Lawsuits were a big theme at Tuesday’s debate


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.