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June 13-20, 2007

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Where Are They Now?

Well, it's time for battle-related updates, and Nūz has a feastful; in fact, an entire five-course meal. Bon appetit!

ITEM: Carmel Property Boundary Murders. Nūz's Feb. 14 column, "Your Land Is My Land," covered the murders of attorney Melvin Grimes and nurse Elizabeth Grimes of Carmel Valley, apparently capping a years-long dispute over unpermitted additions the Grimes' had made to their home as well as the exact borders of a driveway they shared with neighbor John Franklin Kenney. Kenney, who ordered a boulder placed in the midst of the contested egress, allegedly ended up shooting the Grimes in the ensuing melee, and was charged with double murder.

UPDATE: Kenney first appeared in court on Feb. 21, where his attorney requested that judge Russell Scott (a) order all Monterey County judges to recuse themselves from the case, since victim Melvin Grimes had argued cases before them, (b) relieve Kenney of wearing leg irons and handcuffs to court and (c) allow Kenney to appear in future proceedings in civilian clothing rather than in the familiar incarceration orange. The judge said yes on the leg irons, no on the handcuffs, maybe to the permission to wear civilian clothing and definitely not to the mass judge recusal, and issued a gag order on all attorneys, witnesses and investigators. On May 11 Kenney appeared again, this time having fired his original attorney and accompanied by two new ones who said that they needed more time to catch up with the case. Next hearing: six months from the original date of the murders, on June 14th.

ITEM: Property-Related Slander Ruling. In the same February column, Nūz reported on the peculiar case of nurse and hymn-singing evangelist Anne Lemen, who'd so heavily harassed the neighboring Balboa Island Village Inn--honking, shouting, photographing employees changing, accosting customers and spreading rumors of the Inn's supposedly accommodating rats, mafia financiers, child pornography and (worst of all, of course) "lesbian activities," that a judge granted a permanent injunction against her. That injunction was appealed and reversed, and appealed again to the California Supreme Court.

UPDATE: The state Supremes ruled on April 26 that Lemen's lawyers were full of it, and that enjoining someone from repeating the same slanderous statements already proven false was not, as said attorneys had claimed, prior restraint, but appropriate post-slander action. Reaching all the way back to Blackstone's 1769 Commentaries, the court upheld a centuries-old basic principle of law.

The justices did, though, carve out two exceptions. First, Lemen may issue any complaints she desires to government agencies; if she wishes once again to repeat, this time to the Coastal Commission, that the Inn's owner's wife Theresa Toll is someone who "everyone on the island knows [is] a whore," she's welcome to. Second, should Lemen manage to prove that conditions have changed; for example, that a future bartender at the Inn were, indeed, what she labeled the current bartender--Satan's wife who is "going to have Satan's children," then, writ the court, "defendant may move the court to modify or dissolve the injunction." Fair enough.

ITEM: Monterey General Plan Battle. Nūz reported in both its March 15 story "General Pain," on competing county growth ballot measures--a "community plan" from "grassroots" group Landwatch written without community input, and the county Board of Supervisors' General Plan 4 (GP4), written over seven years of intense public wrangling.

UPDATE: Although uncounted absentee ballots remain, it's pretty clear that Landwatch's Measure A, which would have adopted its plan, failed by at least a 10 percent margin. Chris Fitz of Landwatch says that happened because "voters were confused" by the supes.

Measure B, which would have repealed the Supes' GP4 plan, failed too. But so did Measure C, which would have adopted that same GP4. Supervisor Simon Salinas says that that happened because voters were confused by Landwatch.

So given this triple nattering of negativity, does Monterey County have any new, legal growth plan at all? No, it doesn't, says Chris Fitz; all it has is the old 1982 general plan, since the votes on the others cancel each other out. Yes, it does, says Deputy County Counsel Lee Blankenship. It has the supervisors' GP4, since an adoption vote trumps a repeal vote. Does not, says Fitz, and furthermore, for the county to adopt GP4 would be an "act of bad faith" for which faithlessness the supes would need to be taught a lesson--in the form of a lawsuit.

This, as Nūz noted in its original reportage, is why counties resist updating their general plans.

ITEM: Constitutional Battle. Meanwhile, the Monterey County General Plan battle has produced a subplot--one which readers might wish to know about because it involves a constitutional issue of the same kind that may envelop our own county's recently adopted logging regulations, or several others, should they morph into the nonnavigable nightmares so many local zoning regulations turn out to be. Here's the story:

A number of years ago, property owner Moe Nobari proposed a gigantic new development--some 4,000-plus homes--in Rancho San Juan. Negotiations between Nobari and county officials went on for so long that Nobari sued and a court ordered the county to stop futzing around come up with specific rules to follow for that area-- a Specific Plan. It did come up with such a plan, even as Landwatch got the Rancho San Juan project on the ballot and voters gave it a thumbs down.

So Nobari came up with Butterfly Village, a project one quarter the number of homes centered on a golf course, which fit the Specific Plan rules. Supes approved that, but Landwatch got that decision on the ballot too, in the form of a Measure D. Voters in last week's election also defeated that measure, and thus the Butterfly Village proposal.

So what's the problem? The problem is that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, numerous times, that setting rules and then prohibiting projects which fully meet those rules, again and again, year after year, violates the Fifth Amendment prohibition on taking property without just compensation, because it essentially makes the property just as useless as would fencing it off and prohibiting access.

And SCOTUS' last big decision on this issue? 'Twas against the very City of Monterey, which had specified rules for a project known as Del Monte Dunes seven times and then rejected each proposal. The city ended up paying $1.4 million to the Dunes for unconstitutional taking.

Given that Butterfly Village is far bigger, its property worth far more and the process even longer, Monterey County voters could be out some $100 million should the developer sue. And within 12 hours of the election results, Moe Nobari has promised to do just that. The beat, in short, goes on.

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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