Marina hires prominent environmental lawyer to defend Measure E.
Thursday, January 17, 2002
The city of Marina has hired a new lawyer to defend its beleaguered anti-sprawl law, known as Measure E, against a suit brought by developers and landowners.
Michael Stamp, a high-profile Monterey environmental attorney, has been retained to make quick work of the Measure E dispute.
The initiative, passed by Marina voters in November 2000, created an urban growth boundary, limiting sprawl and truncating a development at Armstrong Ranch. The city challenged the initiative in court last winter. That case has been dismissed but now the city faces a suit by developers who want Measure E nullified.
Stamp''s hiring indicates the city council fully embraces Measure E.
In 1999, Stamp prevailed in a controversial lawsuit that halted the proposed September Ranch development in Carmel Valley. In 2000, along with local watchdogs Pat Bernardi and Fran Farina, he exposed and helped eradicate Monterey County''s practice of letting developers "ghostwrite" planning documents.
In 2001, Stamp won the national Sierra Club''s William O. Douglas award for work in environmental law.
Stamp seems to regard his selection by the Marina City Council as a purely practical matter.
"They want to win the case," he says.
The Measure E battle has dominated Marina politics for years. Back in 1999, the city faced a proposal to install 2,500 homes on a 2,000-acre spread north of town known as Armstrong Ranch. Anti-sprawl advocates believed any additional housing should be located on the former Fort Ord and/or inside the city proper, not on undeveloped land.
A group called Marina 2020 Vision was formed and sought the help of LandWatch Monterey County. Measure E was crafted to form an urban growth boundary for the city.
It would limit the boundaries of city development, forcing growth within existing confines and reining in building at Armstrong Ranch to just 300 acres. It also prohibited the construction of a resort known as Lonestar.
A city master plan, pushed through just weeks before Election Day 2000, allowed the resort and the development. But in November, Measure E was passed by a slim margin.
In February 2001, the city council challenged the validity of Measure E in court. Named in the city''s suit was initiative proponent LandWatch. In August, the city paid the group $90,000 for its legal expenses after the group was released from the case.
Soon after the city filed its court action last winter, the city itself was sued by Armstrong Ranch''s San Jose-based developer, the resort developers, and the owners of the land.
Cases in which landowners and developers fight limitation of land use in California are common, according to Stamp, because "there''s usually a lot of money at stake."
Despite its prior court action delaying Measure E, in October the city professed its commitment to legally defend Measure E, and with the appointment of Stamp has put its money where its mouth is.
Stamp''s hiring is a swift change in direction as the city had been using the same Walnut Creek firm to defend Measure E that had previously fought it. Stamp says the case is now stalled, but he plans to have it wrapped up fast.
"Everything comes to an end. This too shall pass," he says.
The news of Stamp''s appointment has Gary Patton of LandWatch clearly delighted.
"The city has selected an attorney who will genuinely try to defend Measure E," Patton says. "He has a national reputation as an advocate on behalf of the environment."
Mayor Jim Perrine says the city has been committed to implementing Measure E, despite its court action and use of a pro-development law firm to defend it.
He says the city council looked at a selection of local attorneys known for defending public agencies on environmental issue and chose Stamp by unanimous vote in a closed-door session in early December. Perrine denies that the city''s hiring of Stamp is in anyway a sign it''s more resolute about Measure E.
"I don''t think the seriousness has changed at all. It''s changed [legal] representation," he says.