On February 11th, Judge James T. La Porte of the Kings County Superior Court ruled that Hanford Environmental Action Team (HEAT) can proceed with its appeal of the Site Plan Review and the Negative Declaration for the proposed Bajun American Properties, L.P. apartment complex in West Hanford. The city of Hanford stated that HEAT missed the deadline to appeal by one day. The environmental group sued and won.
Robin Mattos, co-founder of HEAT, delivered HEAT’s appeal and the $1000 check to Darlene Mata, Community Development Director, ten days after the Notice of Determination for the Negative Declaration for the apartment project was filed by the city with the County Clerk. Mata acknowledged that there was a ten day window to file the appeal but declared that the environmental group was one day late.
Judge La Porte had a different opinion. The February 11th court ruling said “that the Negative Declaration was signed by the Community Development Manager on 6/2/15. Both documents were filed with the county clerk on 6/2/15. Both documents were mailed by certified mail return receipt on 6/2/15.”
Mattos delivered the appeal and the fee on 6/12/15, ten days later.
In Judge La Porte’s ruling he states “The court finds that on the face of the pleadings, city staff abused its discretion in refusing to accept the appeal filed by petitioner (HEAT) on 6/12/15.”
“The city abused it s discretion” is stated three times in the judge’s ruling illustrating his frustration with the City of Hanford’s actions. In addition to his frustration with the appeal he was dismayed that the city chose to mail the notice of approval of the site plan review and negative declaration to HEAT’s lawyer, Richard Harriman.
The ruling says that the “court takes judicial notice of the” MOU legally agreed upon between HEAT and the city. It states, “the parties agreed in a negotiated MOU that if a project was larger than five acres, notice would be given to HEAT and HEAT’s counsel by email. The project at issue in the lawsuit exceeds that acreage. ….. since email notice was agreed to by the parties, it was an abuse of discretion not to forward the documents by email, so that petitioners would have the full 10 days in which to prepare the appeal .”
Because the mailed documents did not arrive until 6/6/15, Harriman had a very limited amount of time to prepare and deliver the appeal and the $1000 check.
Bajun American Properties is proposing to build a two-story, 216-unit complex on the corner of Centennial Dr. and Millennium Way.
The empty land is zoned as medium density residential. The Community Development Department came to the conclusion that the apartment building would not have an adverse impact on the environment and prepared a negative declaration even though the parcel is surrounded by farmland on three sides.
It is HEAT’s position that at least a Focused EIR must be done before the complex is built, especially in light of the fact that it was never resolved by whom, or why, a portion of the neighboring Mussel Slough remnant was filled in. In addition, According to Andy Mattos, a founding member of HEAT, any complex larger than 100 units is required to prepare at least a Focused EIR.
Nevertheless, despite protestations from the community, the Negative Declaration was approved. As a result, according to the Hanford Sentinel, “the lawsuit had cost the city nearly $42,000 to fight as of Dec. 30.” That amount is likely to increase approximately $10,000 to $25,000 as the result of the City’s appearing at the February hearing.
The bottom line is that HEAT just wants the city to follow the law. If the city had recommended to the developer that it prepare a focused EIR as outlined as required by state statute, the project might be almost done.
HEAT’s appeal will continue to the Hanford Planning Commission where the Commissioners will decide if it has merit. The Planning Commission can decide to agree with HEAT and order a focused EIR or to keep the negative declaration. HEAT can then take their appeal to the Hanford City Council, which they intend to do if necessary.