Surely They Deserved a Refund

Last night during agenda setting — when the Council discusses what items it’s willing to put on a future agenda for discussion and action — I asked my colleagues to do something simple and non-controversial. At least I thought it was simple and non-controversial.

Discuss refunding the $2,000 appeal fee paid by some residents of the Pacific Hacienda complex to challenge the Planning Commission’s approval of a new multi-family development to be built next door.

As readers of this site will hopefully appreciate, the approved project is an example of state pre-emption of local control over development, aimed at increasing the multi-family housing supply1. The Council, in rejecting the appeal, found there was no basis for us not to follow California law regarding the project2.

Given that determination it seemed only logical to me — not to mention fair! — to refund the appeal fee. However doomed to fail the appeal was people have a right to make their case before the Council for an exception. But if the Council determines it can’t act then, in addition to rejecting the appeal it’s also determined, in my opinion, there were no grounds for the appeal…which makes refunding the appeal fee the right and proper thing to do. I don’t expect my fellow San Carlans to be legal experts, or to have to hire an attorney every time they want to talk to us.

There is precedent for providing these refunds. Granting them does not, based on my experience, lead to an increase in appeals being filed3. After all, it’s a lot of work for people to organize, lay out their arguments, prepare and make presentations to the Council, etc.

So why not do something nice for a group of people we represent? Sure, there’s an argument the appellants will be made more angry through being “forced” to revisit a no-doubt painful experience. But that’s not a serious objection; I’ve never met someone who was so sensitive they’d forgo a refund of $2,000 of their hard-earned money because the memories it invokes are too painful. At least not involving a property development situation.

I have no idea why Sara, Adam and Laura declined to discuss the matter4. I’m pleased Mayor Ron supported me.

But I’m mostly just saddened the Council didn’t treat a group of residents as fairly as it could have, and should have.


  1. which is in short supply in the Bay Area 

  2. The “density bonus law” defines some exceptions to its application, none of which were found to apply. 

  3. The basis for having an appeal fee is to cover, partially, the cost of the city processing the appeal…but the intent of the fee is to discourage people from appealing every decision made by the Planning Commission they don’t like. 

  4. I encourage you to ask them…but don’t tell me what you learn. That would violate the Brown Act. 

2 thoughts on “Surely They Deserved a Refund”

  1. Chris Brockman

    Thanks Mark for being a voice of reason, and supporter of the needs and rights of the community. It’s a balancing act. It seems like it would’ve been a reasonable and empathetic decision to wave the fee. While this may seem like an isolated decision to some, for others it’s yet another example of government being too powerful and deaf to the needs of the community. The current mood of the country is increasingly anti-establishment, and I worry that small things like this just fan the flames of contention.

  2. Jean Dehner

    Hi Mark
    I absolutely agree with you. This seems only fair, and in my opinion I find it unbelievable that there is no way to downsize this monstrosity of a building and provide air and sunlight to the neighbors. This is where one size fits all laws gets in the way of common sense and fair play.
    Jean Dehner

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