Anonymous tipster vexes HMB City Hall

Posted by on Wed, May 16, 2007

An anonymous tipster is causing havoc in Half Moon Bay City Hall, reports the County Times.

In April, the city began receiving a flurry of building appeals from two people operating under the assumed names Robert LeBaron, Nancy LeBaron and David Meir (sometimes spelled Meier). A series of accompanying letters, faxed from untraceable sources, shows the appellants claim to be a couple living in Half Moon Bay under a different name. The appeals were sent from two different Half Moon Bay post of- fice boxes with no accompanying phone number. Fees forthe appeals were sent as anonymous money orders from stores like Safeway.

The letters — which have grown increasingly belligerent over time — also demonstrate an uncanny ability to listen in to conversations at City Hall.

"My friends at Half Moon Bay tell me you had your review today. Hope it went well," wrote "David Meier" in a comment addressed to City Manager Marcia Raines in a letter dated May 8. Raines had indeed just received an employee review the previous afternoon.
Even without an address or a valid name to go by, the anonymous senders succeeded in appealing one case all the way to the City Council — a zoning issue for a single-family home the Council was scheduled to hear last night.

And they brought a legitimate problem with a sign at the new Popeye’s Chicken to the attention of the planning commission. Meanwhile, City Hall is tightening security. 

Coastsider has also received information from the anonymous tipster.

Given the viciousness of local politics here, I think that it’s perfectly reasonable to accept anonymous appeals.  (When I first read the article, I thought the opposite, but I’ve reconsidered.  The fact that I started out agreeing with the premise of the article shows how artfully this situation has been spun.)

If the basis of an appeal has merit, why does it matter that it’s anonymous?  If you call the police and say someone has been shot, do they refuse to investigate unless you identify yourself?  Yes, they ask, but if you refuse to answer I don’t think that they ignore the report.  If you report a building on fire, do they refuse to send a fire engine if you don’t identify yourself?  Why is an appeal of a planning decision any different?  If the law is being violated, it needs attention, regardless of who is pointing the finger.

As to all the other fun and games mentioned in the SMCT article, well, it’s entertaining.  I just hope there isn’t any true security problem, but there may be more to it than what was stated in the article.

The article states “[...] and the staff time wasted in responding to anonymous appeals”.  Again, if an appeal has merit, it’s not a waste of time.  Staff who are trying to paper over violations of the law may consider it a waste of time.

The most important sentences in the article are these:

The appeals rely on technicalities to make a larger point — that the planning staff does not always follow its own rules.

In the case of the Popeye’s Chicken appeal, it turns out the appellants were right:

Given the possible inside knowledge, might this be one or more local HMB whistleblowers trying to avoid the “kill the messenger” consequences that often befall such people?

Carl May

I hear-by nominate Serinus canaria absconditus as the official city bird of Half Moon Bay.

But since I am not a resident of this fine city I shall send a letter to the city council with my suggestion, using an appropriate nom de plume and a Half Moon Bay return address.

I would appreciate any suggestions for an identity to use. (I don’t think Big Bird would be believable, but then one never knows…) Also, would someone be so kind as to let me use their address?