City Lawyers You Gotta Love 'Em
By DARRYL MANZER.
Published in The Signal, 2-12-2006.
[RETURN TO DARRYL MANZER INDEX]
I'd really like to move back to the SCV, and I think that with the help of the city of Santa Clarita's lawyers, I can get there. All I have to do is find a way to file a lawsuit against the city for enough money to buy a home and pay my lawyers, and I'm on my way. About $2 million would do it. If I can get to the federal courtroom of Judge Dickran Tevrizian, it is a sure thing. I only have to come up with a reason to file suit...
Y'all have some lawyers who are "working" for your city who can't seem to win a case. Really, how do you not win a pro-environment case in California? They managed to lose the case against the Cemex sand and gravel mine. They also lost a case to Remediation Financial Inc. that makes the city pay 30 times the amount it could have paid for some worthless, rocket-fuel-contaminated property that the cross-valley connector crosses.
We have city lawyers here in Tidewater, Va., who have the same record. There was a developer here who dug a large pit covering nearly 10 acres to mine the sand. Here in Virginia, we call those pits, "borrow pits." This one was excavated right on the boundary line between the cities of Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, on the Chesapeake side of the line. They didn't bother getting a land-use permit from Chesapeake, claiming they thought the land was in Virginia Beach where they had a "borrow pit" permit.
Residents of Chesapeake complained about the noise of the pumps that kept water from filling the pit, and the city of Chesapeake did nothing. Now, while this was going on with the pit, the good city of Chesapeake decided to strictly enforce the permit process and cited a number of residential property owners for not getting permits to build fences or having privacy fences that were too high. They would not grant "after-the-fact" permits to the individual homeowners, instead making them tear down the fences, get permits, and rebuild them.
Meanwhile, back at the "borrow pit," the developer requests a permit for the pit. The Chesapeake City Council is ready to grant an "after-the-fact" permit for the illegal, 10-acre illegal mine. Needless to say, the residents got just a little bit angry.
All this happened from 1989 to 1994.
Guess where most of the sand from the illegal pit went? You're right. It went to the city of Chesapeake for a major street improvement project. The city bought the sand. At an inflated price, too. They claimed they didn't know it came from the illegal pit.
Oh, I forgot to mention that the developer who dug the pit also contributed large amounts of money to the campaign funds of various City Council members. Thanks to a vocal and persistent group of homeowners, the council finally decided to take the developer to court. They actually won the case and stopped future building on the site until late last year.
Most of the residents who fought Chesapeake City Hall and the developer about the illegal pit have moved out of that city. (This columnist included.) The lawyers for the city of Chesapeake, seeing that the dissidents had left and the developer wanted to build homes on the property surrounding the pit (now a 10-acre lake), got together and worked out a compromise. The city of Chesapeake vacated the lawsuit against the developer and is letting him build the new homes.
The case had been won by Chesapeake at the level of the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of Virginia. And then Chesapeake gave up. They liked the tax revenue of 100 more homes ... and the campaign contributions.
I know I've bored y'all with a political lesson from the "Old Dominion." But, hey. This is the state that laid the foundation for the government we have today. It is the birthplace of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Patrick Henry and the earliest representative legislative body in our country. We can't get it wrong, can we?
We did get it wrong. We left it in the hands of lawyers. City lawyers. You've got to love them. Everyone loves it when comedians take the stage.
Now about that lawsuit I want to file...
Darryl Manzer lived in the Santa Clarita Valley oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s as a teenager. He now lives in Virginia.