Pleasanton Weekly

News - February 11, 2011

City wins tentative ruling in housing lawsuit

Oral arguments were to be heard yesterday in landowners case

by Glenn Wohltmann

Pleasanton has won a tentative favorable ruling in the its legal battle with landowners Jennifer and Fredric Lin, who have sued the city for the right to build 51 houses on 600 acres they own in the southeast hills.

The family is suing the city after its plan to build the homes was scuttled by voters in June, with 54.3% opposing the measure.

At issue is what's known as a "poison pill." The lawsuit claims that last year's referendum only concerned Ordinance No. 1961 adopted by the City Council, which called for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) for the number of lots allowed and where they would be placed. The Lin family claims the vote did not affect the development agreement specifying various aspects of the project, authorized by Ordinance No. 1962 and also approved by the City Council.

In simple terms, a poison pill is language inserted into each approval which says that if one of the two ordinances is invalid, the other ordinance is also invalid.

In a tentative ruling released Monday, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said "she is inclined to sustain the city's demurrer as to all causes of action."

A demurrer is a legal mechanism to have a complaint filed by an opposing party dismissed by the court, in this case, the city asking that the court dismiss the Lin family's lawsuit.

Rogers cited a 2010 ruling in a comparable case, Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition LLC v. Town of Mammoth Lakes, in which the developer made a similar claim. Her tentative ruling stated, "the Court interprets Ordinance No. 1961, Ordinance No. 1962, and the development agreement to constitute an integrated contract designed to be read and interpreted together."

She said, "(b)asic principals of contract law can be applied to interpretation of the ordinances and the development agreement," and "the plain terms of Ordinance No. 1962 state that it shall be of no force and effect if Ordinance No. 1961 is set aside by referendum."

The case is not over, according to Pleasanton City Attorney Jonathan Lowell.

The judge has directed that the parties appear for further argument. Rogers says she "will wait until after oral argument to decide whether the demurrer is sustained with leave to amend or not."

That means the judge was to listen to oral arguments yesterday before deciding whether the Lins will be allowed to amend their complaint and fix the defects the city identified in its demurrer.

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