Over the last few weeks there have been rumors of a group of residents preparing to file a lawsuit against the City of San Carlos regarding the City Council’s recent decision to move forward with the installation of synthetic turf at Highlands Field. Today, those rumors are a reality. Please see below from the City of San Carlos:
“San Carlos, CA – May 14, 2009 – San Carlos City Attorney Greg Rubens has announced that the City of San Carlos and the San Carlos City Council have been sued by an organization calling itself Save San Carlos Parks that is represented by the legal firm of Kenyon and Yates in Sacramento, California. Jeff Cleland verified the complaint as a member of the organization whose remaining members are unnamed individuals.
The suit concerns the City Council’s decision in April to certify the Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) for the replacement of the playing surface of the Lower Highland Athletic Field with a Synthetic Playing Surface. San Carlos has retained the law firm of Cassidy, Shimko, Dawson & Kawakami in San Francisco to defend the City. The City Attorney estimates that the cost to defend the City against this lawsuit will be in the thousands of dollars.
The City Council’s decision to certify the Mitigated Negative Declaration and move ahead with the project came after 9 years of study and review. The process included a study of all of the City’s Athletic Playing Fields by Mark Mahaday & Associates in Fall 2000, a number of community meetings and hearings and the recommendation of a 28-member Citizens Fields Committee in 2005.
The Citizens Fields Committee recommended moving ahead with a Synthetic Field at Lower Highlands Field. This recommendation was endorsed by a unanimous vote of the City’s Athletic Sites Advisory Council (ASAC) earlier this year.
City Attorney Greg Rubens noted that similar projects have been approved by cities and schools throughout the Bay Area with a Negative Declaration or a Categorical Exemption under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when a playing field’s surface is changed from one surface type to another surface type. The City of San Carlos went further and prepared an extensive Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) for this project. The MND included extensive reviews by air quality, noise and scientific experts that study, report and evaluate the environmental impacts of the proposed project.
Rubens also noted that neighbors of the Lower Highlands Playing Field stated at the April City Council hearing that they were ready to move on and work with the City rather than challenging the Council’s decision in this matter. He said that the City will discuss the lawsuit with the petitioners and plaintiffs, which may clarify what their goals are in pursuing the action.
As a result of the litigation, the community meetings set by the City for May 21, 2009 and May 27, 2009 to meet with the neighbors of the Lower Highlands Field area to discuss the athletic field conversion project have been postponed indefinitely.”
After the City of San Carlos spent several hundred thousand dollars defending the lawsuit, the group “Save San Carlos Parks” settled its lawsuit against the city.
What did they gain?
According to the documents associated with the suit, they will get speed bumps on one of the streets in front of the neighborhood, a stop sign, a gate allowing entrance to the field from the parking lot adjacent the tennis courts, and staggered start times for the start of some youth team practices.
The city reportedly settled rather than spend an additional $200,000 in defense costs. Amongst those familiar with the law and the lawsuit, the city was likely to eventually prevail in the lawsuit; had the city chosen to fight.
Money the city could have used to refurbish other park facilities (the Crestview playground is scheduled for an upgrade) was used to defend and settle the lawsuit. A part of the settlement (about $85,000) went to the attorney for “Save San Carlos Parks”. Though I have not been able to verify this claim, it has been reported that the group San Carlos Parks did not front the money that will eventually go to their lawyers.
Come on “Save San Carlos Parks”, please really do something for the parks, even those outside your immediate neighborhood. Shame, shame, shame. Have you any shame?
It nearly breaks my heart that so few neighbors could wreak such damage on our community at a time that we have so little money.