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Court of Appeal denies commissioners’ suit

By John Geluardi Daily Planet Staff
Saturday March 10, 2001

The state Court of Appeal denied a lawsuit on Wednesday filed by three Landmarks Preservation Commissioners over an opinion by the city attorney that said they had a conflict of interest with a proposed development project. 

A panel of three Court of Appeal judges, Douglas Swager, James Marchiano and Gary Strankman summarily denied the suit two days after the commissioners called a press conference to announce the filing by their attorney, Antonio Rossmann. The judges gave no written explanation for the denial.  

The suit sought the reinstatement of the commissioners’ full voting power on the LPC, not monetary damages. 

On Oct. 30, City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque issued an opinion that the three commissioners, Becky O’Malley, Carrie Olson and Lesley Emmington-Jones, had a conflict of interest in their duties as commissioners with respect to the proposed Beth El Synagogue development, because they were either directors or employees of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association.  

The conflict arose from a letter BAHA president Sarah Wikander wrote that was critical of the Environmental Impact Report for the proposed synagogue and school at 1301 Oxford St. As a result, Albuquerque said the commissioners should recuse themselves from voting on any issues related to the Beth El project. 

The commissioners refused, causing the chair of the commission, Burton Edwards to direct staff not to acknowledge their votes or comments on Beth El issues.  

“I have no idea why they even bothered to file a suit,” Albuquerque said. “I think it’s pretty clear that they don’t have any standing.” 

O’Malley said it was no surprise the court denied the suit. “The denial was most likely due to workload,” she said. “All we really wanted to do by going to the Court of Appeal was save the city some time and money.” 

O’Malley said Rossmann is considering where he will file the suit next. It could be in Superior Court, she said. 

Albuquerque said she is perplexed by some of the actions of the commissioner’s lawyer. She said that she doesn’t understand why Rossmann failed to provide documents to the State Attorney General that would have facilitated an opinion regarding the issue. 

“I have no idea what they are trying to accomplish,” she said. “It’s like writ writing 101.”