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Developer pays $172,000 to settle Petaluma Target lawsuits


The developer of a Target-anchored shopping center in Petaluma and a neighborhood group opposed to the project have signed an agreement in which both sides will drop their lawsuits against the city and the developer will pay the group $100,000.

The outlines of the settlement were tentatively agreed upon last month, but a formal contract signed last week included the new six-figure payment to the Petaluma Community Coalition, which filed suit in March claiming the city’s environmental review of the 380,000-square-foot center was inadequate.

City council members agreed to the three-way settlement in closed session, but haven’t publicly announced the action because all parties hadn’t signed legal papers, Councilman Mike Healy said.

However, the settlement, a public document, details $172,000 in payments from the developer, Regency Centers of Florida, to the city and the neighborhood group.

In exchange, the group will drop its lawsuit, as will Regency, which sued the city in January after years of delays in the project, first proposed at the city’s urging in 2004.

The City Council approved the project in February.

One of the opposition group’s leaders, Matt Maguire, said he was pleased with the settlement, but acknowledged it isn’t as broad as his group wanted. A Regency spokesman didn’t return a call seeking comment.

As part of the deal, his group group agreed it will not initiate, support or fund any further litigation against the East Washington Place center on the former Kenilworth Junior High property near Highway 101 and East Washington Street.

That promise includes no legal opposition should Friedman’s Home Improvement formally become part of the project. The Sonoma-based chain has a nonbinding agreement with Regency to build an 80,000-square-foot store with a 20,000-square-foot garden center and a drive-through lumber yard on the rear third of the development.

Maguire said Regency wouldn’t budge on some of the major design concessions his group wanted, which went beyond what city leaders required.

“We’re satisfied that we did the best that could have been done for the community. We got what could be gotten,” he said. “It’s just a shame that the council didn’t, for whatever reason, feel like it could stick by their guns and impose some meaningful conditions of approval that would have improved the environmental impacts of the project.”

Regency would not agree to make Target a two-story structure with parking below, provide a greater mixed-use component or add housing units. It did agree to install additional solar lighting, two bus stops, more trees behind the center and to consider realigning a street that runs in front of the swim center.

Regency also agreed to pay the city’s legal fees for defending both lawsuits, about $32,000, and fund $40,000 of city traffic mitigation efforts in the East D Street neighborhood where the opposition group leaders live. City studies estimate the development will mean hundreds of new vehicle trips through the neighborhood streets each day, Maguire said.

An additional $100,000 will be paid to the Petaluma Community Coalition, part of a larger group of residents opposed to big-box development in the city. A Lowe’s home improvement store also is planned for a north Petaluma location.

Councilman Mike Healy, who said he voted against signing the agreement, said the payout to the group sets a dangerous precedent of paying off opposition.

“It looks like Regency just made the decision to pay them to go away,” he said. “The concern to me is that it’s putting a very negative picture on the business climate in Petaluma. It’s bad enough that this happened and it’s worse that the city of Petaluma has now put its blessing on it.”

Maguire, a former councilman, called Healy’s position “shameful.”

“He did almost nothing to mitigate the environmental impacts of this project or its traffic impacts,” Maguire said. “We brought suit out of self-defense. Now he’s attacking the victim by taking that attitude.”

He called the public review process of the Target project “a complete and utter failure.” He said he doubted the $100,000 payment would encourage future lawsuits by opposition groups.

“If someone thinks that’s a way to make money, they’re crazy,” he said. “If someone thinks the city council has failed the community again, and they consider a suit, more power to them.”

Regency has not said when it plans to break ground on the project.

11 Responses to “Developer pays $172,000 to settle Petaluma Target lawsuits”

  1. fallingdown says:

    And here I thought I couldn’t get much more cynical about politicians!

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  2. Victoria says:

    For a real shakedown it’s folks like former city council member and Alliance poster girl Sharon Wright and the Chamber of Commerce who have gotten themselves hundreds and thousands of your tax dollars from th “pro business” city council…this is money the chamber gets every year while the city is closing pools and turning off streetlights and laying off workers. What are we paying the chamber for? Why doesn’t the PD investigate that?

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  3. Mickel says:

    Petaluma shake downs are amateurish. Santa Rosa has provided the template. Use Assembly candidate Michael Allen as your role model and just have the developers sign a contract to pay off your officials directly. It is more efficient to cut our the middleman.

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  4. SoCoLoisLane says:

    Part of the $100,000 being given in the Regency settlement to the Petaluma Community Coalition has an interesting potential destination.

    Alicia Kae Herries, appointed to the planning commission by the majority that, at first, opposed this project, is a member of the D Street Neighborhood Association, which stands to receive some money from this settlement.

    Should an appointed member of city government be so entwined with a lawsuit affecting city business?

    Does her inside information while on the planning commission, most likely equipped with information from friendly city council members belie a conflict of interest and gross misappropriation by the Petaluma City Council Majority?

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  5. Bryant says:

    Apparently, you have to pay to play in Petaluma. Shakedowns have been going on for some time. And yet the dysfunctional City Council thinks the City is perceived as business friendly.

    What is also troubling is that a single councilmember, who is on the short end of the vote, feels entitled to release confidential information from closed session. Mike Healy’s ethics are no better than the rest of the council.

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  6. Andrew says:

    Petaluma Community Coalition includes the following groups: Petaluma Neighborhood Association, the Petaluma River Council, Petaluma Tomorrow and the OWL Foundation.

    Of the above groups, only the OWL Foundation shows up on the IRS.gov’s site as a registered charitable organization: http://bit.ly/d138zB

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  7. fedup says:

    This stinks.

    First there is a development project that has no place in either the 21st century or in this economy. Then the developer drags their feet, fails to get community input and uses 2003 financial numbers (including revenue from a Circuit City) to justify their project. Then it finally gets to the city council but they cave in political pressure and approve it. Then a community organization (or is it just two people, nobody really knows) files a lawsuit. Finally they get paid off and cave in too. Unless that $100,000 gets distributed to local charitible organizations, neither Matt Maguire nor Paul Francis will ever have any credibility again.

    All in all the ONLY winners in this mess are the developers. The rest of will suffer from more traffic jams and the loss of other stores that Target will steal business from.

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  8. Creating a fair process says:

    The article does a very good job of providing few facts regarding the underlying controversy or the basis for the settlement. It merely points to the dollar amount. If the cities legal fees were 32k what were the costs to the non-profit? Was there attorney’s fees and expert witnesses? Wsa the developer required by law to pay this money or was it voluntarily offered and paid in the hopes of creating controversy?

    Environmental Lawsuits in California make allegations the process was unfair. Most of these lawsuits are based on allegations one neighbor cheated and is now pulling a fast one. Thy neighbot is not treating the other with the respect he wants to be treated.

    Does the homeowner have the resources to hire attorney’s and pay for expert witnesses to point out how the politicans have failed him? If the developer does not improve the streets, who pays for the traffic congestion? It seems Goliath is screaming that it is unfair David has a slingshot.

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  9. Voice of Reason says:

    Mike Healy is right, it does set a dangerous precedent that groups can get paid if they file, or threaten to file a lawsuit. Mcguire says they did the best thing for the community. No, they did the best thing for themselves, getting $100,000. What will they do with that money now that they’ve been bought off? The community didn’t get anything.

    The Petaluma Community Coalition is Petaluma’s version of Santa Rosa’s Accountable Development Coalition. They both are dogmatic in their insistance that all new projects need to be mixed-use smartgrowth style developments. Some people share these sentiments, others don’t. Our elected officials should be voting based on a projects merits and whether it meets legal requirements. Outside interest groups, which often are not really neighborhood groups, should not be able to dominate the public debate, effectively deciding what gets built. Now, all developers will have to think about who they will have to pay off to get a project approved. Private groups are free to settle lawsuits financially, but it seems the City of Petaluma is participating and condoning the payoffs. That’s not right. Will the Petaluma group share the $100,000 with all the people who signed the petition, or will the group’s leaders keep all the money for themselves? I expect the latter. This outcome is like a dream come true for other lobbying groups like the ADC who demand payment from developers and government agencies, including SMART, if they want their support. This is what corruption looks like.

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  10. Andrew says:

    I wonder if the $100,000 payment to Petaluma Community Coalition will show up somewhere as taxable income. This is a pretty big deal concerning future lawsuits over environmental impact reports. It would be interesting to see Press Democrat sniff out Petaluma Neighborhood Association’s cofounder Paul Francis on the $100,000 payment and its presumed taxibility.

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  11. Lyn says:

    A sad fact of life in America today is that a determined group can delay business projects for many years. $172,000 was a cheap price to pay, I guess.

    Still, a shakedown is a shakedown. Despite denials, its success will encourage others, and government decisions, up or down, will grind ever slower while the politicians bemoan the lack of jobs.

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