Lawsuit filed against Potrero group, county
By Miriam Raftery
The East County Californian
May 3, 2007
A lawsuit has been filed by Potrero resident Zoe Rosell against County officials seeking to overturn a December 2006 vote taken by the Potrero Planning Group (PPG) in favor of allowing Blackwater USA to build an military and law enforcement training facility on an 824-acre site in Potrero. In a separate action, citizens of Potrero are gearing up to recall multiple members of the Potrero Planning Group.
“It is imperative that the Potrero Planning Group follow all legal requirements, including provisions of the Brown Act, so that individual members of the community can be heard on issues affecting them so close to home,” the lawsuit states, “and that the position of the local community is made known to the County through the intended Potrero Planning Group process as an advisory group to the County Board of Supervisors.”
Rosell filed the lawsuit against the PPG and its members, Chairman Gordon Hammers, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, and the San Diego Department of Planning & Land Use (DPLU).
Lawsuit seeks to void Planners’ vote
The suit alleges that inadequate notice was provided to the community prior to a 7-0 vote taken at the December meeting.
Potrero Planners attached specific conditions to the vote, including satisfactory results from a live-fire noise test. That test was later cancelled by the property owner due to liability concerns. But, the court documents reveal, “the vote record turned in to the County to reflect the December 14, 2006 vote and the conditions is blank.” Nor were minutes or transcripts of the PPG meetings included in County records, the lawsuit alleges.
“It is clear that Gordon Hammers, as the Chair and the Potrero Planning Group have not documented the participation of the citizens of Potrero and the surrounding communities adequately,” the suit further states, adding that the Board of Supervisors which ultimately decides controversial land use issues has not been apprised of citizens’ concerns. “Therefore based upon the written record, it can certainly appear to the County that the local citizens are in favor of Blackwater USA and that there is no dissension in the community…” After opposition was voiced, the suit further contends, “The Potrero Planning Group is excluding that opposition from the vote record that is intended to be part of the democratic process…”
Asked about the lawsuit, Hammers replied, “In my eyes the suit is completely without merit.”
Hammers said he remembers mailing a completed form to the County but did not make a copy to keep. He disputes the contention that a blank form was filed. “The County had the original form 534. It hadn’t even been folded, therefore it could not have been what they sent me,” he said, adding that the form he returned “apparently got misdirected somewhere.”
Hammers said he asked Greg Kryzs, project manager at DPLU at the time, about the missing paperwork. “He said so many people have handled that file, there was no telling who it was. It may have been removed.”
Hammers added that he offered to return the form to his board and fill it out again, but was assured by Kryzs that there was no need, since community opposition has been “well publicized in the media.” Media reports, however, are not considered part of the project’s official public record.
The lawsuit also alleges that records are missing from County files and that citizens’ were refused access to some records that were previously available to the public.
In addition, Rosell accuses Hammers of violating provisions of the Brown Act, which mandates open government procedures. Although the Brown Act states that citizens may not be compelled to sign in at a public meeting, Hammers refused to allow Rosell to speak at a March meeting even after provisions of the Brown Act were read aloud by Ray Lutz, founder of the Citizens Oversight Panels.
Rosell issued a “cure and correct” letter asking Hammers to address alleged Brown Act violations prior to filing her lawsuit, but before learning of the blank vote record and missing minutes/transcript. According to Rosell, Hammers responded with a letter on his own without meeting with the PPG, canceling an April meeting and refusing several residents’ requests to reschedule it in time to meet a late-April deadline for public comment. (That deadline has since been extended by the County to May 25.)
“This is not a proper legal response,” the lawsuit states, adding that a cure and correct letter requires action taken by the full PPG, not solely by its chairman.
A motion for write of mandamus, injunction and declaratory relief filed by Rosell in the County of San Diego Superior Court, East County Division, asks the Court to declare the December vote null and void and to further declare any action taken by the Board of Supervisors based upon the PPG vote to also be nullified until a lawful vote is taken and recorded to the County.
Hammers called the lawsuit “nitpicking.” He added, “She [Rosell] is using this to disrupt the whole process.”
Until the lawsuit is resolved, Hammers said, “I will not have any more Blackwater related items on the agenda…We will have an executive session where we will discuss it...I am not going to give these nitpickers any more opportunities for airing their grievances. We had a nice, peaceful community here and these anti- people are not willing to use the process in a community friendly manner.”
Rosell, who lives on the rim of the Hauser wilderness area, contends that she is the one seeking to preserve the area’s peaceful nature. Her lawsuit states that “the proposed use by Blackwater is highly out of character for the rural, wilderness area.”
County spokesperson Mike Workman assured, “We are fully committed to providing public documents and public information to the public.”
He confirmed that that the County received notice of legal action regarding Blackwater late Tuesday, shortly before press deadline. “We would not be able to comment on it nor its merits until we have had a chance to review it.”
Residents of Potrero are not waiting for a Court decision to address what many feel is a planning group that has been unresponsive to the will of the majority. An effort to recall Hammers and most other Potrero Planning Group members is underway, Rosell’s lawsuit states. Another Potrero resident has confirmed that a recall movement has begun against several PPG members who voted in favor of the Blackwater project, and that replacement candidates have stepped forward to run.
Democratic resolution to block Blackwater fails
A resolution introduced by Lutz at the California Democratic Convention sought to block Blackwater’s Potrero project and further, restrict military and paramilitary training facilities to government-operated sites. The measure was blocked in the Resolutions Committee, but Lutz indicated he may seek to reintroduce it at the CDP Executive Board Meeting in July.
Theodore “Ted” Smith III, a delegate from Los Angeles, objected to the resolution on grounds that the State of California has contracts with Blackwater.
Congressman Bob Filner (D-San Diego) addressed a Stop Blackwater rally across the street from the convention Saturday morning. He indicated that he will seek to introduce federal legislation patterned after Lutz’s resolution that could block Blackwater’s plans at the federal level.
After The East County Californian published an article indicating that Blackwater representatives have been meeting with other public officials for months but had not contacted Filner, the company has since met with the Congressman. “It was a good meeting,” Brian Bonfiglio, vice president of Blackwater West, disclosed. “I gave him a brief and he gave me no indication either way.”
-- Miriam Raftery
- 08 May 2007