As the details of the suddenly emergent and somewhat suspicious "Kensington Specific Plan" are being closely examined by residents of Sierra Madre intent on saving their community from the usual development and realty interests (more on that Thursday morning), it is important to remain aware of the high cost and low quality legal representation City Hall buys for us with our money. Not to say that the attorneys of C&L are unskilled at their profession, because perhaps they actually are. But it is fairly apparent that their agenda is quite different from what most Sierra Madreans want to see here in town. Apparently we are paying this law firm a lot of dough to work against our interests.
The Tattler has readers all over the state, and when word got around that the City of Sierra Madre is about to start looking for more cost effective legal representation, we did get e-mail. In particular two highly interesting items came in. The first was a video from La Habra Heights, the second a series of documents and articles dealing with a very unfortunate series of events from the Bay Area city of Alameda. None of which puts the two reigning alpha partners at Colantuono & Levin in a particularly complimentary light.
The video comes to us from our friend George Edwardz, who runs the excellent and Tattleresque blog The Avocado Express. La Habra Heights is a Colantuono & Levin represented city, and like many cities who sign with these characters there are problems. George is an independent producer of TV films and news footage, and he put together the 11 minute video we are linking to here for you to check out.
In it you will see former Sierra Madre "doyenne of the dais" Sandra Levin conducting what appears to be a secret meeting with various La Habra Heights City Councilmembers, officials, with an odd law enforcement type or two thrown in. The way these people surreptitiously enter this secretive conclave you'd think we were looking at a sketchy back alley after hours club with a rather tough door policy.
George's video is entitled "Caught on Tape: Backroom Meeting of the La Habra Heights City Council," and you can access this quality news report by clicking here. It is also very funny watching some obviously nervous City officials squirm for the cameras.
The other item we have today involves Michael Colantuono and a rather seedy matter that occurred in the East Bay city of Alameda. Apparently Michael had a problem there with Councilmember Lena Tam, ostensibly on a Brown Act matter. We will let the blog East Bay for Open Government blog (click here) set this one up. It ain't pretty.
Tam Exonerated by Alameda ... Again - Money talks, and in Alameda City Councilmember Lena Tam's case, it says it all.
In what I like to call "the dark ages of Alameda," former Alameda legal counsel Michael Colantuono, hired by former Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant, tried to get Councilmember Tam kicked out of her city council seat. Mr. Colantuono stooped to absolutely ridiculous tactics, including racist remarks (according to the Alameda DA) and unfounded defamation.
Now, the City of Alameda has released a statement declaring that: "...the City Council voted unanimously on May 19, 2011 to approve the claim filed by Alameda Councilmember Lena Tam to obtain reimbursement of attorneys fees she paid to defend herself when the City's former outside counsel Michael Colantuono filed a request with the Alameda County District Attorney ("DA") on behalf of the City of Alameda ...
The amount of money Alameda had to fork over to Councilmember Tam for Colantuono's misguided legal assault upon her? $44,000. Do you actually think the City would have picked up her legal fees had they believed she actually was guilty of violating the Brown Act? Of course not. As it was she likely had them dead to rights on a wailing lawsuit, and considered this the cheapest way out of their Colantuono spawned legal debacle.
The next report comes from the San Francisco Chronicle's "Alameda Blog" (click here). Besides Michael Colantuono, also note here the appearance of our current C&L City Attorney, Teresa Highsmith. Both of whom the District Attorney for Alameda County literally scorches with a legal blowtorch. This is a long cite, but well worth it.
District Attorney to City's Attorney: your letters are disturbingly biased - In the ongoing issue relating to Alameda's City Management's behavior and allegations surrounding City Councilmember Lena Tam. Alameda District Attorney Nancy O'Malley chastises Michael Colantuono, the City's "independent attorney," for waging a less than fact based political campaign against Councilmember Tam and highlights the singling out of Ms. O'Malley's Asian supporters as proof of her bias towards Councilmember Tam. From the letter:
"I am even more disturbed to find you making allegations that because certain of Ms. Tam's political supporters, a number of them Asian-American, also supported me in the recent election, in which I ran unopposed, I have a personal bias. Nothing is further from the truth and I find it offensive that you have singled out Asian-American leaders."
The District Attorney also clears up the willful misrepresentation by Alameda's Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant and City Attorney Teresa Highsmith, who sent out a press release stating that the DA had left the case open and encouraged the City to pursue it. Statements that have been reiterated by mayor Beverly Johnson, and were further made by hired-gun, Michael Colantuono at the Kangaroo Court. She writes:
"Your efforts to assign a nefarious motive to the actions of the three senior lawyers on my staff involved in this review, Senior Deputy District Attorneys Larry Blazer, Ann Diem and Jeff Stark is misplaced. All three enjoy sterling reputations and their work is highly regarded. All three invested substantial time in evaluating the evidence you submitted, and the relevant legal authorities, including those you submitted and those you chose to ignore."
And just in case there is any question about what kind of fraud was perpetrated on the people of Alameda and Councilmember Tam in the filing made to the D.A. by Ann Marie Gallant, Teresa Highsmith and Michael Colantuono, the District Attorney writes:
"Frankly, having reviewed your investigation personally, I am not surprised you would make wild and completely unsupported allegations like these. Whatever your motives in making these false claims I remain mindful of our role in this process: to objectively and dispassionately evaluate the facts and the law so that a just decision can be reached. We have done so in this case.
So how do you explain Michael Colantuono's Ahab-like persistence for doing in Alameda Councilmember Tam? Knowing Michael as we do, we'd have to assume that it has something to do with development. That is what keeps him relevant to The League of California Cities, which is Michael's great cause in life. And in a KTVU.com report on this situation called "Alameda DA Declines To Investigate Councilwoman" (click here), we just might have found our smoking gun.
Before her election to the council four years ago, Tam served on the Alameda Hospital board and as an Alameda County planning commissioner. She works as a manager in the water resources planning department of the East Bay Municipal Utility District. Tam also has served as head of the League of Woman Voters chapters in both the city of Alameda and Alameda County.
In February, more than 85 percent of Alameda voters rejected a proposal from SunCal to build about 4,500 new housing units and make other changes at the former naval air station, now known as Alameda Point. SunCal's exclusive negotiating deal with the city expired on July 20.
The Kensington Specific Plan is a featured subject of the big Public Hearing with the Planning Commission this Thursday. We will get into that in depth later this week. But for today here is the thing you need to keep in mind. The documents produced for that meeting bear the marks of our two City Attorneys and their firm, Colantuono and Levin.
Based on all that we know about this law firm, new and old, do you really expect them to be on the side of the people of Sierra Madre and Measure V? Would it really be beneath them to attempt to take away our hard won rights to vote on downtown development issues?
Would you trust them as far as you can throw them?