September 24, 2012

San Leandro Settles with Faith Fellowship for $2.3 Million

According to a press release issued today, the City of San Leandro has settled its legal battle with Faith Fellowship for $2.3 million.

The press release read, in part:

Under the settlement, the City admits no liability and ICFG dismisses all claims against the City in return for a $2.3 million payment. Further, the City preserves its general plan and zoning provisions while ICFG may continue in its efforts to find a new properly zoned site. The settlement bars ICFG from challenging under the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act (RLUIPA), any denial of the purchase of a site not within the City's current Assembly Use Overlay or Residential Zones.

According to the settlement agreement, the $2.3 million must be paid by September 25, 2012.

The case dates back to 2006, when Faith Fellowship Church purchased a property that was not zoned for assembly use and May 2007, when the City of San Leandro denied the church's application to rezone the property.

In the time since the church filed the lawsuit, the City of San Leandro has changed its zoning code in an attempt to soften the blow if the case had gone to trial and to decrease the likelihood of future lawsuits.

The money for the settlement will come from the City's self-insurance fund and reserve account. In November 2011, the City Council approved a transfer of $1.5 million to the self-insurance fund and a $2 million transfer to the reserve account. As part of the 2012-2013 budget, the City added $600,000 to reserves.

The complete text of the press release is reproduced below:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 25, 2012

CONTACT: Jayne Williams City Attorney
(510) 808-2000

City of San Leandro and International Church of Four Square Gospel Resolve Lawsuit

Settlement Preserves Important Zoning Provisions and Represents Approximately 10% Of Total Damages Sought By ICFG

Mayor Stephen Cassidy announced that the City of San Leandro and International Church of Four Square Gospel (ICFG) have reached a settlement in ICFG's lawsuit against the City for its refusal to allow Faith Fellowship Church to relocate its church campus to a site within the City's high tech industrial core. The City denied the Church's application on the basis that the use of the site for assembly purposes violated the City's zoning code.

Under the settlement, the City admits no liability and ICFG dismisses all claims against the City in return for a $2.3 million payment. Further, the City preserves its general plan and zoning provisions while ICFG may continue in its efforts to find a new properly zoned site. The settlement bars ICFG from challenging under the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act (RLUIPA), any denial of the purchase of a site not within the City's current Assembly Use Overlay or Residential Zones.

"The City respects all of our churches and religious institutions, including Faith Fellowship Church and ICFG, and appreciates the important charitable activities and social work they provide our community," stated Mayor Cassidy. "The settlement with ICPO brings to an end costly and time-consuming litigation while upholding the sections of our zoning code that reserve land for industrial and commercial uses."

"Earlier this year, our City Attorney succeeded in convincing the Court to throw out ICFG's claim for $14 million in damages due to purportedly lost contributions the Church would have received had it been allowed to relocate to the industrial zone," Mayor Cassidy added. "The City had a strong defense on ICFG's RLUIPA claim. However, trials are inherently unpredictable. Had the City lost, the Church's remaining damages plus legal fees could have exceeded $7 million. Settling the case now was the prudent course of action."

The City's special legal counsel and nationally recognized RLUIPA expert, Professor Marci Hamilton stated: "RLUIPA unfairly puts cities between a rock and hard place. This is a very strong case for the city, but in the current economic climate it is very difficult for cities like San Leandro to pursue federal litigation. With the property sold and the General Plan protected, settlement at this stage is sensible."

The $2.3 million settlement payment to ICFG would be made from the City's self-insurance fund and reserve account as the City's insurance policies do not cover zoning code disputes. Sufficient amounts have been budgeted to satisfy the settlement.

Background on the Litigation

In 2006, Faith Fellowship Church purchased a property in the City's industrial area that was not zoned for a religious assembly use. In an effort to expand the opportunities for churches, the City undertook a City-wide zoning study and ultimately adopted a new Assembly Use Overlay District which allowed churches and other assembly uses to locate, with a Conditional Use Permit, on 196 parcels in the City's industrial and commercial zones where they had not previously been allowed. The City applied the same eight objective planning criteria to all commercial and industrial zoned property in the City to identify the 196 sites - the Faith Fellowship Church site did not meet two of the criteria and so was not included in the final list. In May 2007, the City denied Faith Fellowship Church's application for a rezoning of the property. The Church sold the industrial zoned property in 2010 at a loss.

In June 2007, ICFG and Faith Fellowship Church filed suit in federal court in San Francisco against the City alleging that the denial of the rezoning application violated the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act (RLUIPA), Civil Rights Act and First Amendment.

In December 2008, U.S. District Court Judge Phyllis Hamilton granted the City's motion for summary judgment and dismissed the lawsuit. The Court concluded that the denial of the rezoning application did not violate RLUIPA. The Church appealed to the U. S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal.

In April 2011, the Appellate Court reversed Judge Hamilton, holding that a triable issue existed as to whether the City's denial of the rezoning application constituted a substantial burden on the church's exercise of religion in violation of RLUIPA.

Faith Fellowship alleged that it had been damaged by the City's actions in excess of $20 million, which included lost contributions amounting to $14 million. On August 20, 2012, upon a motion by the City, Judge Hamilton dismissed the church's lost contribution claim of $14 million. The Church's remaining damages claim was based on its loss on the sale of the property, carrying costs, and other expenses related to purchase and sale, along with significant attorneys' fees.

The City contended that the church's damages, if at all, were caused by the church's decision to eliminate the contractual provision that would have protected the purchase if the City did not approve the zoning change request. The church's decision to purchase the property outright with full knowledge that the City's zoning regulations precluded religious uses led to any damages it suffered. The City expanded religious uses and applied its neutral, generally applicable laws to the church in denying the application.

The City and ICFG/Faith Fellowship Church, each facing the escalating cost of a lengthy and complex trial, extended appeals, and an unsettled and still evolving RLUIPA law, were ordered by Judge Hamilton to a settlement conference. Under the guidance of U.S. Magistrate Judge Corley the parties successfully resolved the matter, contingent upon City Council approval. Without admitting liability, the City Council approved the payment of $2.3 million to resolve and release all claims by ICFG against the City.

About San Leandro

A diverse community of nearly 85,000 residents, San Leandro maintains a safe, small town feel while offering a wide range of shopping, dining, recreation amenities, miles of shoreline, and easy access to nearby regional parks and nature areas.
Located in the center of the San Francisco Bay Area, San Leandro enjoys close proximity to the Oakland International Airport and Port of Oakland, and is served by two major freeways and two BART stations. Through a public-private partnership known as Lit San Leandro, an eleven-mile fiber optic loop is under construction in the city's large industrial and commercial zone. Lit San Leandro will assist a new set of businesses to leverage San Leandro's assets and become industry leaders in the data revolution. Further information about Lit San Leandro can be found at http://www.litsanleandro.com/
Visit the City's website at www.sanleandro.org for more information on the City's programs and services. To register to automatically receive press releases, meeting agendas or other electronic notifications, go to http://www.sanleandro.org/portal/default.asp.

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September 23, 2012

San Leandro City Council Candidates Make Their Case at Recent Forum

San Leandro City Council Candidates

On September 19, 2012, nine candidates for San Leandro City Council seats in Districts 2, 4, and 6, were at the Senior Community Center to make their case to a crowd of between 60 and 70 members of the community.

In San Leandro City Council elections, each candidate must reside in a specific district, but the entire City elects the candidate from each district. In District 2, incumbent Ursula Reed is being challenged by San Leandro School Board President Morgan Mack-Rose and Bal Theatre owner Dan Dillman. In District 4, former Planning Commissioner Chris Crow, Senior Commissioner Darlene Daevu, Personnel Relations Board member Benny Lee and Justin Hutchison are vying for the seat that became open when Joyce Starosciak resigned on August 1, 2012 In District 6, incumbent Jim Prola is being challenged by San Leandro School Board Vice President Hermy Almonte.

The questions were the same as those asked of those who applied for the District 4 City Council seat and were provided to the candidates in advance.

All candidates were given three minutes to make an opening statement, two minutes to answer each question, and a two minute closing statement.

In the only direct exchange of the night, Reed said, "It would have been wonderful to work for Measure L for the schools, but our school president wanted to come here and campaign against me...we could have been putting all our efforts in Measure L." Mack-Rose challenged Reed to campaign on behalf of Measure L and indeed, volunteers handed out flyers for Measure L with Mack-Rose's literature outside a recent back-to-school night event.

District 2:

When asked about the top two issues facing San Leandro, District 2 candidate Mack-Rose answered “the economy and public safety.” Mack-Rose said that the focus should be on crime prevention and noted that crime prevention officers were being re-assigned without consulting the public. For Dillman the top issue is the perception that San Leandro is not a wonderful place. Incumbent Reed said the top two two issues are the budget and safety. Reed said that “in order to have safety, we have to fund police officers” and said that the reason for the re-assignment of the crime prevention officers was because seven officers were out on workman's compensation.

District 4:

For Daevu, the top two issues facing San Leandro are the potential closure of San Leandro Hospital and Halus Wind Turbines. Crow also mentioned keeping San Leandro hospital open, but focused mainly on fiscal sustainability, including pension reforms needed to “get our fiscal house in order.” Hutchison said that the top two issues are public safety, noting the increase in crime and a decrease in the number of police officers, and businesses that don't want to come to our city. Hutchison said that he knew first-hand that “Criminals perceive our city as a place to go to commit crimes.” For Lee, the top two issues are budgetary and public safety.

District 6:

District 6 incumbent Prola succinctly stated that the top two issues facing San Leandro are public safety and public schools. Prola pointed out that although crime was up last year, but that was in part because crime in 2010 was at its lowest level in 30 years. He attributed the recent drop in crime to his emphasis on crime prevention. Almonte, as he did in many of his answers, focused on pension reform. Almonte noted that the COPS grant that funds five additional police officers, will expire soon, and the City of San Leandro will have to find an additional $800,000 to fund those positions.

The forum was sponsored by the Halcyon Foothill Neighborhood Association, the Best Manor Homeowners Association, and the Business Association of South San Leandro.

The election is November 6, 2012, and the last day to register to vote is October 22, 2012.

Video of the candidates making their statements and answering questions is available below:

District 2 Opening Statements:

District 4 Opening Statements:

District 6 Opening Statements:

District 2 Candidates on Why They Want to Serve on the Council:

District 4 Candidates on Why They Want to Serve on the Council:

District 6 Candidates on Why They Want to Serve on the Council:

District 2 Candidates on Being Part of a Successful Team:

District 4 Candidates on Being Part of a Successful Team:

District 6 Candidates on Being Part of a Successful Team:

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September 18, 2012

San Leandro Candidate Forum Tomorrow 9/19

San Leandro City Council candidates and California State 18th Assembly District candidates will appear at a forum tomorrow at 6:30pm at the San Leandro Senior Community Center.

The free event will start with light refreshments at 6pm, followed by the California State Assembly candidates, Rob Bonta and Abel Guillen at 6:30pm.

The San Leandro City Council candidates will take the stage at 8pm. The candidates in District 2 are Dan Dillman, Morgan Mack-Rose, and Ursula Reed. The District 4 candidates are Chris Crow, Darlene Daevu, Justin Hutchison, and Benny Lee. In District 6, the candidates are Hermy Almonte and Jim Prola.

The candidates will have three minutes for an opening statement, two minutes for a closing statement, and two minutes to answer each of the following questions (which are the same questions asked of the District 4 City Council applicants):

  1. Why are you interested in serving on the City Council?
  2. In your opinion, what are the two most pressing issues facing the City of San Leandro and how best should the City Council address these issues?
  3. How have you remained current and informed on city issues?
  4. Please summarize your experiences in community activities or issues affecting the City of San Leandro and could you give specific examples of your personal involvement?
  5. Have you even been part of a successful team and if so, what did you contribute to make it successful?
  6. Is there anything else you wish to share with the council that has not been covered in your interview this evening?

This is the first of two scheduled forums featuring San Leandro candidates. A second forum is scheduled for Tuesday, September 25 at 6pm at the Marina Community Center.

The San Leandro Senior Community Center is located at 13909 E. 14th Street in San Leandro near San Leandro Hospital.

The election will be held on November 6, 2012, and the last day to register to vote is October 22, 2012.

Updated Sep. 19 with details of candidate forum.

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September 17, 2012

Democrats Endorse Reed, But No Endorsement in District 4

According to a press release issued today, San Leandro District 2 Councilmember Ursula Reed was endorsed by the Alameda County Democrats at its meeting on September 15, 2012. Reed had been on the consent calendar with District 6 Councilmember Jim Prola and District 4 candidate Benny Lee, but she and Lee were pulled from the consent calendar. District 2 candidate Morgan Mack-Rose and District 4 candidate Chris Crow were nominated, which meant that they were interviewed on Saturday as well.

District 2

San Leandro District 2 City Council candidates Morgan Mack-Rose and Ursula Reed
San Leandro District 2 City Council candidates Morgan Mack-Rose and Ursula Reed

At the Saturday meeting, Reed and Mack-Rose, who is currently San Leandro School Board president, were interviewed in front of members of the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee. Each candidate gave an opening statement, closing statement, and answered two questions.

When asked what their top two priorities were if they were elected, Reed said “public safety and creating a better quality life in San Leandro,” noting that seven officers were currently out on workers' compensation. Mack-Rose stated that “my number one priority is our economic development,” noting that it is tied to the ability to restore police, services for senior citizens, and restore library services.

Asked about two issues that the candidates have initiated or advocated in your respective position, Mack-Rose mentioned her work on the Measure B and Measure M school bonds and her advocacy for instructional coaches in classrooms. Reed noted her work for Measure Z, the quarter-cent sales tax and getting the public-private partnership with OSIsoft.

Reed received 21 votes, three more than the 18 needed to reach the 60% threshold for the Democratic endorsement.

District 4

San Leandro District 2 City Council candidates Benny Lee and Chris Crow
San Leandro District 4 City Council candidates Benny Lee and Chris Crow

Lee came to the meeting with a handout stating that he supported medical marijuana. During the summer, Lee spoke at two meetings in which the City Council was considering a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries. At the June 18, 2012, meeting, Lee stated, “We're here to protect our children. Alvin was a child. He was exposed to things like these [medical marijuana]. And we should not allow that to happen.” Less than a month later, Lee concluded his comments on the possibility of medical marijuana dispensaries with the question: “Are we ready to face rising teenage usage, unsavory characters occupying our public places, and a significantly diminished quality of life.?”

Both candidates were asked about the two initiatives that they would like to accomplish if elected. Lee replied public safety and community re-investment. Crow responded that he would work to save San Leandro Hospital and enhance the broadband incentive program to connect businesses to the fiber loop.

Crow was asked about his Facebook comment responding to the China People's Daily report that Chinese Olympic athletes shouldn't have competed with the U.S. because Americans have bigger heads and chests. Crow expressed surprise at being accused of racism since he “grew up in an adopted Asian household (his grandmother is Korean)” and apologized if he offended anyone.

Lee was asked about his opposition to marijuana dispensaries. Lee stated, “I support medical marijuana” and said that he expressed his concerns about non-medical use of marijuana and that medical marijuana “is just like alcohol or tobacco.”

When the votes were counted, Crow received one more vote than Lee, but he was still short of the 60% threshold needed. A later review of the ballots showed Crow receiving two more votes than Lee, but the end result was the same: the Democratic Party has no endorsed candidate in the San Leandro District 2 City Council race.

Other Races

In other races relevant to San Leandro, the Democrats endorsed Rebecca Saltzman for BART, Penny Peck and Syed "Tony" Shaw for the San Lorenzo School Board, all San Leandro School Board candidates (all were unopposed), Doug Siden for East Bay Regional Park District Director and Shelia Young for Oro Loma Sanitary District Director.

The election will be held on November 6, 2012, and the last day to register is October 22, 2012.

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September 13, 2012

San Leandro City Council Appoints Tom Dlugosh to Replace Starosciak

At a sparsely-attended special meeting of the San Leandro City Council on Thursday, September 13, 2012, Planning Commissioner Tom Dlugosh was appointed as the new District 4 Councilmember to fill out the remainder of Joyce Starosciak's term.

The meeting began with San Leandro City Clerk drawing names to determine the order in which the four applicants would be interviewed. The order was Charles 'Chuck' Kane, Dana Chohlis, Tom Dlugosh, and John Faria.

The City Council was evenly divided on whether the applicants should be able to remain in the audience and listen to other applicants being interviewed or be sequestered out of earshot of the interviews. Mayor Stephen Cassidy decided to change his position and the applicants who were not being interviewed were moved to the Sister Cities Gallery.

The questions, decided at a previous City Council meeting were:

  1. Why are you interested in serving on the City Council?
  2. In your opinion, what are the two most pressing issues facing the City of San Leandro and how best should the City Council address these issues?
  3. How have you remained current and informed on city issues?
  4. Please summarize your experiences in community activities or issues affecting the City of San Leandro and could you give specific examples of your personal involvement?
  5. Have you even been part of a successful team and if so, what did you contribute to make it successful?
  6. Is there anything else you wish to share with the council that has not been covered in your interview this evening?

When asked about the two most pressing issues facing San Leandro, most of the applicants talked about the budget and business development. The topic of business development is high on the list for city officials with the recent resignation of Community Development Director Luke Sims, who has left to work in Dublin. Public safety was also mentioned by former San Leandro Police officer Kane and Chohlis.

Kane and Dlugosh gave brief answers that closely mirrored the brief answers on their applications. While Chohlis gave longer answers, it was Faria who demonstrated his knowledge by expounding on a number of issues. Faria served for 10 years on the Board of Zoning Adjustments before completing two terms on the City Council and a brief appointment as Mayor after Dave Karp died in office.

Dlugosh has been on the Planning Commission for 18 years and was previously President of the San Leandro Chamber of Commerce for a number of years.

During public comments, Chris Crow and David Erlich, who were eliminated from consideration for the appointment at a previous meeting, spoke in general terms about the issues facing the city in the next few months. Gerry Mellen, who served with Kane on the Board of SOS/Meals on Wheels, spoke in favor of appointing Kane to the position. Mellen previously served as the Treasurer for former Mayor Shelia Young, who sat in the front row during the meeting.

After thanking the applicants, the City Council proceeded to the first round vote:

ApplicantGregoryReedSouzaCutterProlaCassidy
Dana Chohlis
Tom DlugoshXXX
John FariaX
Charles KaneXX

With no applicant receiving four votes, Prola offered to change his vote from Faria to Dlugosh. However, Cassidy said that the Council should go with the process that had already been agreed upon and go to a second round of voting. For the second round, Chohlis was eliminated because she didn't receive any votes in the first round. The results of the second round of voting:

ApplicantGregoryReedSouzaCutterProlaCassidy
Tom DlugoshXXXX
John Faria
Charles KaneXX

With four votes to Kane's two votes, a motion was made to appoint Dlugosh to the San Leandro District 4 City Council seat. The motion passed unanimously and Dlugosh was immediately sworn in by San Leandro City Clerk Marian Handa.

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September 10, 2012

Demos Endorse Prola; Police Endorse Lee, Prola and Reed

San Leandro District 6 City Council candidate Jim Prola was endorsed by the Democratic Party on September 8. Prola is running for re-election against San Leandro School Board Vice-President Hermy Almonte.

Prola, along with District 2 candidate Ursula Reed and District 4 candidate Benny Lee, was on the consent calendar for the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee (ACDCC) meeting, but Reed and Lee were pulled from consent and candidates Morgan Mack-Rose and Chris Crow were nominated. That means Reed, Mack-Rose, Lee, and Crow will be interviewed by the ACDCC at its September 15 meeting. In order to receive the endorsement, candidates must receive at least 60% of the votes cast.

Although City Council races are non-partisan, the Democratic Party endorses candidates because once elected, some Councilmembers seek higher office, like current California State Senator Ellen Corbett and former California Assemblymember Johan Klehs.

In 2008, the Democrats endorsed Linda Perry in District 2, Joyce Starosciak in District 4, Jim Prola in District 6, and Mack-Rose when she campaigned for the San Leandro School Board.

According to San Leandro Police Officers Association (POA) President Mike Sobek, the POA has endorsed Ursula Reed in District 2, Benny Lee in District 4, and Prola in District 6. Sobek said that the endorsements were based on how well the candidates understood issues important to the POA and whether the POA believes that the candidate can win. When asked whether pensions were discussed, Sobek acknowledged that pensions were one issue of concern to the POA, but also said that the POA is not opposed to pension reform. The City of San Leandro is one of only four cities in Alameda County that pays the entire employee portion of the pension contribution.

District 2 candidate Dan Dillman and District 4 candidate Justin Hutchison were not interviewed for the endorsement because neither contacted the POA, according to Sobek.

In 2008, the San Leandro POA endorsed Charles Gilcrest in District 2, Joyce Starosciak in District 4, and Jim Prola in District 6. Unlike the Demoratic endorsement, the POA endorsement comes with a contribution to the candidate's campaign in 2008, that was $300.

The police employee contracts expire at the end of the year and new contracts are one of the items being discussed during a closed session meeting today.

The election will be held on November 6, 2012. The last day to register to vote is October 22, 2012.

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Two Months Until Partial Polystyrene Ban Goes Into Effect

Polystyrene Ban Ad - San Leandro Times

San Leandro restaurants must stop using polystyrene food packaging as of November 1, 2012, according to an ordinance passed by the San Leandro City Council in October 2011. The ordinance does not apply to retail sales of polystyrene food packaging, which means San Leandro residents will still be able to buy styrofoam cups, plates, and clamshells at local stores and supermarkets. Former Councilmember Joyce Starosciak was the only Councilmember that didn't support the ordinance.

The City of San Leandro has run a few ads in the San Leandro Times, like the one above, to inform local businesses of the upcoming ordinance deadline. The QR code in the ad directs readers to http://www.sanleandro.org/depts/pw/es/takeout.asp, where the City provides information about the ban.

Warnings will be given to violators of the ordinance, followed by possible fines of $150 for the first violation escalating to up to $600 for additional violations.

State law requires the City to reduce the amount of waste in sends to landfills, and since polystyrene is neither recyclable nor compostable, it doesn't help the City reduce its waste. Styrene is described by the U.S. Environmental Protection agency as "a suspected toxin to the gastrointestinal tract, kidney, and respiratory system" and other health agencies classify it as a suspected carcinogen.

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September 4, 2012

District 4 Candidates Snubbed by San Leandro City Council for Appointment

The San Leandro City Council eliminated half of the eight applicants for the appointment to the District 4 City Council seat to replace Joyce Starosciak at its meeting on Tuesday, September 4. None of the candidates in the November 6 election, Chris Crow, Darlene Daevu, or Benny Lee received a single vote. Neither did David Erlich.

Only Planning Commissioner Tom Dlugosh received votes from all of the City Councilmembers. Former Mayor John Faria received five votes - only Mayor Stephen Cassidy didn't vote for him. Former San Leandro Police officer Charles Kane received four votes - only Councilmembers Michael Gregory and Ursula Reed didn't vote for him. School teacher Dana Chohlis received three votes - from Gregory, Reed, and Cassidy.

ApplicantGregoryReedSouzaCutterProlaCassidy
Dana ChohlisXXX
Chris Crow
Darlene Daevu
Tom DlugoshXXXXXX
David Erlich
John FariaXXXXX
Charles KaneXXXX
Benny Lee

With nearly all City Council candidates seeking the Alameda County Democratic Party endorsement, City Council candidate Jim Prola made two interesting choices by selecting registered Republicans Kane and Faria. Reed, who is also up for re-election, also selected Faria.

The San Leandro City Council will meet on September 13 to interview the four applicants and decide who will be the next District 4 Councilmember. That person will serve until December 31, 2012.

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