Packard vs. Sorensen – EIR Letter not Intimidation

Written by lalahpolitico

This is a follow up to the Daily Post article about an ” awkward meeting” of the City attorney and Council Members (except Packard) at a 5:30 closed session on June 12. The Daily Post article suggests that what was discussed was the City’s risk of potential litigation from the Los Altos Downtown Sorensen project, if approved. Mr. Sorensen described it as an attempted intimidation of council members.

City’s risk of potential litigation from the Sorensen project, if approved

The letter from Hechtman (shown below) can be found in the June 12 City Council, Agenda Item 8 attachment file [slow download].  The letter runs from page 98 to 103.  It is dated May 31. The letter makes an argument that the Sorensen project needs an EIR.  It issues no direct threat, but does lay out a credible argument that could be made against the City for not conducting an EIR on the project.  The four council members probably got their packets up to a week before June 12.  The members themselves may have requested to be briefed by the City Attorney, Jolie Houston, for her opinion on the risk of California EIR litigation. Or perhaps Ms. Houston or City Manager Marcia Somers may have scheduled it, which would have been their duty.

perhaps Ms. Houston or City Manager Marcia Somers may have
scheduled the closed meeting, which would have been their duty

And the litigation risk is real. Lalahpolitico wondered if only government entities could bring EIR lawsuits.  But it seems that private groups and individuals can do so too.  In Sunnyvale a neighborhood association got the approval of a plan for a new bridge on Mary Ave.reversed in 2010.  See Source here.

neighborhood association got a plan for a new bridge on Mary Ave. reversed

From – any person can challenge by filing a lawsuit

“Once the EIR is certified by the government agency, the law permits any person to challenge it by filing a lawsuit. These types of lawsuits can take years to resolve and cost millions of dollars in legal fees.”

From wikipedia – “EIRs should have been carried out”

“CEQA plaintiffs such as community and environmental groups often challenge projects with Neg Decs (negative declarations), on the grounds that EIRs should have been carried out. Litigation also occurs on the grounds that EIRs are too brief or overlooked possible impacts, as there are no guidelines for the length or content of the EIRs.”


Was this intimidation?  Well, in the USA, if you get lawyered up, you can have your lawyer escalate through a) make a call b) write a letter c) file a lawsuit…about a lot of things.  So Sorensen’s neighbor, Mr. Packard, a lawyer himself, is well within his rights to lawyer up in order to stop changes next door. So intimidation via the letter? – not really. But conflict of interest through the whole four years? – yes.

So intimidation via the letter? – not really

This does not change the awkward situation of Mr. Packard being on Council and having differential access to commissioners and staff compared to ordinary citizens.  Lalahpolitico invites you to compare the situation of the neighbor of the One Main Street hotel project.  She objected strenuously to Planning and Council about the height, the parking, the aesthetics of the hotel project, but apparently did not lawyer up.  Given the number and type of exceptions/variances given to the hotel project, perhaps she could still challenge that project on the grounds that the mitigated negative declaration was wrong and an EIR is needed? Worth it?

Tidbit: Mr. Hechtman was the attorney for the developer of 233 West Edith Avenue during the quest for subdivision of that downtown parcel. Your can see the issue was Item 10 on the June 10, 2008 minutes of the meeting of City Council  Packard undoubted recused himself, and the motion to adopt an environmental negative Declaration passed 4 to 0.  The motion to approve the subdivision carried 3 to 1 with Val Carpenter dissenting. [A Google advanced search of the City web site turned up only that one hit on the name Hechtman from 2008 minutes. Why is the city website so nontransparent? Is that a technical question or a process question? Hmmmm?]

About the author


Norma Schroder is an economics & market researcher by trade and ardent independent journalist, photographer and videographer by avocation. Enthralled by the growth of the tech industry over the decades, she became fascinated with the business of local politics only in the past several years.