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Aug 7, 2003 6:32 AM
Trial is going well.
Mathys testifies about project
By Jerry Bier
The Fresno Bee
Published 08/07/03 05:15:14

Former Fresno City Council member Chris Mathys characterized a proposed 324-unit low-income housing complex as a "gift of taxpayers' money" and said Wednesday that was part of the reason he opposed it six years ago.
Mathys, the first witness in a $27 million lawsuit against him and the city, spent the day defending his actions, which resulted in the City Council decision to reject the Wellington Place project on 23.5 acres near Herndon and Polk avenues in March 1997.

The lawsuit, now thousands of pages and 65 volumes thick, was filed in May 1997 by developers Peter Herzog, the owner of Affordable Housing Development Corp., and Michael Conway, who owns Ashwood Construction, after the city rejected their project.

The zoning at the time permitted the apartment development and had been in place for five years when Herzog and Conway filed for what they thought was routine city approval of federal bond money offered through the Housing Authority to complete the project's financing.

But Mathys, backed by neighborhood residents, defeated the project.

In a sometimes tedious cross examination by lawyer William J. Davis, who is representing the developers, Mathys listed various reasons he opposed the project.

He cited possible crowding of schools as expressed by officials of the Central Unified School District, worries by other apartment managers in the area who complained they already were facing high vacancy rates and a neighborhood of single-family homeowners opposed to the higher-density Wellington apartments.

In his opening statements, lawyer Davis warned the jury that the city officials and Mathys will offer various excuses for why the project was rejected.

The evidence will show that the excuses are a "pretext," Davis said, "... phony and designed to cover up" the real reason for the denial, discrimination against a project that would have offered low-income housing to northwest Fresno.

Davis said Mathys, who was new to the council in 1997, "cut a deal" with developer Robert McCaffrey, who owned the property where AHDC was planning the development.

McCaffrey had nearby property he wanted zoned for commercial uses, and once the Wellington Place project was denied, that 23.5-acre property was rezoned for single-family uses and McCaffrey also got his 6 acres of commercial zoning, Davis said.

Mathys testified that the deal worked out for the McCaffrey zoning after the Wellington project was denied was a compromise and something the neighborhood people had a chance "to investigate, understand and then ultimately support."

Attorney Douglas T. Sloan, representing the city, pictured Herzog and Conway as developers who were not willing to put their own money into Wellington Place, choosing to use $9 million in tax credits to finance it.

It would be taxpayers who would be subsidizing the project, Sloan said.

"They are not bringing the suit on behalf of minorities," Sloan told the jury, "they are bringing the suit on behalf of themselves."

He said developers typically do a "dog and pony show" before the council to get approval of projects and in this case also got people to show up and threaten racial discrimination.

Mathys' lawyer, Nancy A. Jenner, noted for the jurors that Mathys was a personal defendant, not sued as a council member. She said the developers want him to personally pay them "millions of dollars" as a result of the Wellington Place denial.

What Mathys did, Jenner said, was "help people voice their concerns."

The trial before U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger is expected to last four weeks, and the judge at one point admonished lawyers for both sides to reach agreement on evidence being introduced or "this trial is going to take three months."

The reporter can be reached at or 441-6484.

© 2002 , The Fresno Bee
Nice jobjtolleson
Aug 7, 2003 6:36 AM
I represent lots of public entities, and although fellow liberals accuse me of representing the "evil empire" I am very proud when I can represent the public interest.

Go get 'em.
I'll bet your middle name is...JS Haiku Shop
Aug 7, 2003 6:47 AM
Tiberius, as in "James Tiberius Kirk".

Douglas Tiberius Sloan
sounds good - a messy suit - great reporting...PdxMark
Aug 7, 2003 8:36 AM
We had a recent ballot measure in which property owners would have to be compensated for any decrease in the "value" of their property resulting from any governmental land use laws or decisions. Of course, it was an attempt to dismantle all land use planning here. It would have complicated the defense of your client.

Sounds like an interesting case. The reporting seems amazingly detailed. Is that usual for the Fresno paper?