SunCal sues, again
Developer SunCal Companies has announced they plan to again sue the City of Alameda, this time for access to city officials’ e-mails. The company announced Wednesday that it was filing the suit in Alameda County Superior Court.
The company accused city officials of hiding or destroying e-mails SunCal had asked for in a massive public records request submitted on July 12, and they want the court to force the city to turn them over.
“These emails are public records that any citizen can request, but there is a deliberate attempt to conceal them. Everyone has a right to know what these communications to and from city officials contain,” the company’s spokesperson, David Soyka, was quoted as saying in a press release issued Wednesday.
The developer’s attorneys claim city officials refused to turn over e-mails written by Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant or any member of the City Council pursuant to their public records request, handing over only e-mails from Public Works Director Matt Naclerio and City Clerk Lara Weisiger. They said the city has not explained to them why the e-mails have not been produced.
They also accused city officials of using their private e-mail addresses to conduct city business in an effort to conceal correspondence, though lawsuit documents posted on a website the company had used for community outreach didn’t show any e-mails from city officials’ private accounts.
The suit cites a July 7 public records request blogger Lauren Do wrote about in August, in which she asked for six months’ worth e-mail correspondence from members of the City Council and a response from City Attorney Teresa Highsmith saying e-mails on the city’s internal mail system were considered “drafts” and exempt from public disclosure, and that they were purged every 30 days. Highsmith told Do the city had no e-mails sent by council members or Mayor Beverly Johnson on the city’s external system, used to communicate with members of the community, over the six-month period requested, the suit said.
City Attorney Teresa Highsmith called the suit’s claims “demonstrably false” and claimed the city has turned over 20,000 pages of documents, including e-mails from council members and Gallant, and that the document production process is ongoing. She said the developer “grossly mischaracterized” the city’s e-mail retention policy and that the city has told them they’re saving e-mails in light of SunCal’s suit. Per Highsmith:
Emails concerning city business, just like every other document, are public records unless some exemption under the Public Records Act applies. City staff and officials are advised that they are to retain, either in hard copy or in electronic form through archive, any emails which qualify as a public record. All other emails will be deleted as part of the routine maintenance performed by IT in order to save server space, because such documents are not meant to be retained in the normal course and scope of City business–in other words, they are preliminary drafts, notes, or memos not normally retained by a public entity, as allowed by Government Code Section 6254(a) of the Public Records Act.
The company filed a breach of contract suit against the city in August, a little more than a month after the City Council effectively fired them as master developer for Alameda Point. They’re accusing Gallant of hatching a secret plan to get rid of the developer so the city could develop the Point itself, and they are seeking saying they may seek $117 million in damages.