Will whomever is suing the city of Seaside and the Seaside City Council in Monterey County Superior Court, case no. 20CV001203, please stand up and be recognized?

On April 6, a plaintiff calling itself Committee for Sound Water and Land Development on Fort Ord filed a writ against Seaside, the council and KB Bakewell Seaside Venture II (aka, developer Danny Bakewell), asking a judge to set aside the environmental impact report prepared for the years-in-the-making Campus Town project. The writ also asks a judge to revoke the construction approvals, premised on the idea that Seaside failed to properly address the environmental impacts of the massive development.

For those just tuning in, when I say massive, it’s massive: The 122 acres of former Fort Ord lands encompassed in the plan could see upward of 1,400 homes (including affordable units), 250 hotel rooms; 50,000 square feet of office or light industrial space; 150,000 square feet of retail, including restaurants and entertainment space; and nine acres of public open space.

Steve Herum, the Stockton-based attorney representing the plaintiff, says keeping his client’s identity confidential is their First Amendment right. He points to the case of NAACP v. Alabama, in which Gov. George Wallace tried to force the NAACP to reveal its membership rolls before issuing them a permit to march.

“They fear retaliation from the government,” Herum says. “We’re trying to protect the people who are impacted by these decisions. It’s a huge decision by the city. It will affect who has building permits, who has water supply and there’s a bait-and-switch going on… there’s a distinct possibility the non-residential portions will never be built.”

Herum specializes in land use law, and has been doing it for years. Among his previous clients: developer Paul Petrovich, whose Main Gate retail and hotel project is also in the works for Seaside. In 2012, Herum representing Petrovich in a California Environmental Quality Act suit brought by a group called Citizens for Urban Renewal, involving a Petrovich project in the city of Woodland.  

Petrovich, though, says the Seaside suit is not his. Developers hire Herum, he says, often to disqualify him from representing their opponents, because he’s “brutal.” Herum, he says, is known as “the Walmart slayer” for a case in which he forced the retail giant to leave a building vacant for six years.

“If you can’t see a house anywhere you want to build retail, it will never be developed as retail,” Petrovich says. “I need homes to be built near my project and I want the Campus Town homes to get built. What kind of political suicide would suing be?”

Danny Bakewell Sr. and Danny Bakewell Jr. both called me about the lawsuit. They said they anticipated a suit being filed, but didn’t think it would come from this newly formed group. A local attorney representing the organization showed up to the March 5 Seaside City Council meeting at which the Campus Town EIR was approved and wrote a letter highlighting the flaws of the EIR.

In the lawsuit, “they claim a number of citizens spoke against the project. And there’s nothing more inaccurate than that,” Bakewell Jr. says. If you attended the meeting, he’s right: The black activist community of Seaside, backed by unions, rallied support for Campus Town, showing up en masse wearing T-shirts reading “We Heart Campus Town.” In fact, other than the attorney with the letter, virtually nobody spoke that night in opposition.

When you portray a development as a matter of social justice for a community that had been left behind by the closure of Fort Ord, speaking out against that development is dumb at best.

“I think this is extortion. I also feel it’s racist because this is a community of color, taking charge of their opportunity with their Fort Ord land,” Bakewell Jr. says. “This is someone putting their foot on Seaside’s neck and holding it down until they get what they want.”

Bakewell Sr. adds, “We’re going to put every effort into stopping them. We’re not going to let anyone throw a rock and hide their hand.”

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Steve Herum has previously represented Paul Petrovich in a CEQA suit brought against him in the city of Woodland.

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