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Residents challenge city attorney

By Devona Walker Daily Planet Staff
Friday April 19, 2002

Community members formally requested an opportunity to evaluate the performance of City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque on Wednesday prior to the annual evaluation of the city manager’s office. 

Members of the Landmark Preservation Commission, currently entangled in a pending lawsuit against the city over a ruling that Albuquerque made regarding the Temple Beth El project and members of Nuclear-Free Berkeley, have openly criticized several of Alburquerque’s rulings. 

Elliott Cohen of Nuclear Free Berkeley recounted several of Alburquerque’s rulings that he found contradictory to the objectives of the citizens of Berkeley.  

“In one ruling the judge actually said to her that she should be arguing the other guy’s case,” Cohen said. 

But the city attorney’s primary responsibility is not to keep commissioners or citizens happy with her decisions by to keep the city out of legal binds and to recoup what is owed to the city, according to Assistant City Attorney Zach Cowan. 


See ATTORNEY/Page 3 

“We defend the city, advise the city and deal with legal issues as they come up,” Cowan said, adding that the city attorney is in large part advising the city on how stay out of legal entanglements. 

He also said that legal interpretations of the law are quite common, and that different interpretations of what is fair is basically at the crux of the pending lawsuit between the city and three members of the Landmark Preservation Commission. 

The lawsuit involves the fact that Albuquerque told four members of the commission who were also in the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association and who had previously weighed in on expansion plans of Temple Beth El to recuse themselves from voting on the issue again because it was in clear violation of the synagogue’s right to due process. 

The commissioners requested outside counsel to weigh in on the ruling. According to Cowan the outside counsel agreed that the commissioners should recuse themselves. 

“And from what I know they took a leave of absence, appointed some other interim commissioners , and then three of the four of them filed a lawsuit against the city about the order,” Cowan said. 

“We stand behind our ruling and it speaks for itself,” he added. 

At present no date has been set for the civil suit between the commissioners and the city. 

Cowan said that in evaluating the city attorney several factors must be taken into consideration and the dissatisfaction of commissioners should not always determine the job the city attorney is doing — even though she essentially works for them. 

“The commissioners being unhappy with the city attorney could reflect on any number of things — including the competence of the commission. The only way to tell is allowing it to play out. If the city attorney continues to make bad rulings, then it reflects badly on her. If the commission continues to ignore her rulings and get into a legal bind, it will reflect badly on them,” Cowan said. “There’s nothing certain in the field of law, that’s the first thing I learned in Law School.” 

Both the Landmark Preservation Commission and the city attorney’s office have been questioned since then. During the redistricting process some community members stated that the city had not properly informed the community of upcoming meetings and hearings. 

More recently the commission was threatened with a lawsuit by the lawyer for UC Berkeley over a recent decision that will slow down the university’s plans to build housing and administrative offices on campus.