Editorials

Sacramento City Council can reject Curtis Park gas station, fairly this time

Developer Paul Petrovich waits to speak to the City Council on Nov. 17, 2015. The council rejected a gas station as part of his Crocker Village development, but a judge has ordered it to hold another hearing.
Developer Paul Petrovich waits to speak to the City Council on Nov. 17, 2015. The council rejected a gas station as part of his Crocker Village development, but a judge has ordered it to hold another hearing. Sacramento Bee file

The fight over a proposed fuel center near Curtis Park was particularly nasty. Developer Paul Petrovich went too far in his tactics seeking approval.

And now a judge says Sacramento City Councilman Jay Schenirer, who represents the neighborhood, was biased and shouldn’t have voted on the permit.

The judge concluded that City Councilman Jay Schenirer couldn’t be impartial. But the rest of the council can – and can reject the fuel center once again.

Still, the council had very good reasons to reject the 16-pump gas station as part of the Crocker Village development and should do so again after rehearing the case, this time without Schenirer’s involvement.

In a ruling issued Wednesday, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny overturned the council’s 7-2 vote in 2015 against the gas station, declared that Schenirer should have recused himself and ordered the city to hold another hearing.

But as The Bee’s Tony Bizjak reports, Kenny didn’t rule whether the city had solid reasons to deny the permit and wrote that he did not see clear bias by other council members that in a second hearing and vote “would result in an unfair and biased hearing.”

The city could ask Kenny to reconsider his ruling, or appeal it to a higher court. As we’ve said, the council had ample justification to find that a gas station would be a mistake. For one thing, it wasn’t part of the original deal with the neighborhood that paved the way for the council’s approval of the project in 2012. A fuel center also clashes with a big selling point for the infill development – that it would encourage public transit.

The 72-acre project – on a former railyard between Curtis Park and Union Pacific rail lines – is under development. So far, an apartment complex for seniors and 45 row homes have been built. Plans eventually call for more than 330 homes and a shopping center.

Petrovich did not help his own cause by seeking to strong-arm the neighborhood and City Hall, warning that without the gas station, a Safeway supermarket would be replaced by a discount grocer and less desirable tenants. He also tried to pit Oak Park residents against Curtis Park, promising jobs paying $21.50 an hour if they supported his proposal. The council was right to send a clear message that those kinds of shady maneuvers aren’t welcome in Sacramento.

But it turns out that Schenirer also overstepped, at least according to Kenny. The judge may have an unrealistic view of what politicians actually do. Schenirer was, in our view, advocating on behalf of a majority of his constituents, something good politicians try to do. Kenny ruled that the law imposes stricter standards for behavior in quasi-judicial hearings such as appeals of Planning Commission decisions, in which council members act more like judges.

Petrovich sued city officials, claiming that they had colluded against him to deny a fair hearing. Emails and texts his legal team uncovered suggested that Schenirer actively worked with the Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association leaders on the case against the gas station and helped them lobby other council members. Based on those communications, the judge concluded that Schenirer couldn’t be impartial.

But the rest of the council can – and can reject the fuel center once again.

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