By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Petaluma’s City Council decided Monday night to continue its legal fight against the Dutra Materials asphalt plant after two local groups pledged $10,000 to help fund the battle.
City Attorney Eric Danly announced after a closed-door session that the council voted 6-1 to press forward with an appeal of Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau’s dismissal of a lawsuit against Dutra and the county challenging the plant.
The county Board of Supervisors in 2010 approved the plant, which is to be built just outside the city limits and across Petaluma River from popular Shollenberger Park and wetlands.
The council had asked Danly to evaluate Chouteau’s ruling for potentially successful legal challenges and the potential cost for an appeal.
Twenty-two residents spoke before the closed session Monday night, all but three of whom urged the council to continue the legal battle despite the cost.
Representatives of co-plaintiffs Friends of Shollenberger and Moms For Clean Air urged the city to join a group appeal, pledging $10,000 to the battle.
“We’ve raised it. We have it. We will give it to you,” said Cheri Chlebowski of Moms For Clean Air.
The commitment encouraged the council to continue litigation, council members said. Danly said the amount should fund about half of the appeal.
The only nay vote came from Councilman Chris Albertson, who said the case had been properly heard and the city should return its focus on the ever-tightening budget.
“We fought the good fight,” he said. “We did what we needed to do. We lost.”
None of the speakers offered specific legal reasons why the case merited an appeal, instead reiterating concerns raised in the six years since Dutra proposed the plant: It would be polluting, noisy, an eyesore at Petaluma’s entrance, damaging to tourism and area businesses and a potential health threat.
David Keller of the Petaluma River Council said opposition lawyers believe the judge’s ruling is flawed on several fronts.
“Judge Chouteau left us with erroneous reasoning. He left us with errors and omissions in the law, and he actually left us with a good case to go to the appeals court with,” he said.
Dutra supporters urged the council not to spend any more money on “fear, rumors and misinformation” and instead base its decision on facts.
After the vote, Aimi Dutra said she doesn’t believe the vocal nonprofit groups represent the majority of Petalumans and her family will continue planning for the plant.
Dutra operated a plant in Petaluma for 20 years not far from the current site. It closed in 2007.