Pleasanton Weekly

News - February 18, 2011

Judge continues to lean toward Pleasanton in Lin case

Ruling could dismiss case, but may be appealed

by Glenn Wohltmann

Pleasanton has won another round in its legal battle with the landowners who have sued the city for the right to build 51 houses on 600 acres they own in the southeast hills.

Last week after hearing arguments from both sides, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said she's inclined to stick with her tentative ruling, which could dismiss the lawsuit filed by Jennifer and Fredric Lin.

The family is suing the city after its plan to build the homes was defeated in a referendum on June 8, with 54.3% opposing the measure.

The original issue was what's known as "poison pill," language that says if one of the two ordinances is invalid, the other ordinance is voided as well. The Lin's lawsuit claims that Measure D, last year's referendum, only concerned Ordinance No. 1961, 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, which specified various aspects of the project, authorized by Ordinance No. 1962.

Both ordinances were approved by the City Council, but a grassroots group spearheaded by former City Councilwoman Kay Ayala and resident Karla Brown successfully brought Ordinance No. 1961 to a referendum.

At last week's hearing on Feb. 10, the Lin's lawyer, Andrew Saley, argued that even if both ordinances are invalid, Pleasanton had a development agreement, which was a separate contract with the Lins. That contract, according to Saley, should take precedent over the ordinances, and the city failed in its obligation "to protect the contractual rights of the Lins."

"They can rescind the ordinances, but they didn't rescind the D.A. (development agreement)," Saley said "If we lose this D.A., the damages are massive."

Those damages could lead to a separate lawsuit against the city, with the Lin family asking to be paid what it would have earned through the sale of the lots on its property.

Saley said Rogers' ruling on the lawsuit could be overturned, implying that the family would appeal the ruling should the judge not back the claim.

That ruling came Feb. 7, when Rogers said she "is inclined to sustain the city's demurrer as to all causes of action."

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

In her original ruling, 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, "basic principles 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."

Both sides had until Feb. 15 to file briefs of no more than 10 pages to support their arguments; Rogers will issue her final ruling after reviewing those briefs.

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