The Coastal Post - August, 1996

Black Point Project Deal Downed By Judge

BY JOAN REUTINGER

It seems that the Marin Conservation League, the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, and the Black Point Forest and Wetlands Rescue Project were right about the Black Point development planned on the site of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire. They combined forces to sue the developers and the city of Novato Council for holding a secret agreement with the developers without public participation.

A Marin County judge, Lynn Duryee, agreed with them, and she didn't mince words. She said the developers, Speiker and Partners, a New York Stock Exchange mega-developers, and the Novato City Council had used "intrinsic fraud, mistake and/or collusion." To get a visiting judge (Gary Thomas) to sign a secret agreement with the developer that "exceeded the court's jurisdiction" and as "contrary to public policy."

It seems the developers had sued the city of Novato for $16 million dollars, and the judge was afraid every time a developer sued a city it would set a precedent that the developer would be allowed the proceed without a public hearing.

The issue here is a constitutional one. The protestors (the MCL, the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society and the Black Point Forest and Wetlands Rescue Project) said in their suit that a precedent would be established that would eliminate public participation in land-use decisions, and ultimately eliminate the power of citizens in a democracy.

The developers not only had threatened wildlife with pesticides and herbicides, but were about to destroy over 7,200 oak trees which had been here since the Gold Rush, and were about to move 25,000 dump trucks of hillside soil to fill in wetlands. They had also hired the chairman of the Novato Planning Commission as an environmental consultant to the Black Point Project. Even worse, the developers and the Novato City Council wanted to take away the public's right to vote.

The Novato City Council tried to hide behind the fact that the Novato City attorney, Jeff Walter, had said that the secret agreement was legal. The Judge Duryee also said that the Novato Council had failed to comply with the Brown Act, which requires decisions made at closed-door meetings be announced right after the meeting. Again, the legal council said it was ok if the secret agreement with the developers be announced at the next scheduled meeting of the Novato Council. At this point, the Novato Council may be forgiven if it doubts the validity of its own attorney's advice.

What did the secret agreement contain? For one thing, it provides that no matter what changes may occur in city-planning policies, the developers would have the right to build their 53 luxury homes and their 18-hole golf course. Another item in the agreement is that the developers would have to plant three trees for each 7,000 oaks they take out. The Post wonders how many people would be let in the compound to count the trees. That's a lot of trees, about 21,000 in all.

The project has been opposed for environmental reasons by a lot of people in the following clubs or societies: U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the Sierra Club, Marin Countywide Planning, Marin Parks Commission, the Black Point Action Committee, California Fish and Game, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, the Environmental Forum, the San Francisco Bay Association, the California Oak Foundation, the Marin Conservation League, the San Francisco Conservation Commission, Marin Relief, and Save the San Pablo Bay Lands So why do the developers continue to plan? Probably "greed" is the answer.

Kencht, Nyens and Peterson wrote in their article appearing in the February edition of the Coastal Post entitled "A Putrid Smell Hangs Over Novato": "They were nonetheless confident that with time and money they could influence Novato's small town government to accommodate their ambitions."

If the secret agreement had gone unchallenged in court, it might have. For this, we owe thanks to the opponents.

What happens now? There are a lot of opponents to this project and having won once in court they are moving in for the kill. At any rate, the hearings will be public.