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Atherton OKs settlement deal with developer

Original post made on Aug 25, 2011

The Atherton City Council has approved a tentative agreement to settle a lawsuit with the development firm Pacific Peninsula Group, which sued the town to recover some $298,000 in road-impact fees it claimed were charged illegally. The town won't provide details until the deal is signed by Pacific Peninsula Group.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, August 24, 2011, 10:56 AM

Comments (43)

Posted by Westside Trucker
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Aug 25, 2011 at 8:49 am

The next time Atherton decides to do something like this, It should consult some experts first. Atherton has some pro bono advisors living in town.

Posted by Earth to Atherton
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 25, 2011 at 12:05 pm

Isn't it just incredible!!!!!!!
I'm still laughing too hard to comment properly for now..............

Posted by Menlo Park
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 25, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Other towns have charged these fees. There's nothing illegal about them. PPG just happens to have someone pulling strings for them at town hall.

Posted by T. Party
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 29, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Out of five hundred cities in California only twenty charge Road Impact Fees. Atherton was charging more than double what most of the other cities charge and the surplus money was being used for other town expenses. That makes it a tax, which needs voter approval.

Posted by Oh brother
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 30, 2011 at 12:13 am

T Party
It's a good guess that those 20 other Cities, just like Atherton, are small residential only communities, and that like us they have no other source for revenue to support their public pension plans and to provide Town services.
Please remember that PPG and a hand full of other real estate developers are the ONLY people making money off the Town and are also the MAIN USERS of town infrastructure and services-- the Building Dept, Planning Dept, Police Dept. (construction theft) and Public Works Departments ,resulting in the major wear and tear on our roads.
The resident owners of PPG used to regularly attend council meetings and talk about the two hundred plus homes (6- 12 million apiece) that they had generously built for this community over the last decade, out of the goodness of their hearts.
Council meeting self-promotion speeches ceased when PPG's owner's own personal residence turned up in the Building Department audit of 06/o7, and the long list of law suits brought by PPG against the Town began. I believe this will be the 4th major pay out that Marsala Lewis and Wise have been able to arrange for PPG.
Instead of suing Atherton into complete submission on a regular basis, I wonder if it might be more practical to just reincorporate the Town as "Ackleyville" and outsource the whole administration directly to PPG's control.
They appear to have been running the show for some time now --so why not--just let them pay all the bills from now on?

Posted by NoTax
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 30, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Oh Brother,

Most cities have sales tax revenue. Atherton does have Parcel Tax revenue but the council has not elected to increase it for some time. Is there a reason why?

All fees or Taxes are paid by residents doing work on their homes, private schools doing improvements, not just developers.

St. Joe's new campus would have had $700,000 to $1,000,000 in illegal taxes had not the council realized its mistakes and eliminated the Off-Haul, Business Tax, and Road Impact Tax increases.

The refund to PPG was approved by McKeithen, Dobbie, Carlson, Lewis, and Widmer. What was their reason?

There were the illegal the Off-Haul Tax, Business Tax increase, and the Road Impact Tax which were refnded. What is the fourth?

At this stage of the game McKeithen, Dobbie, and Widmer can reinstate any of these Taxes or Fees as they have a majority or they can ask the residents to approve them.

Maybe they do not want to see a Parcel Tax increase fail on their watch?

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 30, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Sorry T party, but road impact fees are just like all other fees charged for building in any town. The primary destroyer of roads in Atherton are heavy trucks hauling dirt. those fees were charged to anyone building in Atherton not just the developers. But PPG put Marsala, Lewis and Carlosn into office so guess what? They sue the town and the town capitualates even though it is a perectly legal fee to charge. If it walks like a duck........

I've had personal experience with PPG. [Portion deleted.]

Posted by Liar's Dice
a resident of another community
on Aug 30, 2011 at 8:26 pm

The road impact fee has been successful in other jurisdictions. That's fact. Atherton's implementation of the road impact fee was flawed. That's why it is being refunded. The Council screwed up on the ordinance language.

The Council could re-introduce the fee and do it correctly. They have a sharp City Attorney now. He could probably figure out how. But, politically, it would be pretty difficult for the Council to do it again when they're still giving back money from the botched attempt.

Instead, they seize forgotten deposits. One time fix, but it's better than nothing. The rich Atherton residents won't miss it anyway, right?

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 30, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Liar's Dice:

what exactly was the problem with the language of the ordinance?

Posted by Oh brother
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 31, 2011 at 12:54 am

To: No Tax
The PPG litigation started with the illegal (at the time) and non permitted basements under various accessory structures built at the builder/owner's personal residence, an address that had been specifically featured in the Town's audit of the Building Department. The owner demanded to have his way- rules or no rules [portion removed]. The Town's capitulation on the audit was so complete that the development cartel decided that hence forth, always to keep alive various active threats of litigation going against the Town to assert dominance, and with PPG usually leading the charge.
So I guess this would be the number one you inquired about, and you have correctly listed the 2nd, 3rd and 4th law suits that followed. Wonder what other suits are still in the pipeline.
Still think that we might as well all send our parcel tax checks directly over to Belbrooke and just cut out the theatrics of Town governance entirely.

Posted by John P Johns, CPA
a resident of another community
on Aug 31, 2011 at 9:52 am

As is a matter of public record, I am the author of the Phase III Audit of the Atherton Building Department.

When I wrote this report, little did I know that it would set into motion a sequence of events that included my release from employment, my reinstatement and resignation with honors, a $10 million lawsuit against the Town and the former building official and finally the complete outsourcing of the Department (ostensibly on the grounds of cost savings).

When I wrote the Phase III audit report, little did I know that a handful of developers who had influence with the Council as over-sized as the mansions that they were building would seek to discredit me, my report and the work of the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury, which independently investigated and validated my findings.

In the final analysis Steve Ackley and his colleagues in the construction industry serving (and I use that word "serving" liberally) Atherton killed the goose that laid the golden egg.

I believe the genesis of Ackley's beef with the Town was when the poolhouse he built at his residence was identified in my audit as one of four building projects that had been allowed to progress despite egregious violations of the Town's zoning ordinance.

As is documented in my Phase III audit report and as is now a matter of public record, the accessory structure at Mr. Ackley's residence had been built with a basement and without without sprinklers as was required by the fire code.

This violation caused the structure Mr. Ackley's wife, in a public meeting of the Atherton City Council, referred to as a "place where her children and her children's friends could go and play" to be red-tagged as unsafe for occupancy.

I was at attendance at the meeting where Mr. and Mrs. Ackley protested the Town's action to red-tag the poolhouse that they had built on their property.

While it has been five years since this event transpired, I remember it vividly. I remember thinking to myself at the time: What kind of mother and father would allow their children to play in a building that the Town would not certify as being safe to occupy?

Ultimately the Ackley family won the Town's permission to occupy the poolhouse. However it is my understanding that they were forced to install sprinklers in the basement, something that they were supposed to do all along.

[Portion deleted]

From my perspective as a parent with children similar in age to that of the Ackley family, I would just as soon have my children to go play on the freeway as I would allow them to inhabit a structure that the government has deemed to be unsafe.

[Portion removed; don't speculate on other people's motives.]

In my view, Mr. Ackley was [portion removed; speculation about motives] aided and abetted by a compliant City Council and [portion removed]at best incompetent former City Attorney. I offer up as support for this notion, the fact that road impact fees remain in place at other California cities, including the Town of Los Altos Hills.

To this day I wonder, why did the town roll over and play dead, rather than fight the Ackleys on such a vital and substantial source of income?

Mr. Ackley has prevailed in his most recent battle with the Town. This is true. However one must wonder. At what cost?

The Town of Atherton has lost a vital source of revenue with which to finance the reconstruction of roads. I, and the former Public Works Director Duncan Jones, can tell you that the roads built in Atherton were not designed for the load carrying capacity of the trucks carrying the heavy loads used in construction. They were designed for passenger sedans weighing between 2,000 lbs and 8,000 lbs.

So when Atherton's roads buckle under the weight of trucks carrying construction materials and from excavated earth being off-hauled, and when the buckling of these roads become uncomfortable to drive on, you know whom to thank.

You can thank Mr. Ackley, because it is due in large part to Mr. Ackley's crusade [portion removed; speculation about motives] that the Town doesn't have the money to repair the roads that have been damaged by construction traffic.

Posted by Staff No More
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 2, 2011 at 7:48 am

Mr. Johns,

Thanks for the info and your help with the affairs of the town.

Question: Last year did you inform the Police Chief that Council Member McKeithen had violated the Brown Act by giving you closed session information regarding your termination?

Posted by 60 Minutes
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 3, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Is this true? Did the Chief investigate and file charges?

Posted by Oh Brother
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 3, 2011 at 5:19 pm

The question that is far more germane to to all of the PPG settlement pay outs than the one mentioned above, is the involvement of Council Members Marsala and Lewis and fellow refund recipient Wise in the negotiating process, as they are all conflicted parties and should have stayed out of it.
What would have been so shocking about a Mckiethen conversing with the finance director about an audit that the entire council ordered?

Posted by Attempted arrest of Kathy McKeithen
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 3, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Yes, the chief tried to file charges, institute an investigation, and have Kathy arrested at a council meeting when she was mayor. The investigation wasn't going to be conducted by Pete Peterson either, but perhaps his alter ego as in the Star Trek episode "Whom Gods Destroy' (this fellow always finds people guilty instead of innocent). Fortunately Mr. Wagstaffe determined enough was enough in going out on a limb for the fine officers at the APD, and the arrest was cancelled.

Posted by 60 Minutes
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 3, 2011 at 5:43 pm

"What would have been so shocking about a Mckiethen conversing with the finance director about an audit that the entire council ordered?"


She took an oath upon assuming office. IF she did share closed session information, she violated it. If the Brown Act says divulging closed session information is against the law, she should be held accountable.

Just as importantly, IF she divulged, she worked against the Town's interests by providing information which led Johns to be successful in his suit. That's money which could have been used to improve infrastructure. The remedy is to throw her out of office.

Posted by Attempted arrest of Kathy McKeithen
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 3, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Are you insane? You are questioning Kathy McKeithen's ethics?

How about the ethics of Elizabeth Lewis who built an illegal house, paid no penalty for it, and gets to vote on issues such as settling a lawsuit with the guy who built it for it, her buddy Steven Ackley?

How about the ethics of Charles Marsala, who asked a resident for a bribe?

How about the ethics of the entire police department and their criminal conduct?

Get a grip.

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 3, 2011 at 6:14 pm

60 minutes:

you are totally out to lunch. In my observation of the disfunctional disaster that is the town of Atherton, one of the few people to display any ethics is Kathy McKeithan. Elizabeth Lewis is totally conflicted when it comes to anything to do with PPG, yet she votes on issues involving them. Ethically challenged is a mild description of one that would assault a citizen she SERVES in fornt of witnesses and then try to lie about it, saying "it wasn't me." What arrogance. What hubris. "All you little people are too stupid to know that I did it so I can deny it with impudence." the fact that the citizens of Atherton allow this disgusting excuse for a representative to remain in office is totally beyond me.

Marsal was conflicted as well having taken a loan from PPG, yet no recusal from voting on matters involving PPG. Disgusting.

The editors removed my previous statement regarding PPG being "ethically challenged," but what would you say of a company that hired an interior designer to design and stage the interior of one of their spec homes and then allowed their own interior designer, that didn't have the design chops to actually do the job, to sit for photos and claim credit for the other designer's work? Ethically challenged doesn't even begin to describe that kind of behavior.

Until the citizens of Atherton pull their collective heads out they will continue to have this god awful ethicall morasse they call a town. But as I've said before, I think most of them are too interested in what car is in their driveway or how big the diamond ring is on their finger. It's just unbelievable.

Posted by John P Johns CPA
a resident of another community
on Sep 3, 2011 at 10:53 pm

In regards to the suggestion that Ms. McKeithen's revelations to me about what went on in closed session helped me with my lawsuit, this statement is untrue.

The pivotal factor in my lawsuit was the carelessness of former City Attorney Marc Hynes in responding to my public records requests. I asked for and got the entire database of e-mails from former Interim City Manager Wende Protzman's archive, including e-mails labled as attorney-client privileged.

The mistake Mr. Hynes made was nothing short of comical. Marc Hynes left one set of disks with the City Clerk which had all of sensitive e-mails redacted.

Another set of disks containing the sensitive e-mails,including accounts of what was to be discussed at closed session was sent to me by mail from Marc Hynes law office.

When Marc Hynes realized what had happened, he demanded the e-mails to be returned. However it was too late then, his sensitive e-mails describing what was being discussed in closed session (and revealing the fact that those closed session discussions were illegal)had already been released in response to a public records request. Hence there was no getting them back.

In regards to my criminal complaint against McKeithen. I've leveled numerous criminal complaints against highly placed elected and appointed officials in Atherton. Not a single complaint of mine has resulted in a police report having been taken, much less an arrest having been made.

Perhaps the refusal of law enforcement to take action against town officials who violate the law is precisely why Danielson says that it would be a "mistake" to consider Police outsourcing.

Perhaps nobody wants to outsource the Police Department is elected and appointed officials in Town alike fear what would happen if a real law enforcement agency took over.

Posted by Attempted arrest
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 4, 2011 at 8:51 am

[Post removed. Don't use this forum to accuse people of criminal behavior.]

Posted by Oh Brother
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 4, 2011 at 11:48 am

Since some people insist on turning the above thread about PPG getting their way as usual, into a discussion of the fantasy arrest attempt of council person McKiethen, ....There are many who remember that on the two days leading up to the Council meeting in question, where the arrest was going to be staged, that Ms. Lewis was seen to be literally camped out in Guerra's office pushing for this arrest and racing back and forth across Town to the Ackley's home off Walsh, to discuss strategy.
Back to the topic at hand- Why is a financially strapped Town continuing to give money to one of the only people who makes money off the Town and who is a major drain on Town services? I don't want to pay a parcel tax to subsidize PPG's business--do you?.

Posted by Attempted arrest of Kathy McKeithen
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 4, 2011 at 10:02 pm

The Almanac deleted my last comment, so let me try again without names:

Various Town of Atherton elected and appointed officials committed crimes against John Johns.

60 Minutes is more worried about how Johns proved this in his legal case to achieve his favorable settlement than the fact these illegal acts occurred in the first place.

How Johns found out had nothing to do with Kathy McKeithen, as 60 Minutes accused, but through the incompetency of Marc Hynes.

Why is 60 Minutes not concerned with the Atherton officials who performed these bad acts? Kathy McKeithen is not one of them.

Posted by John P Johns
a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2011 at 10:29 pm

If what Attempted Arrest says it true, it wouldn't surprise me.

My recollection is that Ackley's subsidiary Pacific Peninsula Architecture designed Ms. Lewis' home which we all know now does not conform to the building code.

Both Ackley and Elizabeth Lewis were humiliated by being discovered with, as the late Sam Goodman said "getting caught with their hands in the cookie jar".

Both Ackley and Lewis sought an opportunity for revenge in the possible arrest of Kathy McKeithen.

What is most surprising about Ackley's and Lewis' behavior is that they sought revenge against the wrong member of the City Council.

Ackley's and Lewis' anger are misplaced emotions.

It was Jerry Carlson who was the one that demanded an audit of the Building Department, which resulted in the discovery of both Lewis' and Ackley's illegal structures.

If Lewis and Ackley wanted revenge against the right person, they should have gone after Jerry Carlson on conflict of interest charges.

It seems as though everyone in Atherton has a problem with the law.

Danielson is right, it would be "unwise to outsource the police department". Who knows whom the Police would take down on their way out the door.

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 5, 2011 at 10:03 am

"Who knows whom the Police would take down on their way out the door."

The more they take down in the ethical sewer that seems to be Atherton, the better.

Posted by Prop 13
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 5, 2011 at 10:48 am

When a 40 year old home with an tax value of $500,000 is torn down in Atherton and replaced with a $12,000,000 home, Atherton's property tax revenue increases from $500.00 a year to $12,000.00 a year. The extra taxes go roads, police, staff, the new library, and more. Not much has been said about the extra $10,000.00 a year in revenue Atherton receives from a new home.

For years residents, schools, and developers accepted paying Road Impact Fees. Only when the Council approved a 40% increase and began using the money for other items did anyone challenge the fee.

The goose laying the silver egg was killed with the increase.

The twenty other towns charging the fee have it low enough that no one wants to spend the time or the legal costs to challenge the fee.

Posted by 60 Minutes
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 5, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Steve Ackley needs to run for Atherton City Council. Real estate development is Atherton's "industry". That interest needs to be represented in the decision making.

Posted by Oh Brother
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 5, 2011 at 12:54 pm

So the justification here is that all long term residents and or heritage homes are standing in the way of the development community's need to churn the market in the name of progress and their own pocketbooks? This is precisely the kind of twisted rational that has left Atherton devoid of enough roots and community spirit and leadership to remain anyone's description of a hometown.
I would rather have real neighbors and a true sense of community than a fancy new Town Hall full of offices for more employees required to service PPG's needs. If PPG is so worried about paved roads to increase the value of the properties they want to sell, then they can pitch in for the cost to repair them after their trucks have worn them out.
No parcel tax to subsidize these builders profits!

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 5, 2011 at 2:16 pm

60 minutes:

Ackley doesn't need to run. He and PPG are already represented by Elizabeth Lewis.

Posted by John P Johns
a resident of another community
on Sep 5, 2011 at 6:08 pm

The sentiment expressed by "Prop 13" is consistent withe prevailing view when I was Atherton's finance director. Apparently four years have gone by and not much has changed.

The sentiment I'm speaking of was an inclination to let developers build whatever they wanted to, regardless of what the Town's zoning ordinance said because it would bring higher taxes, better salaries and eventually nicer offices.

What was lost in this kind of thinking was that Atherton's zoning ordinance and building codes were put in place for a reason. These laws were put in place to protect the character of the Town and the safety of those who choose to live in Town.

Steve Ackley's willingness to build an accessory structure with a basement without sprinklers as was required by the code calls into question not only his respect for the rule of law, but the intent of the law. What Steve Ackley did has me wondering, if he was willing to put his family at risk by building a non-conforming structure, what does this say about how he feels about his clients?

Elizabeth Lewis' insistence on building the home she wanted, every last square foot of it zoning ordinance be dammed, makes me wonder what Athertonians were thinking when they elected to the City Council and why they allow her to stay on when even Wynn Furth had to acknowledge that she violated the law.

This all leads me to conclude that if the residents of Atherton think that Elizabeth Lewis is fit to be on the City Council and that if they actually think Steve Ackley deserves the opportunity to be on the City Council with their pattern of behavior, then they deserve one another.

Additionally, if there are people who want to have Kathy McKeithen arrested and jailed for her indiscretions, then why not go after the real criminals in Town, those who have profited from breaking the law and have profited handsomely?

Posted by 60 Minutes
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 5, 2011 at 6:11 pm

Lewis, alone, doesn't have the influence or votes to enact the changes necessary to support this vital source of revenue to the Town. Ackley would be an asset to the council.

Clearly he has the necessary business acumen to direct the Town on a path of growth, rather than one of downsizing and protectionism.

The 'ol neighborhood argument is a non-starter. That's the group which protests lights at the high school for local football games, whines about places for kids to gather, and otherwise true opportunities for community building.

Posted by Revamped council
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 5, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Steve Ackley can do a great job and should replace Kathy McKeithen once she is arrested. The real estate industry is entitled to representation on the council.

So are the cops. For the meager cost of renting a cottage on an Atherton property, the APOA would be entitled to have their own candidate be on the council, to replace Jim Dobbie or Bill Widmer.

And who better than former Chief Glenn Nielsen, a seasoned real estate agent as well as a cop?

If Chief Nielsen can't do the job, other fine candidates would be head dispatcher John Matted or K9 officer Dean Devlught.

Imagine how Atherton could be reformed with a unified council of Lewis, Carlson, Ackley, Nielsen, and either Jeff Wise or Devlught!

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 5, 2011 at 8:31 pm

I can't tell if 60 minutes is serious or just trolling. At this point I think it's the latter as any suggestion that Ackley on the council would be "good" for Atherton is clearly a joke.

Posted by It Was a Tax
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 6, 2011 at 8:16 am

Menlo Voter,

First: The Road Impact Fee, Off-Haul Fee, and Business License Increase were all illegal taxes or tax increases. That is why the council has been forced to cancel and refund them. Those votes have come from all council members.

The Town did keep a few year's worth and several hundred thousand of the illegal Business License Increase. It seems a council can put in an illegal tax and only has to return the last year's revenue. The council stalled making a decision on the Business License Tax for almost a year, till after the 2008 election.

From the outside it looks like the Atherton Council decided to increase taxes on home building thinking no one would object.

Then in 2006 Steve Westly was being charged $90,000 to haul dirt off his yard and complained it was a tax. That started the challenges to the Atherton Council's Tax increases of the last decade.

Second: Back in 2006, the ACIL, Finance Committee, and other supporters put Jerry Carlson into office. Marsala and Janz ran for council in 2000 after having campaigned for the Parcel Tax in 1999 and 2000 while McKeithen campaigned to defeat it both times to chase out Dudley and Chapman.

Back in 1999 and 2000, McKeithen claimed the town and its finances were mismanaged.

More than half the town voted for the Parcel Tax which is 15% of the budget; but it needs two-thirds to pass. So McKeithen was successful, she did stop Dudley and Chapman from seeking re-election. But without the Parcel Tax there were layoffs and financial problems for the town.

So Parcel Tax supporters then recruited two Commissioners, Marsala and Janz, to run against McKeithen. Neither Janz nor Marsala were supported by developers. Eventually all three ended up on the council. After two terms, both left the council.

Third, If McKeithen, Dobbie, and Widmer want to re-instate any of those illegal taxes the council put in place last decade they have the three votes. Or if they want they can ask the town to vote on these taxes.

There is something to be said for term limits. Few in Atherton can afford to spend the time on council and never has an incumbent been defeated.

The new Finance Director and City Attorney caught the errors of illegal taxes and advised the council to fix them. It was also noticed that more than $2,500,000 in Building Department revenue was in the General Fund.

Lewis ran the last successful Parcel Tax Campaign. Who will run the next? Unless this Parcel Tax is renewed the town will have big financial problems. Whoever is on the council in the future will have to deal with those issues. Running for Atherton Council will not appeal to most.

Posted by John P Johns
a resident of another community
on Sep 6, 2011 at 10:44 am

In response to the comments made by "it was a tax"

After I was released from my employment in October 2007, the City Attorney threatened to have me prosecuted for fraud if I continued to press my lawsuit against the Town. Additionally, as part of the proposed settlement, the City Attorney demanded my cooperation in defending a challenge to the City's business license tax.

I considered the Town's threat of criminal prosecution to be unethical and illegal. Accordingly, I rejected the Town's offer.

As is well known I continued to press my case and prevailed. I was also exonerated by the San Mateo County District Attorney.

The above information is relevant to this topic because it wasn't Louise Ho who "discovered" the supposedly illegal business tax. It was Charles Marsala, egged on by his developer friends who sought to discredit me by way of claims of levying "illegal taxes".

Marsala and his buddies were at work long before Ms. Ho arrived on the scene.

The aforementioned post by "it was a tax" indicates that the campaign to discredit me and to rehabilitate Lewis' and Marsala's developer friends is alive and well today.

It would appear as though Sam Benzacar, Elizibeth Lewis and Steve Ackey, all of whom were humiliated by discoveries of illegal construction at 1 Emilie, 55 Bellbrook and 70 Barry Lane still hope to settle the score.

What seems to be lost on these folks is that the more they clamor on about supposedly illegal taxes, and other such nonsense, the more they open up old wounds and call attention to what unethical and arguably illegal actions of their own.

What Elizabeth Lewis and Charles Marsala don't seem to understand is that the more they agitate (either in their own name of via pseudonyms)for Kathy McKeithen's criminal prosecution, the more they put at risk their own freedom.

This is because Elizabeth Lewis and Charles Marsala have, to put it mildly, acted without respect for the rule of law.

So before calling for McKeithen's head, these two politicians should stop and think about what holding McKeithen accountable would mean for their own futures.

Frankly I could care less about the whole bunch. I would just as soon see Kathy McKeithen be prosecuted, because I believe that in the ensuing criminal investigation of Ms. McKeithen more crimes on the part of current and past City Council members (including Marsala and Lewis) would come to light.

In the final analysis a thorough house cleaning at the Atherton Town hall is in order. The Atherton City Council may think that it jetisoned its problems with the disposal of the Builing Department.

I think not. I still believe that there are those in a position of power who have yet to be held accountable. I dare say if one City Councilman or Councilwoman goes down, the rest (past and present members of the City Council) will fall like dominoes.

Posted by Oh Brother
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 6, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Mr Johns: If you are going to examen your own audit for those featured with with the power, influence up through the county, and big axes to grind, you might have considered 94 Tallwood nearer the top of your list for future candidates for Town Council. J.A.T. may be able to jog your memory better than I.

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 6, 2011 at 12:29 pm

it was a tax:

sorry, I disagree, it was not a tax. It was a fee. Similar to the fees many other towns and cities charge for the same thing. Are theirs illegal? If so, why aren't they being fought? I think the answer is obvious, Ackley and his crowd knew the "fix was in" if they challenged it in court. Their cronies on the council along with an incompetent city attorney would cave. And guess what? That's exactly what happened.

Posted by John P Johns
a resident of another community
on Sep 6, 2011 at 1:44 pm

How could I forget 94 Tallwood?

[Portion removed; unsubstantiated charges or innuendoes of wrongdoing violate terms of use.]

I guess that's why I would endorse Steve Ackley's candidacy for City Council if he were to run for City Council. Ackley's predictable, Carlson isn't.

The Town caved on the King's lawsuit [portion removed; speculation about improper conduct by others].

By the way, Jerry Carlson knew how outrageous the King's violation was. I showed him the residence when it was under construction. I remember very clearly his reaction when he stood in King's monstrosity. He was astounded, he was shocked, he was appalled.

That was before the stuff hit the fan. When push came to shove, Jerry Carlson went from being a lion to becoming a lamb. The transition was remarkable.

The one thing you can say about McKeithen is that she's been dependable for the most part. Carlson however cut and ran at the first opportunity.

Posted by Oh Brother
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 6, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Mr. Johns: The Draper's house and basement were built long before Atherton had even incorporated into a Town and therefore long before any zoning laws existed. The Drapers did not have any zoning problems with their own remodel of a century old home, as it was all great great grandfathered in. Any parallels between their property and the King's were entirely invented for convenience by the various Charles'.
Therefore, It is far more credible that Marsala simply manipulated the Drapers into thinking that they had a similar problem to the one that the KIngs were creating and needed to support them with a letter, or that they were carefully and intentionally misled by Charles in some other way.
They had no special connection with the building Department as you suggest. They were simply targeted for USE because of their prestige and because none of the more proximate neighbors were in support the Kings.
However, I do believe you are absolutely correct in identifying the King's property and it's inclusion in your audit, as a big turning point for the worse for many many individuals and the Town as a whole. The legacy of a Town in the hole might describe it better.

Posted by 60 Minutes
a resident of another community
on Sep 6, 2011 at 7:56 pm

Johns said, "I was also exonerated by the San Mateo County District Attorney." I thought the power to exonerate was held by the judicial bench, not by the DA.

Marsala's house is on the market. He doesn't have a dog in this fight any longer. I doubt he cares about any of this.

Posted by John P Johns
a resident of another community
on Sep 6, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Dear "Oh Brother"

It's been a long time. [Portion removed] I also recall there having been a modification of the Drapers residence that included an expansion of the basement underlying their home.

The poster going by the name "Just a Thought" would know.

If I am mistaken, apologies are in order to the Drapers. What I do know is that anyone could verify whether or not the Drapers had their home remodeled and their basements expanded and if so when. That's because the Town's permit database goes all the way back to the Town's incorporation.

As far as the comments of "60 Minutes" I don't think it is only a judge who can "exonerate someone". I do believe a refusal to prosecute by the DA once a criminal complaint has been filed by a law enforcement agency does constitute an exoneration. However I'm not a lawyer and those distinctions matter little to me.

I also respectfully disagree with the notion that because Marsala's house is on the market he no longer has a dog in the fight. If someone plans on living in his former home, rather than bulldozing the place, the buyer should hire a structural engineer. That's because when I did my audit of the Building Department I learned that he had moved load bearing walls without getting the necessary structural calculations done.

I brought this issue up with Mike Wassman. He thought it was no big deal. But Mike Wassman was also the one who retired under a cloud when Kimberly Sweidy sued him and the rest of the building department for negligence.

Posted by Oh Brother
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 7, 2011 at 12:11 am

I would love to see a list of PPG investors--could you scan it in for the readers of this blog to see please?? At least give it to the Almanac.
[Portion removed; baseless accusations and innuendoes of wrongdoing by others violate terms of use.]

Posted by Exonerated
a resident of another community
on Sep 7, 2011 at 12:43 am

Mr. Johns and 60 Minutes - based on the U.S. Constitution, Mr. Johns is legally innocent of the crimes he was accused of by the Atherton police unless and until he is convicted of them. If the D.A. refused to prosecute, he can never be convicted, and therefore is legally innocent, and (based on the expiration of the statute of limitations for these crimes), permanently so.

Now let's discuss "innocent" versus "exonerated".

From a practical perspective, the D.A.'s refusal to prosecute is an exoneration in most cases. From a technical perspective, it is not as the D.A. can claim they couldn't prove the criminal charges "beyond a reasonable doubt" (which is the standard for a criminal conviction in the United States), but that does not mean the person has been exonerated.

California has a mechanism called "factual innocence" that is surely well known to Atherton by now. This involves a complete exoneration, and a recognition that the innocence is not just legal (by virtue of a failure to convict), but absolute and factual.

Mr. Johns may not ever have been eligible for a factual innocence since it requires an arrest. He falls into an interesting black hole in the California statute (no arrest, yet damaging and public accusations, but failure to prosecute) that might in all fairness deserve a mechanism for factual innocence. Yet, none exists without an arrest unless Mr. Johns wanted to try to make some new law based on the existing statute by filing a motion for factual innocence.

The bottom line is that anyone who read about this stuff knew it was just a vendetta by cops who had been accused of various misconduct by Johns, and therefore should never have been taken seriously by anyone (and, when push came to shove, even the D.A. could not take it seriously despite enormous pressure to by those same police officers).

Posted by Draper/ King neighbor
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Oct 17, 2011 at 5:25 am

The Drapers and Kings live on the same cul de sac, which has a steep slope. Their houses are similiar in design, two stories with no basement in the back and what becomes a very tall basement towards the street and the front of the slope.

Ten to fifteen years ago the council passed a basement ordinance. No one really considered if it would work on lots on steep slopes. There is no representation from West of the Alemeda on the Planning Commission or Council. The ordinance makes a basement on a steep slope a third floor, which then counts towards square footage. The ordinance should be fixed.

After the Almanac ran a story that the Council was not letting the Kings move into their house and the Kings had sued the town, there was a large turn out at the council meeting to support the Kings. The Drapers being there. Those that spoke told the Council to stop wasting tax dollars, creating bad press for the town, and let the Kings move in their home.

The council changed its position and let the Kings move in. I don't think the council ever addressed the ordinance. The council should review Los Altos Hills and Portola Valley building ordinances for adjustments to the Atherton code.

Every so often the council gets out of touch with what the people want requiring a large turn out at a council meeting to reverse policy.

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