Thursday, October 28, 1999
Last week, I unfairly misrepresented an effort by Mark Talbrook to build a single-family home in Big Sur''s Pacific Valley.
An attorney claiming to "represent" several Pacific Valley residents called and said they were concerned about the home, and that Talbrook was rushing the project through the approval process with the help of prominent attorney Tony Lombardo.
Since Talbrook serves on the board of Landwatch--an organization that advocates smart growth and demands that developers play by the same rules as the rest of us--I thought it made a good story: The Tables Are Turned.
Only one problem: I blew it.
In truth, Talbrook has very much followed the rules and regs, and his actions were mischaracterized by the caller.
Talbrook confirmed he did in fact solicit legal advice from an attorney who works in Lombardo''s office, but not Lombardo himself--a distinction that I failed to get my tentacles around. At no time did he hire Lombardo or any other attorney in Lombardo''s office to directly represent his project before the county.
I also implied that Talbrook was trying to bypass county regulations when he was merely utilizing a procedure that allows an applicant with a straightforward project to go before the county''s zoning administrator instead of the entire Planning Commission. If I only had a brain...
Beside Squid''s lapse of journalistic judgment, of equal concern is why someone would mislead me with what now appears to be some kind of personal issue.
It turns out that the attorney who called, David Sweigert, is an associate of Fenton & Keller. The firm specializes in land-use, real estate, environmental, and insurance law, and has represented the likes of Coldwell Banker, Clint Eastwood''s Mission Ranch, Pebble Beach, and Ventana Vineyards.
Sweigert says he "didn''t recall precisely" telling me he was working on behalf of any residents. "I am not representing residents down there, and I never have."
Sweigert says his concerns are strictly "personal," as he and a group of friends have hiked Pacific Valley for years, and he feels the home would destroy the area''s special character. "In my view the coastal area of Pacific Valley is one of the most beautiful, and the project would slap a house smack-dab on the hillside."
Sweigert couldn''t explain why he felt it necessary to misrepresent himself. "I had reasons at the time. We were just sort of gearing up and I didn''t know what my relationship would be participating with citizens. There is strong interest in what happens in Pacific Valley, and the county is making a mistake discounting the view [issue]. I think the effect is significant."
Talbrook questions whether Sweigert''s concerns are strictly environmental.
Talbrook says he met Sweigert when he spoke against the project at an Oct. 14 county hearing. Talbrook invited Sweigert to tour the property to try to allay his concerns. For instance, Talbrook says his property, which was a previous homesite, is out of the Highway 1 viewshed.
When Talbrook asked Sweigert whether he was representing a client, Sweigert would not give the name. (Later, Talbrook says, Sweigert acknowledged having no specific client.) During the tour, Talbrook says, Sweigert asked how he and a neighbor "held their land," referring to an adjacent parcel zoned for commercial use. "We were discussing the nearby parcel--which I don''t own--when Sweigert said, ''Maybe I want to become your partner.''" This perplexed Talbrook, since he does not own the commercial parcel.
I guess I learned my lesson. Perhaps I should offer my head to Talbrook. But any good Squid knows that it''s our ink that is most prized.
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