Friends of Pine Meadow Wins State Court of Appeal Ruling on Pine Meadow
The First District Court of Appeal unanimously upheld a lower court ruling tossing out a developer lawsuit against Friends of Pine Meadow and five individuals for trying to convince the City Council to preserve Pine Meadow as open space/recreation.
The Court of Appeal found that the lawsuit, brought by plaintiffs Christine Dean, DeNova Homes, and Civic Martinez LLC, was properly dismissed as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP Suit). By law, the defendants will be allowed to recover legal fees and costs.
“SLAPP suits like this threaten citizens who speak out against powerful or wealthy interests on public issues. The Court of Appeal’s decision is a victory for anyone who has been intimidated and frightened or kept from speaking out because of the threat of being taken to court,” said Stuart Flashman, defendants’ co-counsel.
The court upheld a ruling, under California’s “anti-SLAPP statute,” that the defendants were sued for statements and acts made on a topic of public interest, and that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that their claims—which included defamation, interference with contracts and business interests, and conspiracy—were supported by evidence.
“Free speech on public issues—at government meetings, in the newspaper, on the streets—is protected by our state and federal constitutions,” said Fred Woocher, defendants’ co-counsel. “Regardless of the issues, our right to free speech is a cornerstone of our democracy.”
The Court ruling states, “SLAPP plaintiffs do not intend to win their suits; rather, they are filed solely for delay and distraction…and to punish activists by imposing litigation costs on them for exercising their constitutional right to speak and petition the government for redress of grievances.”
Defendant Mark Thomson said, “The right to speak out on public issues is core to our democracy and this court decision reinforces that right. The idea of intimidating those with different views than yours via lawsuit is reprehensible. The SLAPP suit brought by Christine Dean, DeNova Homes and Civic Martinez was clearly an attempt to stifle the free speech rights of the defendants as well as the community and nothing more. The specter of being sued for comments at public meetings or right to petition has made many good citizens concerned about their right to speak.
“Friends of Pine Meadow has already called upon the Martinez City Council to provide a clear explanation to the public that they have the right to speak on public issues before the Council and in public forums,” he said.
“The main reason a strong anti-SLAPP law is on the books in California is to protect our right to free speech. But it is up to everyday citizens to work to protect that right. We hope this victory makes it clear that they will,” said defendant Tim Platt.
Lawsuit Filed over City Council Decision to Rewrite Pine Meadow History
The Martinez City Council resolution to reverse the forty-three year old open space designation of Pine Meadow has been challenged in court by Friends of Pine Meadow and Tim Platt, a Martinez resident active in open space/park and other local issues since 1988. “The only recourse the public has for wrongful and illegal decisions like this by the City Council is, unfortunately, to challenge them in court,” says Platt.
In January, City Council Resolution 011-17 reversed the open space designation for Pine Meadow that has been in place since 1973, stating that designation was an error and should be changed to residential. The vote was 4-1, with Lara DeLaney voting against the resolution.
Plaintiff lawyer Stu Flashman states, “The City Council action violates state law. It flies in the face of the recent California Supreme Court decision in Orange Citizens and circumvents the public right to referendum. Making public decisions the way the City Council did is not just bad government, it is flat-out illegal.”
The suit challenging that resolution was filed against the Martinez City Council and the City on April 17, 2017. The suit names DeNova Homes, Inc. and Civic Martinez, LLC, the current developers/owners of Pine Meadow, as Real Parties in Interest.
The suit contends that the City Council hearing did not proceed in the manner required by law, that the findings reached by the Council were not supported by the evidence, and that the hearing was held in a manner that denied the public a meaningful opportunity to review, respond to and rebut misrepresentations.
“This City Council decision to rewrite history was a very serious mistake, with consequences well beyond just Pine Meadow,” said Platt. “We believe this decision by the Council was wrong on the process used, wrong on the false and distorted ‘facts’ that the Council accepted from the developer and owner, and wrong on the decision the Council made.
“The Council’s action, if allowed to stand, would set a dangerous precedent that could embolden other interests to try to reshape city policy and laws using similar ploys, and could be used as justification to undermine decisions that the public has relied upon for decades.”
The City held a closed session on the lawsuit at the City Council meeting on April 19, 2017. At the same meeting, the Council also recommended the General Plan Update show converting part of Freitas Open Space to housing. The rewriting of Pine Meadow history was referenced in public testimony supporting that conversion.
Filing the lawsuit against the City Council was a difficult and expensive decision. But the cost to Martinez open space can be much greater, if this bad Council decision is not overturned. As noted above, the Council’s Pine Meadow decision has already been cited in the Council's current effort to convert part of the Freitas Open Space.
We ask for your support and your donations to help us in this effort.
Friends of Pine Meadow
Martinez Open Space And Park Protection Initiative Is Launched
The Martinez Open Space and Park Protection initiative was launched today. The Initiative will increase protections for all open space and park land in Martinez by requiring approval by Martinez voters for changes to more intensive development on these lands.
Currently the City Council has the ability to convert these lands to other uses. They have repeatedly voted to convert open space to housing. Open space and park land will be under even more pressure in the future, as our population grows and the demands for development increase.
Martinez open space and park lands are too important to allow them to be converted to development by the vote of just the five people on the City Council. The Initiative says these lands can still be converted to more intensive development uses like housing or commercial, but the Initiative will require that any such change be approved by Martinez voters.
“This Initiative looks to the future. Our open space and park lands will be under more and more pressure from population increases in and around Martinez. The Initiative gives us all a voice in the future of these treasured places,” states Mark Thomson, one of the proponents of the Initiative.
The Notice of Intention for the Initiative was signed by Thomson, Kerry Kilmer and Tim Platt. It is being supported for signature-gathering by the local group, Martinez Open Space and Park Protection Committee.
The Initiative has been endorsed by the SIERRA CLUB and Thousand Friends of Martinez.
Jim Blickenstaff from the Sierra Club says, “This Initiative makes sense in helping to stop the piecemeal dismantling of open space in Martinez. Open space and parks are a “quality of life” issue, and we applaud this local effort to help protect these lands in the face of ever-increasing demands for more development.”
The Initiative has been submitted to the City for their preparation of an impartial Title and Summary, which can take up to fourteen days. The next step is for supporters to collect approximately 3500 signatures of Martinez voters to put the Initiative on the ballot. Then a public vote will be held to turn the Initiative into law.
Kay Cox, speaking for Thousand Friends of Martinez, said “This Initiative gives all of us a say in the future of our open space and parks. That makes sense, because open space and parks affect everyone's quality of life. We ask the citizens of Martinez to sign the Initiative to get it on the ballot. Get in touch with the local group on its website or via e-mail to tell them you will sign. And support them by volunteering and donating. In today’s world, we need to be looking to the future and protecting what is important to us. This Initiative does just that.”
To help the City in its State-mandated planning for the Marina area, and to provide fairness and continuity on private open space lands, the following two provisions are included in the Initiative:
1) Because a high level of protection is already mandated by State law, and because the City must have flexibility to prepare and submit a trust lands use plan to the State Lands Commission no later than January 1, 2020, the Initiative does not apply to the areas of the Martinez marina and harbor waterfront governed by the Public Trust. These areas of the Martinez marina and harbor waterfront are governed by Senate Bill 1424 (Statutes 2014, Chapter. 628) and are shown in the Initiative.State law requires that Public Trust lands be held “…for the benefit of all the people of the state for purposes consistent with the public trust doctrine, including the protection of maritime or water-dependent commerce, navigation, and fisheries, the preservation of the lands in their natural state for scientific study, open space, wildlife habitat, and water-oriented recreation.”
2) The Initiative adopts historic 1973 General Plan (the current general plan) provisions regarding housing allowed on private open space. The Initiative does not change the amount of housing that is allowed on open space. The 1973 General Plan explicitly allows a certain amount of residential development on certain privately owned open space. This Initiative readopts those provisions in order to maintain continuity and provide fairness to those private property owners. The Initiative also readopts requirements in the 1973 General Plan limiting environmental impacts of any such residential use in the Franklin Hills sub-area.Information on signing the Initiative petition and how to help or make a donation is on the Martinez Open Space and Park Protection Committee website: www.martinezopenspace.org The Committee can also be contacted on their Facebook page, Martinez Open Space and via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pine Meadow Threatened Once Again by Developer Ploy
This Wednesday DeNova Homes, who wants to develop Pine Meadow Permanent Space/Recreation site, will try to convince our City Council that Pine Meadow’s designation as Permanent Open Space/Recreation in 1973 was a mistake, and it was supposed to be designated for housing all along. There is talk of a lawsuit, and the Council’s position is unclear.
If the Council agrees with the developer, the designation of Pine Meadow as Permanent Open Space/Recreation that has been the law for 40+ years will just be thrown out. What a precedent that will be, and what an invitation for developers to continue to bully our Council into decisions that do not protect the public’s interests.
We need the public to tell our Council unequivocally that they must not be bullied by this or any developer. What the Council must do is uphold a designation of Pine Meadow as Permanent Open Space/Recreation that has been uncontested in over 40 years, and that the developer even agreed to on their previous project for Pine Meadow! Now they are changing their minds.
We need your help to tell our Council we expect them to stand up to this threat and protect our community’s standards and Martinez Open Space. The message otherwise will be that the Council will buckle under, if the developer applies enough pressure.
Show up at the meeting (7PM, this Wednesday, January 18, 2017, City Hall) and speak out to protect Martinez open space. If you cannot make it, please e-mail Councilmembers at the addresses at the bottom left of this page.
Here is the link to the City website where you can e-mail all the Councilmembers, including the Mayor, at one time. If you use this to e-mail them, make sure to add the Assistant City Clerk, email@example.com.
Together we can help protect Pine Meadow Permanent Open Space/Recreation once again.
Note on the upcoming Initiative to Protect Martinez Open Space that will go before the public soon: This Initiative is in final preparation and has not been issued for public signature yet. Some media sources have written about the Initiative, but the Initiative is not completed, so those reports are not accurate. We and other environmental groups look forward to supporting this Initiative when it is finalized.
Tim Platt and Mark Thomson for Friends of Pine Meadow
P.S. It is ironic that this 98 house project they are using as a vehicle for this ploy is the’ better’ project they promised when they convinced the City Council to rescind the public vote on Pine Meadow last March.
Green Again! Housing Plan and Lawsuit Update
The Green Is Back At Pine Meadow
Fall rains have brought back the green to Pine Meadow. This is Nature’s way of saying “you can’t keep me down for long”.
We believe our goal---to convince our Mayor and City Council to protect our open space and park land, not turn it into housing, and to get them to work on purchasing Pine Meadow Permanent Open Space/Recreation for public use forever--- is the best future for this beautiful piece of land.
Pine Meadow has been designated Permanent Open Space/Recreation since 1973, soon after the owners asked to be annexed to Martinez.
Last year, the City Council voted to pass a General Plan Amendment turning Pine Meadow Permanent Open Space/Recreation into housing. Our Referendum, which over 4000 people signed, put that decision into the hands of the public to decide in a public vote set for November, 2016.
In March, 2016, the developer/owners convinced the City Council to rescind the public vote, promising a better project.
Our Referendum will protect Pine Meadow open space until mid-March, 2017, according to our lawyers. After then, the City Council can pass another General Plan Amendment changing Pine Meadow to housing.
Developer’s Better Project Update
Their new project reduces the number of houses from 99 to 98. Better? Additionally, the project application now states that Pine Meadow is zoned for housing---not open space. And a letter from the developer’s lawyer asserts that Pine Meadow is not open space at all, but was designated that way in error over 40 years ago.
Friends of Pine Meadow and the City disagree. This excerpt from the City’s letter to the developer states:
“As you [the developer] noted in your original application relating to this property, submitted in October of 2013, the property's current General Plan Land Use Designation is Hidden Lakes Specific Area Plan; Permanent Open Space/Recreation Permanent. Since the time that the property was formally annexed into the City in 1970, it has never been in a residential designation. The General Plan Land Use designation for the property was adopted on December 12, 1973 by the adoption of Resolution 154 (1973 Series) as Hidden Lakes Specific Area Plan; Permanent Open Space/Recreation.”
We will keep you advised of the next steps in this conflict.
Developer/owners SLAPP Suit Against Us
Soon after the developer/owners convinced the City Council to rescind the public vote on changing Pine Meadow from open space to housing, the developer/owners sued us. In September, the court agreed with us that this was a SLAPP suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) designed to harass and interfere with our right to free speech, and keep us (and you) from speaking out on Pine Meadow. The court dismissed the suit.
Just a few weeks ago the developer/owners decided to appeal that decision. In about a year, we estimate, the appeal will be heard.
We are confident the decision to dismiss the suit will stand, and will keep you informed as it proceeds.
We did not let the SLAPP suit divert our attention from our goals, and neither will this appeal.*
Petition Signature Gathering Goes On
Since the public vote on Pine Meadow was rescinded in March and the lawsuit was instituted against us in April, we have been busy collecting petition and e-mail signatures from concerned citizens at numerous public events.
We’ve been at: John Muir Birthday/Earth Day, the Beaver Festival, Blues Festival and several Farmers Markets. Hundreds have supported our cause. When you see us and our booth, please come by and add your name to those supporting open space and parks.
Milpitas Votes To Protect Open Space And Parks
Milpitas citizens just passed their City Council-sponsored Ballot Measure K by over 84% ‘yes’ votes!
The measure mandates that “…any attempt to rezone parks, parklands or open space to residential commercial or industrial, or any proposal for residential, commercial or industrial development in parks, parkland or open space, must be placed before Milpitas voters and secure two-thirds support in the City’s next general election.”
We applaud the Milpitas City Council for taking this step, and for the voters supporting it by such a huge margin.
Link to City of Milpitas website: http://www.ci.milpitas.ca.gov/
San Jose Planning Commission Votes to Preserve Open Space
Development on 2.8 acres of privately-owned open space was rejected recently by a 5-0 vote of the San Jose Planning commission. The developer petitioned for a General Plan Amendment that would have allowed housing on 2.8 acres of the 20 acre site.
Now the issue will go to the San Jose City Council with the Planning Commission recommendation to not allow the change. As with many land use issues, this one is pretty complex---the Staff Report is 501 pages long with public support for the open space comprising a large number of those pages.
Link to San Jose Planning Commission Meeting Video: http://sanjose.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=54&clip_id=9403#
*The lawsuit is not about what happens to Pine Meadow Permanent Open Space/Recreation. It is about whether we have the right to say and write what we did. The court ruling said we did and dismissed the suit as a SLAPP suit designed solely to harass and impede us. We stand firmly behind the accuracy and truthfulness of what we have said and written, and have supported it with facts and documentation.
FRIENDS OF PINE MEADOW LAWSUIT--WE WON AND SO DID THE PUBLIC!
The SLAPP suit filed against Friends of Pine Meadow (FOPM) and five individuals by DeNova Homes, Civic Martinez LLC and Christine Dean (owners of Pine Meadow) was dismissed by the court on August 29. Friends of Pine Meadow won, and so did the public at large.
The lawsuit was brought against FOPM, et. al. for intentional and negligent interference, defamation and conspiracy. FOPM quickly named the lawsuit a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) suit whose sole purpose was to harass and impede FOPM.
The suit was meant to intimidate FOPM and the public at large, and keep them from speaking out about the City Council decision to change the designation of Pine Meadow from Permanent Open Space/Recreation (POS/R) to housing.
The court ruling granted FOPM’s motion to dismiss the suit and affirmed the right of FOPM and the public to speak freely on issues of public concern such as this.
What FOPM and the public said and wrote during public comments before the City Council and Planning Commission, and what was said and written in public in newspapers, on the web and elsewhere were deemed to be free speech protected by the First Amendment, the state constitution and civil code. The plaintiffs are required by law to pay for the legal costs and attorneys’ fees incurred by the defendants.
Tim Platt of FOPM stated: “The goal of Friends of Pine Meadow has always been to convince our Mayor and City Council to protect our open space and park land, not turn it into housing, and to get them to work on purchasing Pine Meadow Permanent Open Space/Recreation for public use forever.
We never lost sight of that goal, but, with our success getting the SLAPP suit dismissed, we can concentrate fulltime on saving Pine Meadow. With the upcoming election, it becomes doubly important for the public to push our leaders and candidates to protect Pine Meadow now.
The demand for more housing in Martinez and throughout California will never end. We must protect our remaining open space and park land or watch the quality of life decline for us and our children.”
Winning the SLAPP suit is about more than the Pine Meadow issue. It is a major victory for the public at large in protecting the right of every citizen to speak freely and publicly on issues that directly affect their lives.
Mark Thomson of FOPM stated: “The plaintiffs, DeNova Homes, Civic Martinez LLC and Christine Dean, trampled on the rights of ordinary citizens as well as the Friends of Pine Meadow. Two citizens with no involvement in the lawsuit issues were included in the suit, including one for just speaking at City Council meetings. And including an additional 100 unnamed defendants in the suit posed the specter of a lawsuit against anyone who opposed turning Pine Meadow into housing.
Strongly held opinions on political issues are expected, but it is out of bounds to attack our freedom of speech and right to petition the government. This is a core right for all of us, and threatening it cannot be allowed.”
FOPM has already called upon the Martinez City Council to give the public a clear explanation of how broad the public right to speak on public issues before the Council and in public forums is. The DeNova/Civic Martinez/Dean SLAPP suit has made many citizens concerned about their right to speak, and that is a critical part of making our democracy work, especially in these times of great controversies.“We urge citizens to let the City Council and candidates for election know how important this right is, and that public education by our City Council is needed in the face of the fear caused by this SLAPP suit” said Thomson.
Click here to see the court ruling.
Tim Platt and Mark Thomson for Friends of Pine Meadow
Friends of Pine Meadow sued by DeNova Homes/Civic Martinez LLC/Christine Dean
On April 4th DeNova Homes, Civic Martinez LLC and Christine Dean filed a lawsuit against Friends of Pine Meadow, as well as other individuals. Our attorney tells us that this kind of lawsuit, claiming defamation and a variety of commercial torts, is typically filed by developers against groups and individuals who oppose their projects.
We believe this lawsuit is without merit and fully expect that the court will agree.
We believe that what we have said and published has been true and accurate, and we have striven to be very responsible in our actions and communications.
This lawsuit will not deter Friends of Pine Meadow from our mission of urging our Mayor and City Council to protect our open space and park land, and buy Pine Meadow Permanent Open Space/Recreation for public use in perpetuity.
We ask the public to continue to support us in this by joining us on Facebook, Friends of Pine Meadow, and here on our website, and by volunteering and donating what you can.
Tim Platt and Mark Thomson for Friends of Pine Meadow
Help us today by joining our e-mail list and following us on Facebook, and by donating $25-$50-$100 or more to help us get the word out. Donations are critical to getting our message to the voting public.
We’ve accomplished the first big step, but much more remains to be done.
We need your help to continue our work to preserve Martinez open space
City of Martinez – City Hall
525 Henrietta Street, Martinez, CA 94553