Recent posts on the Patch have attacked the people who filed the December
2011 lawsuit challenging Moraga’s claim that it was exempt from conducting an
environmental review before it transformed Rancho Laguna Park (RLP). They
claim the lawsuit improperly burdened the Town. In fact, the opposite is true.
The Town acted improperly when it ignored its obligation to conduct an
On December 15, 2011, the Town filed a notice claiming that a two-phase
development plan for RLP was exempt from any environmental review. Steve
Smith, a long time resident of Moraga, told Town officials that there were
protected species at RLP; they ignored him. Finally, as the 30-day period to
challenge the claimed exemption came close, Mr. Smith filed a lawsuit to stop the
planned development, and he received confirmation from two biologists that there
are protected species at RLP.
In response to the suit, the Town paid attorneys $58,237.28 to fight, rather
than conducting an inexpensive environmental review. Yet, after incurring those
legal fees, the Town withdrew its plan for RLP. It then spent $7000 on an
environmental review, which confirmed what Mr. Smith told the Town months
earlier – there are protected species at RLP. (The Staff Report for the May 9, 2012
Council meeting contains the report of the environmental consultants.) The
Council (voting 3-2) then adopted a plan proposed by a private soccer club
advocate to create a small enclosed dog park; the plan envisioned two soccer
fields. About 1800 Moraga voters signed a referendum to overturn that plan.
Despite this history, Ms. Mendonca still wants to create a fenced dog park
that would divide RLP. Phil Arth agrees with her.
Why? When she was a member of the Park & Recreation Commission in
2007, Ms. Mendonca advocated a plan to build multi-use sports fields at RLP, as
reflected in the Town’s Park and Recreation Department’s Master Plan, which
included installation of “synthetic turf sports fields in the existing turf areas,” and
a plan to “renovate the creekside as a natural area with restored vegetation.” (See
pages 17, 24 and 28 in the Master Plan at http://www.moraga.ca.us/dept/parkrec/
It is misguided to attack Mr. Smith’s lawsuit, the lawyers who represented
him, and the candidates they support. The lawsuit did not burden the Town; it
vindicated the Town’s interests. If the Town and certain of the Council members,
including Ms. Mendonca, had acted responsibly, then the Town would not have
incurred legal and staff costs. Ms. Mendonca’s unequivocal rejection of any
compromise and her insistence on pushing Moraga citizens who have used RLP
for years out of RLP demonstrate that she is less concerned with representing all
Moraga citizens and more concerned with advancing the goals of the elite private
Everyone can share RLP now, while keeping the park as it is. The Town
has done a poor job of maintaining RLP’s turf, overwatering the lawn so that it is
muddy and unusable by people, ignoring the southeast corner that could be
cleaned up and used for a picnic or recreation area, and failing to provide adequate
signs and enforcement to make sure dog owners pick up after their dogs and
respect the limited dog hours. If those steps were implemented, the costs would be
low and the controversy would end.
Ms. Mendonca’s and Mr. Arth’s current position on RLP is inconsistent
with Moraga’s history and philosophy. If they are elected, we can expect
unnecessary expense and controversy.