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Suit Seeks Documents on Stream Ordinance from County of Marin
Press Release announcing lawsuit against Marin county seeking documents related to violations of the Fair Political Practices Act in connection with Stream Protection Ordinance
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: JUNE 18, 2014
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Paul Boylan, Esq., 530 297 7184
David Schnapf, david.schnapf [at] gmail.com, 415 640 5214
LAWSUIT CLAIMS COUNTY WITHHELD DOCUMENTS
ABOUT FAILED STREAM ORDINANCE
Marin County environmentalist, David Schnapf, filed a lawsuit in Marin County Superior Court against the County on Tuesday under the Public Records Act seeking the release of documents related to the County’s adoption of an “interim” stream protection ordinance in October 2013.
Marin’s 1994 and 2007 Countywide Plans mandate a stream conservation area ordinance (SCA ordinance) in order to protect Marin’s critically endangered Coho salmon. The interim ordinance, which never went into effect, was the product of months of contentious deliberations and hearings throughout most of 2013. According to Mr. Schnapf, “the process the Board of Supervisors used to write and enact the failed ordinance was marked by illegality and impropriety from the outset.” The lawsuit seeks to obtain documents revealing misconduct by the County Supervisors, including their spending of government funds in this failed effort.
A May 2013 letter from the County to the California Fair Political Practices Commission shows the County knew that members of the Board of Supervisors, including Supervisors Steve Kinsey and Katie Rice, had a conflict of interest because they own property whose value could be affected by a stream protection ordinance. A letter to the County from the California Fair Political Practices Commission in September 2013 confirmed the conflict.
“Under the California Fair Political Practices Act it was illegal for Kinsey and Rice to participate in any way in the development, consideration or enactment of a stream protection ordinance that could have a personal impact on the value of their properties. It appears that the County intentionally violated the Fair Political Practices Act and is now seeking to cover up its illegal behavior by improperly withholding documents that the public is entitled to see.”
A stream protection ordinance consistent with the 2007 Countywide Plan was proposed in March 2013 by the Marin County Community Development Agency (“CDA”) and approved by the County Planning Commission in May 2013. In June 2013, after the Supervisors’ conflicts were known to the County, the Board of Supervisors formed a two-person “subcommittee” to redraft the controversial ordinance. According to Mr. Schnapf: “Despite the fact that Supervisor Kinsey’s participation was illegal under the Fair Political Practices Act, he was named to the subcommittee and played a leading role in substantially weakening the ordinance. It is presumed that the changes to the ordinance orchestrated by Mr. Kinsey directly impacted his financial interests as a property owner.”
In the summer of 2013 the Board of Supervisors’ subcommittee, including Supervisor Kinsey, held a series of closed-door meetings to weaken the ordinance that had been proposed by the Community Development Agency and approved by the Planning Commission. Mr. Schnapf’s suit seeks documents, which the County refuses to divulge, that pertain to the actions the subcommittee. “Clearly the County is hiding the ball. It seems likely that the Board of Supervisors formed the subcommittee for the purpose of allowing Mr. Kinsey to control the process of revising the ordinance without any public scrutiny. This was plainly improper.”
The controversial ordinance was ultimately killed by a “poison pill” provision that was triggered by a lawsuit challenging the ordinance filed in November 2013 by the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN).
The County also has refused to disclose any documents related to the “poison pill” provision. According to Mr. Schnapf, “it appears that the poison pill was added because the County realized the interim ordinance was legally indefensible due to the violations of the Fair Political Practices Act.”
“Two decades after the 1994 Countywide Plan was adopted, Marin still does not have a stream protection ordinance,” notes Mr. Schnapf. “The County has wasted countless hours of staff time and a very substantial sum of money, but we are no closer to enacting an ordinance protecting our endangered Coho salmon than we were twenty years ago. I think the people of Marin are entitled to understand what happened.”