How the City of Santa Cruz Sold You Out
Timeline and Evidence
As a result of FOLF legal action, new, previously undisclosed information came to light at a hearing on November 19. (See Declaration of Bradly S. Torgan including exhibits). Here is the sequence of events and pointers to copies of the legal documents.
Anti-dog Lawsuit "Wins" but Loses
After nearly two years of public hearings and countless hours of staff study, it was clear that by an overwhelming margin the community supported the continuation of off-leash recreation at Lighthouse Field and Its Beach. The Santa Cruz City Council voted unanimously in 2003 to continue the compromise solution introduced in 1993, making off-leash access available for half of the day.
A small disgruntled group calling itself "Beach Rescue" couldn't live with the decision. Having lost in the court of public opinion, they hired Susan Brandt-Hawley, a high powered attorney who specializes in this kind of case. They went to the California Superior Court (See the original lawsuit) and they lost completely, but appealed. The appeal court ruled against them on most points, but did agree that the City's attempt to change the park General Plan might lead to an increase in the number of people with dogs. The court did not say there was a problem with the current level, but only that the City had not studied a possible increase. (See the Appeals Court Decision) It was ruled that the City had to set aside the plan revision, nothing more.
The disgruntled group completely failed to achieve its real goal: to drive out the community of people with dogs. But since their lawsuit was "won" (on the plan revision only) the court awarded them reimbursement of their attorneys' fees. Brandt-Hawley submitted a fee claim against the City of Santa Cruz which State Parks General Counsel Bradly Torgan described as "exorbitant." (See Torgan letter of 9/28/05)
Back-Room Meetings Begin
Bradly Torgan had met Susan Brandt-Hawley during a legal seminar in Santa Monica. For reasons unknown to us, Torgan and/or other State Parks officials apparently hatched a plan to give Brandt-Hawley what she couldn't win in court. On September 28, 2005, Torgan wrote to Santa Cruz City Attorney John Barisone stating his desire to give the lawsuit plaintiffs the result they wanted, and offering the City a financial incentive to change its policy and subvert the earlier decision reached by an open democratic process. State Parks would kick in some cash and Torgan would arrange for Brandt-Hawley to reduce her exorbitant fee demand, in exchange for letting her win through a back-room secret deal. (See Torgan letter of 9/28/05)
The Secret Deal is Done and the Cover-up Begins
Unfortunately the City Attorney agreed. But there was a catch: The City needed "political cover" (See page 1 of Torgan's Declaration) and did not want to take public responsibility for the decision. So on October 19, Barisone ghost-wrote a letter that Torgan would then send back to Barisone. (See Barisone letter of October 19, 2005) This letter was designed to mislead the public and make it appear that State Parks had compelling policy and legal reasons to expel people with off-leash dogs. This was false. The letter was political cover for the City's acquiescence to a deal engineered by Torgan for other reasons.
On October 26, 2005, Torgan sent a letter to the City that was almost word-for-word identical to Barisone's ghost-writing. (See Barisone letter of October 26) This letter told the City that people with off-leash dogs were to be expelled from the park when the City/State 30 year operating agreement expired on November 15, 2007.
So behind the scenes, the City made a legal commitment to Brandt-Hawley and her clients. The City sold out the community interest and agreed it would no longer operate Lighthouse Field State Beach with off-leash access, in exchange for the financial incentive. We have demanded a copy of the agreement from the City Attorney. At this time we do not know if the City Attorney will comply. In the meantime you can see a reference to this agreement in Torgan letter of October 21, 2005.
A Wrong Decision, Wrongly Made
This major land-use policy decision was made with no public review, no public comment and none of the required study. We believe the agreement to discontinue off-leash access at Lighthouse Field State Beach was made illegally and must be set aside. We are considering legal action accordingly.
The City/State operating agreement for Lighthouse Field had an automatic 20 year renewal if the parties wanted to take advantage of it. (See the Operating Agreement, paragraph 18.) Other than the threat by a disgruntled group to keep suing, there was nothing to prevent the City and State from simply renewing the agreement. We've always wondered why the obvious solution of simply renewing the operating agreement for 20 more years at no added cost wasn't being considered. Now we know -- the City had already secretly made other arrangements.
Two Years of Deception
Torgan's letter of October 26, 2005 was a sham. For two years, the City has continued its deception. Maybe they thought that, following the Torgan letter, this community would just roll over and play dead. They were probably shocked by the immediate and powerful public response.
We're pleased the City is now attempting to re-acquire control of Lighthouse Field and Its Beach, but feel betrayed that Council members and City officials met repeatedly with members of our community, knowing that they had sold us out in 2005, without ever saying a word. We wasted time, energy and money because this information was kept from us.
This behavior by Council and City officials is unethical and unconscionable, and most likely in violation of law. Simply put: it is wrong.
Perhaps there is some other explanation for why these newly disclosed documents paint such a bad picture. We don't see it, but if City officials wish to provide an explanation and/or apology, we'll gladly make that available on our web site.
This is a bigger issue than dogs off leash. No matter what you think about dogs, you should be alarmed about how the City has conducted its business. Anybody could be similarly victimized by the City on any issue. We must hold our City to higher ethical standards. They must make major policy decisions in an open and honest fashion, and they must stand up and openly take responsibility for their decisions.