Fairness of city rejection of gas-station plan debate

Fairness of city rejection of gas-station plan debate

Attorneys for the city and developer Paul Petrovich debated in court today whether he was fairly treated two years ago when City Council rejected his plan to build a 16-nozzle gas station in the commercial center of Crocker Village.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny listened to four hours of argument on the merits of Petrovich’s lawsuit, which claims he was denied due process in City Council’s rejection of his request for a conditional use permit. The lawsuit asksthe court to order the city to allow Petrovich to build the gas station.

The courtroom was packed with about 40 spectators, mostly Curtis Park residents, when the hearing began. About half returned for the afternoon session.

In advance of the hearing, the judge had asked attorneys to address two pieces of evidence mentioned by Petrovich’s attorneys in a legal brief last week: City Councilmember Jay Schenirer’s life membership in the Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association; and an email sent by then-mayoral aide Scott Whyte the day of the 2015 City Council hearing that Petrovich’s attorneys characterized as a “script” for a predetermined outcome.

At today’s court hearing, Petrovich attorney Jason Smith displayed numerous emails and text messages from 2015 between Schenirer and SCNA President Eric Johnson as evidence of Schenirer’s alleged bias against the developer and coordination with SCNA. Smith said, “Schenirer so significantly tainted the rest of Council that there was no chance of a fair, unbiased hearing” before the full City Council. Smith also argued that there was a “complete lack of evidence” in support of the Council decision to deny Petrovich permission to build the gas station. “There was no rational reason to deny the use permit,” Smith said.

In rebuttal for the city, attorney Shaye Diveley said Council’s decision was based on “substantial evidence,” namely the city’s general plan that discourages auto-related uses around transit centers; and the detrimental impact of a gas station onthe surrounding neighborhood.

Representing SCNA and its board members, attorney Patrick Soluri said Council members “have a right and duty to discuss issues of public interest with constituents.”

Judge Kenny expressed little interest in the question of Schenirer’s life membership in SCNA, commenting at one point, “It is very hard to see a situation where a political representative is not going to participate in some part in the community.” However, the judge asked the attorneys, before a lunch break, to consider whether the Whyte email and a “talking points” memo showed a predisposition to oppose Petrovich’s request for a conditional use permit.

The reason the gas station issue was before City Council in 2015 was that SCNA had appealed a decision of the city planning commission to approve a conditional use permit to allow Petrovich to build a gas station adjacent to a proposed Safeway supermarket at the southwest corner of the development.

Although Petrovich’s lawsuit specifically names as defendants only the city and city officials, it identifies as “real parties in interest” the neighborhood association, SCNA President Johnson, and SCNA board member Andrea Rosen.

Judge Kenny has 90 days to issue a written decision on Petrovich’s lawsuit.

By Dennis Cusick, Viewpoint Editor

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