Spate of recent Oak Rose lawsuit filings against Elk Grove reveal more details; hearing scheduled this week

A spate of filings late last week in the lawsuit filed against the city of Elk Grove by the Oak Rose apartment project revealed previously unknown information about the ongoing controversy. Elk Grove was sued last year for alleged violation of state housing laws by Long Beach, Calif.-based Excelerate Housing, the developer of the Oak Rose supportive housing project proposed for Old Town Elk Grove.

The filing centers on a request to amend the original lawsuit filed by Oak Rose and after Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen and her city council unanimously rejected the affordable housing project. Concurrent with the Oak Rose complaint, California Attorney General Rob Bonta also initiated a lawsuit against the city.  

Elk Grove opposes the plaintiff's arguments, seeking to amend the filing. Notwithstanding the arguments between the parties, the plaintiff's December 7 filing revealed previous undisclosed information.

Sua Sponte - Did Elk Grove unwittingly admit to its faulty denial? 

As typical of legal filings, Latin terms were included in the pleadings. In this instance, the plaintiff's attorneys liberally used the term Sua Sponte. According to the Legal Information Institute of Cornell University, it means "of one's own accord; voluntarily." 

In their argument, the plaintiff's attorney claimed that when the city decided to rehear the matter at the September 27 city council meeting with a staff recommendation to approve the Oak Rose project, it was an admission that the July 2022 denial violated the law.

The key to this argument, according to the plaintiff, was that the city voluntarily decided to reconsider that project without coercion. Of course, it was reconsidered after the city and the majority Democratic Elk Grove City Council (Vice Mayor Kevin Spease is the only Republican on the council) were embarrassed after the highest level law enforcement officer in the state, Attorney General Rob Bonta, joined by the governor, both fellow Democrats, chastised them and filed a fair housing lawsuit against the city for alleged unfair housing practices. 

Proposed land swap for flood zone parcel

While the city has stated it has offered the Oak Rose proponents a land swap within the city, that proposal was rejected. The plaintiffs rejected the unspecified parcel near Big Horn Boulevard and Bruceville Road as unacceptable. 

The filing said the land swap was weeks before the July 2022 city council hearing when the project was rejected. Along with not having nearby services and ample transportation options for residents, the parcel is in an identified flood zone, which could be used as a future denial justification. 

"Petitioner was concerned that the City would ultimately use the Big Horn Boulevard Site's location within a flood plain to frustrate any future attempt by Petitioner to develop the Big Horn Boulevard site with permanent supportive housing."   

Oak Rose - Not the only victim of city interference

Also, the document says in addition to denying the Oak Rose, Elk Grove blocked another supportive housing project in the Laguna West neighborhood. The filing implies that the city bullied the project proponents. 

Only described as the "LW Project," the filing said, "obstructionism and denial of the [Oak Rose] Project due to its provision of permanent supportive housing is not an isolated incident, but rather reflects a pattern and practice by the City of opposing and rejecting permanent supportive housing projects."  

It is argued that "the City has thus established a disturbing pattern of frustrating the construction of permanent supportive housing within the City, even where its own staff and attorneys have stated publicly that the approval of such housing is mandated by state law." 

Specifically, the document says the project would have accommodated disabled, unhoused people. The city, it is said, held workshops where several people spoke in opposition to the District 1 project. 

The document claims "the LW Project has been prevented from moving forward by the City through numerous delay and obstruction tactics implemented by the City to prevent the LW Project from proposing the construction of permanent supportive housing within the City" and "alleges that the LW Project has been pressured by the City to remove permanent supportive housing units from the Project."

According to the document, the LW Project proponents removed the supportive housing element under pressure from Elk Grove officials. 

City Council behavior, cowardice highlighted

Although not necessarily germane to the legal arguments, the plaintiffs also highlighted city council member comments during the September 27, 2023, meeting when the city staff recommended the project be approved. Instead of accepting the recommendation to approve the project, which the plaintiff argued was an admission that its July 2022 was wrong, the city council deferred any action, blaming it on the plaintiff's absence from the meeting. 

The document noted the following:

"During Council Member deliberations, Council Members made various legally irrelevant and improper statements about the Project, again revealing improper grounds for their continued refusal to approve it. Council Members also made various improper and defamatory statements about the Petitioner and the Project operator, in addition to negative and derogatory comments about applicable state law mandates and the efforts of the state to promote affordable housing, as follows: 

a. The Petitioner was admonished by multiple Council Members for allegedly being “disrespectful,” with Council Members saying they were “offended,” “disappointed” and “pissed off” that the Petitioner was not physically present at the unlawful sua sponte public hearing the City held to correct its own violation of state law on a matter subject to present active litigation by Petitioner (Petitioner previously wrote the City a letter saying it would not be attending the hearing in the hope of avoiding any confusion and avoiding the very kind of histrionic public display of outrage expressed by Council Members).  
b. One Council Member stated the Petitioner was “not in it for humanistic reasons” but that Petitioner — a developer of affordable and homeless housing — is only ‘in it for the money.”
c. One Council Member stated that “SB 35 needs revision” and “if we’re going to have things like SB-35, why even plan?” 
d. Multiple Council Members stated they were not pleased with the fact that the Petitioner did not accept their settlement offer to abandon the Project and build permanent supportive housing at another, less desirable location of the City’s choosing with a promise for a loan Petitioner repeatedly informed the City was unacceptable and in an insufficient amount to actually build the alternative permanent supportive housing the City claims to want. 
e. One Council Member led a chant with members of the public stating repeatedly that “SB 35 doesn’t care” about a long list of their concerns one-byone, including their concerns with respect to “traffic” and the allegedly inappropriate location of the Project near a “child care center,” “bars,” a “library with children,” and a “historic building.” 
f._One Council Member stated, regarding the City’s offer to Petitioner for grossly insufficient funding to abandon its Project and build permanent supportive housing in another location in the City, that the Petitioner “doesn’t care” about the City and its citizens. 
g. One Council Member stated the Project is “under parked’ and there will be “cars parked out on Elk Grove Boulevard that will be additionally congested.” 
h. One Council Member stated that the City is dealing with “a developer and the state being heavy-handed” and that “‘the 67 units are not going to make a dent in the housing crisis or homelessness.”  
i. One Council Member stated “I_am disappointed in our State officials who continue -- who continue to pass laws that strip local control on our land use decisions,” calling such efforts by the state a “power grab.” 
j. One Council Member stated “[t]o the residents here today, you all should be angry. Iam angry too. J am angry.” 
k. One Council Member stated “And to close my comments, the goal of what this project -- the mission -- of course we all support having affordable housing. We need to do that, but I continue to say that that location is terrible. It is a terrible location for so many reasons.”  
In further describing the meeting, the plaintiffs noted the city council reacted to the boisterous demands made by the audience in the city council chamber that evening. 

The document also implied cowardice on the part of Mayor Singh-Allen, Vice Mayor Kevin Spease, and city council members Rod Brewer, Sergio Robles, and Darren Suen. It noted, "At the September 27, 2023 hearing, the City Council ultimately found itself unable to stand up to the members of the public that opposed the Project, despite staff's approval and the City’s written admissions of legal liability."  

The next hearing on the matter is on Friday, December 15, at 1:30 p.m. before Judge Stephen Acquisto in Department 36, Sacramento Superior Court. 

To be continued

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Juan Trippe said...

Doesn't look like the mayor is going to get her land swap, does it? Better luck next time.

Renegade said...

The city's proposed land swap included land in a flood zone? Really? This city's leaders are incompetent and none are deserving of reelection. Anyone running against them has to just bring this up and it should serve to get them elected, big money or not. Our tax money is being wasted on defending this boondoggle of a lawsuit. So much money wasted! Indefensible!

D.J. Blutarsky said...

For me, the underlying question still remains: How did City staff not know that the Old Town property was on the market, especially since millions of tax dollars have been sunk, and will continue to be sunk into this new "gas lamp district"--and an LA-based company scooped this property up right from under our nose?

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