Thursday, July 19, 2007
The group that wants to incorporate Carmel Valley had an unlucky day in court on Friday, July 13.
The pro-incorporation Carmel Valley Forum (CVF) had asked a Superior Court judge to dismiss a claim by the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), which says the citizens’ group owes the agency more than $135,000.
Judge Robert O’Farrell denied CVF’s motion.
Attorneys for CVF argued that LAFCO’s complaint constituted a SLAPP suit (a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). SLAPP suits are seen as retaliatory actions designed to punish political activism. California is one of 35 states that have anti-SLAPP-suit statutes or bills on the books to protect citizens’ rights to petition the government.
“CVF filed an action,” CVF argued, “LAFCO’s response was to file its cross-complaint, seeking an unreasonable, unsubstantiated, illegal and inflated monetary award from CVF, a nonprofit citizens group.”
In March, CVF filed a complaint charging LAFCO with illegally stopping the incorporation process and blocking citizens’ right to vote on the issue – that lawsuit will be heard in October. LAFCO immediately filed a cross-complaint against CVF seeking nearly $137,622 from the nonprofit.
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In May 2003, CVF agreed to pay LAFCO a $5,000 deposit plus fees totaling “the actual cost of preparation” of the incorporation application. At the time, LAFCO estimated that these costs would run about $100,000.
In 2005, after years of meetings and comprehensive studies, LAFCO board members issued a finding that the proposed incorporation petition would not need a full-scale Environmental Impact Report. But in October 2006, a new LAFCO board told incorporation supporters that in order to proceed, they would need to pay for several new studies, including an EIR.
In March 2006, after five months of failed talks with the government agency, CFV filed a lawsuit. To date, the group has paid LAFCO $122,180.
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Although the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research estimates the cost of incorporation at between $50,000 to $150,000, LAFCO says it has incurred costs of $268,801.99 in processing the Carmel Valley incorporation petition. Attorneys argue that these costs “are within the range of what other incorporation proposals have cost.”
LAFCO Executive Officer Kate McKenna sites two examples: The recently-incorporated city of El Dorado Hills that cost about $396,000, and a proposed incorporation in San Diego County, estimated at about $550,000.
CVF Attorney Michael Stamp says these examples are bogus. “They picked two extreme examples that are particularly difficult and unusual types of incorporation processes, completely unlike the Carmel Valley situation,” he says. “They’re bigger, and much more complex. The costs in El Dorado Hills were identified up front. It’s sort of the other-people-are-going-faster-so-I-shouldn’t-get-a-ticket approach.”