A split Gilroy City Council voted 4-3 Monday night to place a lien on a former developer’s home for more than $2,300 – a penalty that once stood at approximately $45,000 before the city realized it couldn’t recover a bulk of attorney fees associated with the case.
Council members Mayor Al Pinheiro, Perry Woodward, Peter Leroe-Muñoz and Bob Dillon voted in favor of the lien against Chris Coté, whose penalties stemmed from a lengthy appeals process over a $200 fine for building an out-of-code barbed wire fence at his 1515 Welburn Ave. home in 2009.
Coté says he built the fence for his own protection after nearly being beaten to death in his home in 2008.
Voting against the lien were Council members Dion Bracco, Cat Tucker and Peter Arellano. Bracco and Tucker expressed concerns over penalizing Coté for trying to protect himself, and the Council prodded city staff as to how officials could have accidentally charged him for more than $41,000 in attorneys fees that are apparently now unrecoverable unless the city files a lawsuit.
A normally reserved Leroe-Muñoz pushed Community Development Director Kristi Abrams and city attorneys Linda Callon and Jolie Houston, from firm Berliner Cohen, as to why the city believed it could recover $41,000 in attorney fees born from a lengthy appeals process after the city defeated Coté at the Santa Clara County Superior Court level.
“I think it was just always assumed that we would get these fees because of ‘any and all costs’ (associated with the case),” Houston said, referring to language in the city’s municipal code.
City attorneys reviewed the code following a Dec. 5 Council meeting and determined the city could not, after all, recover the fees through its sought-after liens process.
Callon also revealed Monday night the $41,000 in projected attorneys fees were way off the mark. The real total is closer to $7,500, she said.
“We’re apologetic of that,” Callon said.
What contributed to the mix-up? Callon said it may have been an associate of Berliner Cohen who accidentally included charges from an unrelated foreclosure matter of someone with a similar name, along the lines of “Chris C.”
Leroe-Muñoz cautioned city staff and city attorneys to work closer together on legal matters to avoid similar goof-ups in the future.
“Certainly be aware of that, and keep them informed of that,” he told the attorneys.
Bracco and Tucker said they wanted to hold off on voting on the lien for, as Tucker put it, “extenuating circumstances.” They wanted to further examine whether Coté should have been allowed to keep his fence for safety reasons.
They weren’t happy with what the city was charging Coté, either.
“If they hadn’t caught this mistake they made, we’d be going after this guy for over $40,000,” Bracco said.
Mayor Pinheiro said, however, the council needed to uphold a code enforcement matter and reminded the Council that, “Mr. Coté did have his day in court.”
• By a 7-0 vote, the Council decided to table talks on whether to officially allow Gilroy residents to join the Open Government Commission until the Jan. 23 meeting.
• The Council also voted unanimously to approve a housing trust fund award of $21,000 to the Gilroy Compassion Center.
• Monday night’s meeting was adjourned in memory of Mayor Pinheiro’s mother, Maria A. Pinheiro, who died Dec. 20 at age 84 after a lengthy illness.
• Council members voted 5-2 (Woodward and Dillon against) to fold enforcement measures into a campaign ethics program, which the Council is expected to approve or reject at a future meeting.
• The Council appointed community members to various city boards and commissions:
Arts and Culture Commission
Dave Dunkle (term ending 12/31/12)
Richard Villalba-Navarette (term ending 12/31/15)
Bicycle Pedestrian Commission
Libby Lai (term ending 12/31/15)
Building Board of Appeals
David Marano (term ending 12/31/15)
Historic Heritage Committee
Bill Faus and Linda Williams (terms ending 12/31/13)
Housing Advisory Committee
David Marano and Jan Bernstein-Chargin (terms ending 12/31/13)
Joyce Cain Taylor (term ending 12/31/15)
Parks and Recreation Commission
Moe McHenry and Terri Berry (terms ending 12/31/15)
Physically Challenged Board of Appeals
Casey Estorga (term ending 12/31/15)
Elizabeth Sanford and Christi Garcia (terms ending 12/31/15)
Public Art Committee
Judy Bozzo (term ending 12/31/13)