Sitting Pismo Beach city council member files suit against Atascadero city council and members

ATASCADERO — On Jul. 13, the City of Atascadero was served with a lawsuit by Pismo Beach City Council Member Scott Newton, which alleges that Mayor Pro Tem Heather Newsom and Councilmember Susan Funk were biased against a mini-storage project being proposed by Newton and should have recused themselves from an appeal hearing before City Council on Jun. 8.

According to court documents, Newton alleges that the Atascadero city council has engaged in a “campaign of delay and obstruction in processing Petitioner-Plaintiff’s applications to develop a parcel of land properly zoned for self-storage and with the correct General Plan designation for self-storage.” The document also states, “Newton alleges that Respondents-Defendants are biased and they have acted upon their irrational animus and ill will towards Newton and the Project.”

“We keep hearing about neighborhood compatibility,” said Newton. “Despite the number of times we’ve asked them what they want, none of them have been able to answer the question. My planner refers to what they want as a ‘unicorn project’—that is, something that may not exist.”

Getting through this together, Atascadero

The allegations of bias were also included in a letter from Kate Neiswender, Jun. 1 (“Letter”). City Attorney Brian Pierik prepared an eight-page Supplemental Staff Report that was posted on the City’s website with multiple exhibits responding to the bias allegations and concluded there is no merit to the claims. 

The complete Supplemental Staff Report is available at this link  http://records.atascadero.org/weblink/ElectronicFile.aspx?docid=106416&dbid=0 or by contacting the City Clerk’s Office via email at cityclerk@atascadero.org

The lawsuit makes no mention of the Supplemental Staff Report, which, according to the City of Atascadero, had many responses to the bias allegations. Here are two examples provided by the City of Atascadero:

The Letter and the lawsuit fail to mention the vote by Heather Newsom at the City Council Meeting on Jan. 28, 2020, in which Heather Newsom voted in favor of the motion to introduce the ordinance and remove the proposed change to the public zone and continue to allow mini storage by Conditional Use Permit.

The Letter and the lawsuit also fail to mention that the Facebook page of Susan Funk includes a video she posted on May 7, in which she read from her appeal (Attachment 6 to Staff Report) and made the following statement: 

“…As council members, we are required to be open to all matters and not to make our decision before we have heard the full hearing and have everybody’s comment. That’s what the public process of public hearings is for so that we can have all that information, and everybody gets to have their say before the council makes a decision. And I very definitely am honoring that commitment and look forward to getting a picture that’ll help…maybe it’ll help some of the rest of you, but certainly it will help me in understanding this project.” 

The City released these statements in the first and only Press Release, which the City intends to issue in regard to this lawsuit. They want to remind the public that allegations in a lawsuit by a plaintiff must be proven in court. As such, the proper forum for addressing a lawsuit is in the courtroom, and the City, Mayor Pro Tem Heather Newsom, and Council Member Susan Funk intend to present their arguments to the court. As such, all of the above parties declined to comment on the lawsuit outside of a courtroom setting.

In August of 2019, the Project went back to the Planning Commission and was approved on a 3-2 vote with two Commissioners absent.

“Our hope is that the City Council action will be voided and that the Planning Commission approval will stand so that I can bring an excellent storage opportunity to the community of Atascadero,” said Newton.