render the conclusions invalid. HMB Ranger points out some assumptions that, if changed in the direction he (or she) believes, could reduce the net fiscal burden per new house.

But I can think of other assumptions that, if changed, could push the conclusion in the opposite direction. Example: The study does not take into account the lost City tax revenue from tourism when overconstruction of new houses results in congested freeways which then restrict coastal access.

Restricted coastal access also imposes a huge private cost that is borne by people who are not lucky enough to live on the Coastside.

ldw: you are a piece of work. Folks like you make me wonder why I bother with this website - views are so biased and personal attacks flow so freely.

Kevin: I agree that models can be manipulated to support any conclusion. Nonetheless they are a useful tool as long as they get reviewed and refined. If you have data showing the City lost tourism revenue, that should be factored in. But I think if you bring HMB’s tourist revenue into the picture (i.e. the Ritz-Carlton T.O.T. and related revenue) you’ll find the bottom line much more in the black. 

Personally, I am not interested in alot of new subdivisions, but my personal opinions really don’t and shouldn’t matter, by themselves. What matters is the City’s policies and planning process I wrote of earlier - that was my main point. I’d also like to see the City’s policies reflect the majority of HMB residents, and I’d like to see more fiscal responsibility.

First of all, I wouldn’t judge a site by a few of the posters.  Keep in mind that many others are reading and not “joining in”. Barry Parr, the owner of the sight is always thoughtful, and importantly, factual.

You might also keep in mind that you ask the question, “why shouldn’t Pacific Ridge been approved” that you may actually get a variety of answers.  Calling ldw a piece of work only fuels the fire. is the only fair media outlet we have here on the coast, and I appreciate having an alternative to our so-called newspaper.

Comment 17
Mon, October 31, 2005 10:10pm
Barry Parr
All my comments

I’ve asked ldw and hmbranger to cool it, stick to the facts, and forego the personal comments.