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Property owner sues city for release of document


Photo By: Photos By Traci Newell/Town Crier
Photo Photos By Traci Newell/Town Crier Kim Cranston seeks release of a staff document discussing the Main and First property, above. Development plans for the site are slated for review tonight, as announced in a public notice, inset.

Downtown property owner Kim Cranston said at last week’s Los Altos City Council meeting that he is suing the city to seek release of a memo regarding the potential sale of city-owned land at Main and First streets.

Cranston, a Los Altos Hills resident, shared his intention to pursue a lawsuit during the public comments portion of the May 8 meeting.

Cranston told the council that the memo reveals that city staff “misled” the city when it approved a purchase agreement with Jeffrey Morris of Jeffrey A. Morris Group Inc. to develop the 0.78-acre site at Main and First.

“This memo shows there were other interested developers, and other evidence shows staff prevented those developers from submitting proposals to the city for First and Main,” said Cranston, who filed the lawsuit in Santa Clara County Superior Court May 8.

The lawsuit asserts that city officials violated the California Public Records Act (CPRA) when they denied Cranston’s July 2011 public-records request to view the memo, authored by former Los Altos Economic Development Coordinator Anne Stedler. City staff denied Cranston’s request in August 2011, claiming the document was protected from public disclosure because it was a draft copy not intended for public scrutiny, according to the legal filing.

“It’s in the public interest to release the document so the community can learn how it was misled, why this happened and what can be done to prevent it from happening in the future,” Cranston said.

Cranston’s records’ request, according to the lawsuit, contended that the February 2010 memo from Stedler to former City Manager Doug Schmitz and current Assistant City Manager James Walgren discussed the “advisability of a new RFP (request for proposal) for the city-owned property located at 230 First Street and 400 Main Street.”

His request further stated that developer Chris Bryant contacted the city about resubmitting a proposal for the property through the RFP process in the fall of 2009. It also alleged Amanda Tevis of Passerelle Investment Co. told Walgren, Schmitz and Stedler she was interested in “developing in downtown Los Altos.”

City officials entered into an agreement with Morris in February 2010, more than a year after the city’s RFP deadline passed. Morris recently submitted plans for a two-story, mixed-use development on the site.

Reached by the Town Crier, Councilman Ron Packard questioned Cranston’s timing in announcing the lawsuit and noted the Morris plans are scheduled for review by the Architecture and Site Review Committee today.

Packard called Cranston’s announcement “opportunistic” and an attempt “to try and embarrass the (Morris) project.”

“He delayed and delayed and delayed until he had an opportune time,” Packard said of Cranston.

In the lawsuit, Cranston claims he made the records request because the city had indicated that no other developer was interested in the property before or after Stedler’s memo.

“Excluding other developers from submitting proposals for First and Main was detrimental to Los Altos in a number of ways,” Cranston told the council. “The city probably did not get the best price nor the best project for the property, and it will likely cost the city more than $2 million to replace (current) public parking lost at the First and Main property.”

In addition to the release of the Stedler memo, Cranston seeks a declaration from the city stating that it violated the CPRA as well as recovery of costs incurred by the suit, including attorney fees.

Walgren did not return a Town Crier email before press deadline Monday. Mayor Val Carpenter, Councilwoman Megan Satterlee and City Attorney Jolie Houston declined to comment on the case.

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