SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 15, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- The owner of 49 Hopkins Avenue filed lawsuits in both state and federal courts alleging that the City of San Francisco illegally confiscated property without just compensation and violated constitutionally-protected rights of due process, freedom of speech, equal protection under the law, vested property rights, and excessive fines.
San Francisco Planning Commissioners Dennis Richards, Kathrin Moore, Richard Hillis, Myrna Melgar, and Joel Koppel voted 5-0 on Dec. 13, 2018, that the property owner demolished a "historic Richard Neutra home" without city permission.
In an unprecedented ruling, the Planning Commission led by Commissioner Richards, a former Salesforce.com financial executive, demanded that the owner build an exact replica of a 927-square-foot 1935 home designed by famed architect Richard Neutra -- even though the Neutra home has not existed on the site for decades. The Planning Commission also required that the owner install a plaque indicating that the Neutra home had been accidentally demolished and re-built per order of the San Francisco Planning Commission.
The property owner seeks $10 million in damages and restoration of the previously approved 2014 city permit that authorized transformation of the Hopkins site into a 3,665 square foot home suitable for families.
The previously approved city permit incorporated extensive neighbor input and confirmed the written findings of an architectural historian that the property was not historic. In addition, the San Francisco Planning Department, a governmental body that approved the 2014 permit, supportively described the re-development of the property as being consistent with "City Objectives and Policies of the General Plan in that it was necessary, desirable, and compatible with the surrounding neighborhood." Furthermore, when the previously approved permit was issued, nobody--including neighbors, historic preservationists, or politicians – objected to it by filing an appeal to the Planning Commission.
In a startling view of his own authority and in complete disregard of the permits previously approved by city officials, Commissioner Richards told the San Francisco Chronicle on January 16, 2019, "Good luck to him – he is within his right to appeal, but I don't know what he thinks he is going to get out of it. He is not going to get permission to build a 4,000-square-foot replacement structure. I would bet my house on it."
"This case is just another example of abusive, retroactive government overreach by unaccountable, unelected bureaucrats drunk with power. It's time someone stood up to city officials who wield unchecked authority, create their own set of alternative facts, and impose their personal political beliefs in ways that can ruin people's reputations and lives," said Ross Johnston, the owner's representative.
Andrew Zacks, a San Francisco land use attorney representing the owner, said that "San Francisco officials have a long history of making ill-conceived, punitive, and blatantly illegal decisions without prior vetting by the City Attorney and have no personal financial liability or accountability for outrageous rulings that must be defended with taxpayer dollars. San Francisco residents should be appalled that the five Planning Commissioners, under the guise of historic preservation, manufactured a political controversy with no regard for the facts, no regard for the law, no regard for the owner's constitutional rights, no regard for the city's housing shortage, and certainly no regard for the millions of taxpayer dollars that will be wasted by the city in litigating this matter."
Zacks noted that the Planning Commission decision was not based on law or hearing testimony provided by senior staff of the San Francisco Planning Department, the chief building inspector for the Department of Building Inspection (DBI), the project architect, and the owner's general contractor, including the following indisputable facts:
--The Planning Department itself (and an architectural historian) determined in 2014 that 49 Hopkins was not a historic resource since the architectural integrity and lines of the original Neutra home had been long-lost, given numerous city-approved renovations to the property since 1935.
--The plans previously approved by the San Francisco Planning Department and DBI authorized removal of the vast majority of the existing structure.
--Portions of the building's structural integrity were severely compromised by amongst other things, a documented fire in the 1960s, and also contained non-code complying construction techniques.
The "historic preservation" controversy regarding 49 Hopkins was completely invented by the Planning Commission. "Maybe it's time to hold city officials personally liable when they railroad citizens with blatantly illegal decisions that serve no purpose but to further their own political ambitions at taxpayer expense," said Zacks.
Link to lawsuit:
The 49 Hopkins Ave. Planning Commission hearing can be viewed at the 6:25 mark of: http://sanfrancisco.granicus.com/player/clip/32028?view_id=20
SOURCE Andrew Zacks