Ghostwriters, the Sequel?
County ordered to hand over September Ranch Documents.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
September Ranch opponents won a court victory late last week when a judge ruled that Monterey County must turn over about 2,000 pages of documents by Thursday, Aug. 31.
“We have served notice on the county that we don’t give up that easily,” says attorney Michael Stamp, who represents Pat Bernardi, Gillian Taylor, and the rest of The Open Monterey Project.
Superior Court Judge Robert O’Farrell’s ruling came a week after the County Planning Commission voted to approve the September Ranch development: 95 homes scattered throughout a hilly, 891-acre Carmel Valley ranch.
It’s a contentious project that has been in the works for a decade—fraught with lawsuits and a notorious “ghostwriting” scandal, in which developers’ attorneys were shown to have written key documents under County letterhead.
For five years beginning in 1999, the project seemed to be dead. It came back to life when the owner, Jim Morgens, filed a new application in 2004. On Jan. 3, 2005, The Open Monterey Project requested access to all documation relating to the new application.
Four months later, when the County didn’t turn over all of the requested documents, Stamp filed a lawsuit. “Given the unique history of the corruption…in regards to this September Ranch project, the public’s rights to inspect, review, and copy records…are particularly essential and vital,” it read.
The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that attorneys were hired to write a key water section of the draft environmental review to support claims that there is sufficient water on the property.
On July 12, 2005, Judge O’Farrell ordered the County to release the records. Again, County officials refused, and appealed the judge’s ruling. On Nov. 21, 2005, Special Master Justice Chris Cottle issued a recommendation regarding the 2,800 pages of documents in question. Cottle said 2,000 of them were public information. So, earlier this month, Stamp filed a motion asking the court to adopt Cottle’s recommendation and turn over the documents. On Aug. 25, Judge O’Farrell told the County to produce the 2,000 pages no later than Aug. 31.
“We don’t know what we’re going to find in the documents,” Stamp says. “But we do know that we will find some County records that we have never seen before, and that the County destroyed rather than turn over to us. And we know we are going to see some work by the EIR consultant that we were otherwise unfamiliar with. And we know that we will see documents that the County claimed were privileged information that really aren’t.”