Monday, June 18 , 2018, 8:52 am | Fair 62º


Local News

Santa Barbara City Council, Attorney Swing Back at Activist Over Appeal Date

Anna Marie Gott wants more documents, later appeal date; City Council says no, accuses her of purposely stalling

Woman standing in front of house Click to view larger
Anna Marie Gott, an activist in the city of Santa Barbara, has drawn the ire of some city officials over her appeal of a vacation-rental project. (Contributed photo)

For the past several months, activist Anna Marie Gott has made a name for herself at Santa Barbara City Hall.

Standing about 5 feet, 8 inches tall, with a searing voice and a sense of urgency in everything she does, Gott has pile-driven the council over vacation rentals, high-density housing, and the qualifications of Cathy Murillo to serve as mayor.

Not your usual City Hall gadfly, Gott performs deep, surgical-like research on the topics she takes on, and pulls no punches in her criticisms of everyone who she believes isn’t doing their job at City Hall.

She’s spoken loudly and clearly in opposition to vacation-rental conversions, saying that they are eating up Santa Barbara’s affordable-housing stock, while blasting the city’s high-density-housing ordinance, saying the homes don’t serve those most in need.

She nearly single-handedly organized a successful candidates forum for the District 3 Westside residents, which attracted about 75 people to the Harding University Partnership Library.

But now, she’s in the crosshairs of the council and city attorney, all over the date of a vacation-rental appeal.

The seething contempt for Gott erupted at City Hall last week.

In a bizarre exchange during open council session, some of the council members accused her of requesting “voluminous public records,” to force a delay.

Councilman Randy Rowse likened her to someone who “misuses the EIRs.” He said the council was being “taken.”

City Attorney Ariel Calone showed open disgust for Gott, rolling his eyes, and turning away from the microphone.

Councilman Jason Dominguez said the council lost its “dignity” with how it responded to Gott’s attempt to delay the date of a hearing.

“To have everyone piling up on a party who came here with her best intention, to say she is using this to delay a process is to me without precedent, and I am a little bit ashamed that we are doing that to a member of the public, who just wants to have her day in front of this council,” Dominguez said.

The drama stems from Gott’s appeal of a proposal to convert a home into a vacation rental at 402 Anacapa St.

The Arcitectural Board of Review approved the conversion on April 9. Gott has appealed the conversion, and in the process requested documents and emails related to the project.

The city has supplied Gott with some documents, but not nearly the full amount that she requested.

She wants to review the documents before the appeal, and asked for an appeal date of Aug. 7 or Aug. 14. The owner of the house, however, said July 10 is the latest date the applicant is willing to wait.

In addition to not having the documents, Gott said she is supposed help her mother at USC for medical appointments. Gott said her mother has stage IV melanoma and been treated for 28 brain tumors.

The day prior to the July date, Gott’s mother is scheduled to see an oncologist and have MRIs, CT scans and blood tests. Gott said she is her mother’s sole caregiver and advocate, and needs to be there for her during and after the appointments.

“I don’t believe that this how public requests are supposed to be actually handled,” Gott said. “I haven’t received some of the documentation that I think is necessary for this appeal. I will not even be in the city of Santa Barbara on the date.”

While she received some communication from the city, lately, she said: “Not an email. Not a phone call. Complete and utter silence.”

Santa Barbara City Clerk Sarah Gormon said “Ms. Gott has placed several voluminous California Public Records Act requests.”

“Many of them have been filled, and some of them are still pending staff review and production,” Gormon said.

She added that the requests are “extensive and they also require both regular staff and city attorney staff review before production.”

Calonne jumped into the fray, first saying, “Frankly, the identity of the appellant has nothing to do with what is going on here,” then blasting the California Public Records Request Act for being an unfunded mandate.

“I am not in a position to feel very apologetic about the time it takes to respond to public records,” Calonne said. “If the state gave a darn, they would let us collect the true cost of producing those documents.”

Calonne outright accused Gott of purposely delaying the project.

“I am a bit frustrated with it,” Calonne said. “I understand the situation. This isn’t an unfairness. This is closer to using a process to delay, frankly, and that’s why we are approaching it the way we are.”

Calonne expressed open disgust in response to Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon’s question of how long would it actually take to produce the records.

“It depends on when one of my staff can find half a week to waste, digging through email, Councilmember Sneddon,” Calonne said in a huff, rolling his eyes.

Later, after Dominguez, also an attorney, suggested that the staff delay the hearing date until Aug. 7 to accommodate Gott, Calonne backpedaled and then contradicted himself again.

“I want to apologize for my tone,” Calonne said. “People have the right to request records and it is an important right. I understand that.”

Then he said: “I have also been practicing law for 35 years, and discovery and interpose for delay is discovery and interpose for delay, so when I am counseling the staff, I am not going to be stupid,” Calonne said.

“So you are hearing my judgment. You are not hearing my disrespect for the public records act or the appellant or applicant.”

Rowse then piled on Gott.

“To me this is exactly what people misuse the EIRs for,” Rowse said. “This is one of those things where, ‘I don’t like the project, I am going to delay it.’ That’s what this is. I think we are being taken here.”

Dominguez was upset with how the city attorney and council members were treating Gott.

“I think it is unfortunate; it appears that our jury panel up here has been poisoned by comments and people have engaged in prejudging the quality of the arguments of a party in front of us,” Dominguez said. “The public records act is a fundamental cornerstone of our American Democracy. Sunshine is the greatest bleach to know what your government is doing. The only way to know is through a public records act request.”

Dominguez again pushed for Aug. 7.

“I think if we want to try to regain our dignity up here, why don’t we just put it on Aug. 7 and if the applicant has a problem with that, we can just bring it back to this council.”

In the end, however, the council wasn’t swayed. It voted 4-2 to leave the appeal date on July 10. Councilmembers Dominguez and Sneddon voted in Gott's favor. 

Gott said she will have to cancel and reschedule her mother's medical appointments, and that she will be at City Hall July 10, with or without the documents. 

"It's something I have to do because the City Council gave me no other options," Gott told Noozhawk.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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