By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The leaders of a Petaluma neighborhood coalition, hit with complaints from across the political spectrum, sought Thursday to clarify what they intend to do with a $100,000 legal settlement from developers of a Target shopping center.
Matt Maguire, one of two chairmen of the Petaluma Community Coalition, said it hadn’t been decided what he and Paul Francis will do with the money.
Earlier, Maguire said their thousands of hours of work opposing the project, first proposed in 2004, would be part of the decision.
Thursday, he backtracked a bit: “I didn’t say we will spend the money reimbursing myself and Paul. I said that we are entitled to, if we choose to do so. Since everyone is kind of getting their knickers in a twist on that, I wanted to explain.”
The no-strings-attached payment was the largest single element of a three-way contract signed by the developer, Regency, the coalition and the city of Petaluma. Both private parties had sued the city over Regency’s East Washington Place development, which is to be anchored by a Target.
The settlement ends both suits, with Regency paying $82,000 for all the legal fees, $40,000 toward “traffic calming” measures in the nearby East D Street area where Maguire and Francis live, and $100,000 to the two as leaders of the opposition.
The council voted 4-2 in closed session on July 19 to sign the agreement. The decision reflected the usual council split of Mayor Pam Torliatt and council members Teresa Barrett, David Glass and Tiffany Renee versus councilmen Mike Healy and Mike Harris.
David Rabbitt missed the meeting, but said he was opposed to the deal, calling it “repugnant.” He called it a “shakedown” that encourages other lawsuits to stop projects opposed by small special-interest groups.
Torliatt said she voted yes to settle the suits, save the city thousands of dollars in legal fees and allow Regency to begin creating jobs.
The city approved the project in February and now that the lawsuits are settled, Regency can apply for building permits.
Target is intended to be a main draw of the 34-acre, 380,00-square-foot shopping center, along with a potential Friedman’s Home Improvement store and lumber yard.
Since news of the settlement amounts were made public, residents have questioned the deal on websites, in letters to the editor and with their council members.
“It’s been ridiculous the way people are responding, even on the left side,” Maguire said. “You’d think we’ve gone above and beyond any question of our dedication to the community. But there’s a lot of judgment out there.”
He hasn’t ruled out reimbursing themselves for their time and effort organizing, educating residents and taking the legal risks.
“If we decide to pay ourselves, whatever we decide to pay ourselves, if we even do at all, we’ve certainly earned it with what we’ve been through,” Maguire said.
The settlement forbids Maguire, Francis and the coalition, an informal community group, from opposing East Washington Place, even if Target someday wants to add 12,000 square feet.
He said Regency has not suggested or encouraged them to fight Friedman’s competitor, Lowe’s.
A Lowe’s is proposed in the Deer Creek Village development proposed for North McDowell Boulevard, a project undergoing environmental review.
“No, they did not specify that we should we go fight Lowe’s,” Maguire said. He also said Friedman’s hasn’t been involved in discussions of how they may use the payment.
Maguire wouldn’t categorically deny that some of the settlement money may end up fighting another big-box — or any other development unacceptable to them.
“I’m not going to say. We haven’t discussed it,” he said. “If the city council refuses to uphold the general plan and somebody has a problem with an EIR, I say they should be encouraged to challenge that by whatever means that they have at their disposal. If we have set a precedent for citizens’ activity, I say fine.”