Friday, August 07, 2009
Court: Cadigan Crossed Line in Land Dispute
By Dan McKay
Journal Staff Writer
A judge slammed City Councilor Michael Cadigan repeatedly in a 17-page opinion that awarded former landowners $136,500 because the city improperly denied a zoning change.
The case involves about eight acres in Taylor Ranch that once housed the Westside Equestrian Center. The landowners wanted to sell the property so it could be turned into a high-end residential development but were blocked for several years by the zoning issue.
Much of District Judge Ted Baca's decision focuses on Cadigan, who represents the area and served as the City Council's land-use chairman in 2002. Cadigan voted against the change before recusing himself.
Baca said in his ruling that Cadigan ran the zoning hearing in a biased manner, added information to the record that didn't belong there, had ex-parte communication and should have recused himself from considering the case.
The decision also raised questions about Cadigan's testimony.
The judge found that Cadigan was invited to the equestrian center with his family "to take buggy and horse rides in an attempt to influence him to vote against the Zone Map Amendment." Baca wrote that Cadigan testified he didn't remember the equestrian visit even though "it is reasonable to expect that he would remember this occasion."
In an interview Thursday, Cadigan said he "respectfully disagreed" with the judge. He said the zoning hearing was conducted fairly, the evidence to which the judge referred had been mentioned in testimony and that he had no prohibited communications.
"I was just fighting for my West Side neighborhoods and applying the zoning code as I saw it," he said.
Cadigan also said he was clear in his deposition and testimony that he and his family had attended an open house at the equestrian center.
He told the Journal his children rode in a buggy or on a horse "and so did the children of many people. It was an open house."
The case involving the equestrian center started in 2001, just before Cadigan, a lawyer, took office.
The developer and landowners proposed rezoning the property from equestrian uses to allow single-family homes.
The Taylor Ranch Neighborhood Association and the Westside Equestrian Center, which had been a tenant at the site, opposed the change.
In 2002, during a hearing chaired by Cadigan, the City Council narrowly rejected the zoning change and overturned a decision of the city planning commission. Litigation followed.
The developer eventually got the zone change in 2005 and built the single family homes.
Excerpts from the judge's July 24 decision and Cadigan's responses in a Journal interview:
n Cadigan should not have attended a "facilitated meeting" aimed at resolving the dispute before the case went to the council. Baca said the councilor's attendance was wrong "under circumstances where he knew or should have known that the project was controversial, strongly opposed by his constituents, and that any decision would likely be appealed." He also said it's not typical for councilors to attend such meetings.
Response: "Councilors regularly attend facilitated meetings because both parties are there," Cadigan told the Journal.
n Cadigan "added information into the record about a trail to Mariposa Basin being used which was not presented as evidence."
Response: The trail was mentioned in testimony by a Taylor Ranch resident.
n Cadigan conducted the land-use hearing "in a manner that could call his impartiality in question."
Response: "Everybody made their arguments" before the council. Cadigan said he has been skeptical of attempts to switch to residential zoning in many cases, so his vote wasn't unusual.
"The fact that my kid had ridden in a buggy at an open house wasn't going to change my vote," he said.
n Cadigan had "ex-parte communications" with opponents, according to an affidavit.
Response: Cadigan said the only such communication he had was at the equestrian open house and that was "long before" he knew the case would come before the council.
n After a 2005 hearing on the zoning change Cadigan had recused himself by that point, as the case went in and out of court the councilor "lost his temper and swore at Councilor (Miguel) Gómez" for changing his vote and supporting the zone change.
Response: That's true. "Miguel and I had a personal relationship where using the 'f' word was not a very big deal."
n The former property owners are entitled to $136,500 because there was a three-year delay in being able to use their property the way they wanted.
Cadigan agreed to recuse himself from the case in 2003 as part of an attempt to settle the dispute. He said he isn't responsible for any delays affecting the landowners after that.
The judge notes that other councilors delayed rehearing the case after Cadigan's recusal apparently an attempt to ensure that enough councilors opposed to the project could be present when the case was heard again, the judge said.
"But for the city's actions in wrongfully denying the zone map amendment, costs, and attorneys fees would not have been incurred," Baca said.