Can Darren Suen be courageous enough to teach the Elk Grove City Council a lesson about costly lawsuits like the Oak Rose debacle?

Readers who follow Sacramento area local government news are aware the city of Rancho Cordova is drawing maps for new city council districts. Like numerous municipalities across California, Rancho Cordova is switching from at-large to by-district representation to comply with the California Voters Rights Act of 2001.

Like Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova is making the change under threat of a lawsuit. Cities like Palmdale have fought and lost legal battles resisting the change to by-district representation, but only after racking huge legal bills and paying fees to attornies initiating the litigation. 

Although the 2019 Elk Grove City Council was unhappy about the change to by-district representation, they reluctantly accepted it. The city council rationalized its decision based on the failure of other cities that fought the civil rights lawsuit and its high legal costs to taxpayers.

Of the current Elk Grove City Council, the only member still on the council from 2019 is District 1 Councilmember Daren Suen. Not coincidentally, Suen tried to Darrenmander District 1 to eliminate constituents angry with him for his full-throated support of the unpopular proposed California Northstate University hospital. 

Suen and former city council members Steve Detrick, Pat Hume, and Stephanie Nguyen (former Mayor Steve Ly supported by district representation) realized discretion is the better part of valor. 

While Elk Grove would have lost had they litigated the civil rights lawsuit, and they knew it, does the current city council - Elk Grove Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen, Suen and council members Rod Brewer, Sergio Robles, and Kevin Spease realize the seriousness of its current lawsuit? We are speaking of the Oak Rose supportive housing lawsuit initiated by California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta. 

Elk Grove is being sued by the State of California for what it says were violations of fair housing laws in their July 2022 denial of the Oak Rose supportive housing project in Historic Downtown Elk Grove. 

While the by-district lawsuit would have been expensive, the legal teams on either side were on a level playing field. But Elk Grove and its outside counsel - which will be costly - in the Oak Rose case will be overwhelmed if it decides to fight the full power of the State of California and its army of litigators. 

Interestingly, this week Newson and Bonta announced that the city of San Bernardino decided to settle a lawsuit the state filed against them for violating fair housing laws.

In his announcement of the settlement, Bonta noted, "I applaud the City of San Bernardino's city council, and its planning and legal team, for recognizing that public resources [taxpayers' money] should be directed at collaborating, rather than further litigating, our way out of California's housing crisis."

Does the Elk Grove mayor and city council, under the guidance of city attorney Jonathan Hobbs and his wobbly record, believe they can successfully defend the city's decision that, by all appearances, flies against the law? And, to Bonta's San Bernardino's "resources" reference, how much taxpayers' cash will their delusions of grandeur cost? 

As the longest-tenured member of the Elk Grove City Council, now is the time for Councilmember Suen to take a stand, and urge his colleagues, to paraphrase the late U.S. Sen. George Aiken, to settle the lawsuit, declare victory, and move on to the next project.

The question is does Suen have the stature on the city council and the courage to relate his experience to his colleagues in a manner that will, as Bonta noted, save "public resources."    

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