Hernquist & Associates, an Encinitas law firm, sent a letter, dated Friday, April 5, to Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey, City Attorney, Johanna Canlas, and Council Members Bill Sandke, Mike Donovan, Whitney Benzian and Marvin Heinze alleging violations of the Brown Act.
The law firm represents resident, Harry DiNardi, who has been in a drawn-out legal battle over the restoration of the westerly access point to the frontage road along First Street. A neighbor, Ed McVaney, removed the access point and when the Court later ordered it returned, the City required a wider access road than had originally been there, which would necessitate the removal of a tree. Thus, McVaney petitioned the Street Tree Committee (STC) for removal of the tree. Removal was granted. However, another neighbor, Robert Bardin, then appealed to the City Council to overturn the STC approval.
The letter serves “as a demand on the Coronado City Council and Mayor Richard Bailey to cure or correct the action taken on Feb. 19, 2019 upholding an appeal of a Street Tree Committee decision. At the Feb. 19, 2019 City Council Meeting … the City Council voted 3 to 2 to uphold an appeal of the Coronado Street Tree Committee’s Jan. 10, 2019 decision to approve removal of a tree located at 609 First Street.”
The letter alleges that the City Council violated the Brown Act “by engaging in … serial meetings in violation of California Government Code … There was a concerted effort by Coronado residents to influence City Council’s vote and at the City Council Meeting, the City Council failed to disclose many of the communications that violated the Brown Act.”
The letter names a “group of resident advocates … [who] made phone calls, sent emails, and met in person with the City Council in order to influence the City Council’s vote … These private communications were intended to bring about a consensus to uphold the Appeal and exchange information that would influence the City Council to uphold the Appeal.”
Council Members were required prior to the vote on the appeal to indicate any ex-parte communications. The letter from Hernquist & Associates lays out evidence, gathered through deposition and public records requests, of undisclosed on-site meetings, undisclosed e-mail communications, and undisclosed content.
The letter concludes that: “The totality of these ex parte communications, undisclosed in person and on-site meetings, as well as undisclosed email communications between the City Council and residents lobbying for the Appeal, lead to an obvious inference that the City Council engaged in deliberations outside the context of a public meeting … Such serial meetings, where a majority of a government body is contacted individually to engage in deliberations without public notice, are unlawful and violate California’s Brown Act.”
The letter states that “Additional evidence is expected via the City of Coronado’s response to our client’s public records requests.”
The City Council has thirty days to address the charge.