Lawsuit Against Sonoma County Airport Land-Use Commission Withdrawn

MAY 15, 2001

Developers have dropped a lawsuit charging Sonoma County violated the state's open meetings law when it adopted restrictions on growth around Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.

Meanwhile, both sides in the airport battle are trying to settle a related lawsuit, attorneys said Monday. The developers of Airport Business Center filed the two lawsuits after Sonoma County's Airport Land Use Commission passed the growth restrictions in January.

The commission, which oversees development around Sonoma County's six public airports, said the new regulations are needed to protect people on the ground from aircraft noise and possible accidents.

But the business center's developers and other critics said the restrictions go far beyond the state's guidelines for development around airports. Les Perry, attorney for Airport Business Center, said his clients dropped the open meeting lawsuit because they want to negotiate a settlement of the dispute.

He said the two sides hope to resolve the second lawsuit, which charges the airport commission adopted the restrictions without doing proper environmental studies. "Progress has been made" during negotiations between the developers and the commission, Perry said. Sonoma County supervisors, who oppose the airport restrictions, refused the commission's request for the funds to prepare just such an environmental report.

Jay White, attorney for the airport commission, said the open meeting lawsuit was groundless. "It never should have been filed in the first place," he said.

Airport Business Center charged the commission violated California's open meeting law, called the Ralph M. Brown Act, when it met in a closed session last December with White. The meeting was unlawful because White hadn't been hired yet as the commission's attorney and he attended the session as a member of the public, Perry said. But White said he was serving as the commission's attorney at the time and it was legal for him to attend the closed session.

The commission's growth-control plan could have been declared void if it were proved to have been adopted during an illegal meeting.

White said the business center's lawsuit named individual commissioners as defendants, subjecting them to possible legal repercussions. "In effect, they were being charged with a crime," White said. Perry denied the lawsuit accused individual commissioners of committing a crime. "That wasn't the thrust of the action," he said.

The airport regulations could block the business center's proposal for a 236-unit resort hotel on Shiloh Road in Windsor, less than a mile north of Sonoma County Airport. The site is within an airport "safety zone" where aircraft are taking off or preparing to land, according to the commission. Hotels, restaurants, shopping centers, schools and other high-density uses aren't allowed in the zone for safety reasons. But business center officials said there is no evidence the site is unsafe for the proposed hotel.

Source: Santa Rosa Press-Democrat

See also: Two Sonoma County Airport Land-use Commissioners Ousted in Bitter Controversy over Development Around Airport (April 18, 2001)