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trial updateDougSloan
Aug 22, 2003 6:48 AM
Trials are hard, especially long trials. Had fun eviscerating an opposing CPA yesterday. 15 hour days are wearing me out more than any amount of riding has. Probably will finish mid next week.


Developer recalls boos at bond hearing
By Jerry Bier
The Fresno Bee
Published 08/21/03 09:33:00

The Fresno City Council hearing in which his bond application for a 324-unit affordable housing complex was denied was like no other he had attended, developer Peter Herzog testified Wednesday.

"The jeers, the chanting, interrupting of speakers, the hostility of the crowd," said Herzog, asked to recall the mood of the March 1997 meeting.

The council denied the application for Wellington Place, a proposed low-income complex near Herndon and Polk avenues in northwest Fresno. Herzog and his partner, Michael Conway, later filed a $27 million lawsuit in federal court against the city and then-City Council Member Chris Mathys.

On the day of the council hearing, "it was a very threatening kind of thing ... jeering, lots of booing," Herzog told the six-woman, three-man civil jury hearing his complaint.

He worried whether he and his family would be able to make it safely to their cars should his project be approved, but that never happened, he said, answering questions from his lawyer, William J. Davis.

Herzog described what others told him about the role Mathys played in a behind-the-scenes effort to kill the Wellington project and of pressure Mathys allegedly put on other council members and on the executive director of the Fresno City and County Housing Authority.

The Housing Authority director at the time, Robert C. Wilson, asked him to withdraw the Wellington application, Herzog testified, because of numerous telephone calls he had received from Mathys.

"He in no way wanted to sacrifice the Housing Authority's relationship with the city over this one issue," Herzog said of Wilson's request for him to drop his application.

Herzog also spoke of what he perceived as threatening phone calls to his office from anonymous callers, one of whom warned him to "keep his ass out of our neighborhood."

About two-thirds of the project, 208 units, would have consisted of three- and four-bedroom family units in an area that was surrounded by single-family homes.

In response to a question from Davis, Herzog said he has persisted in his 6-year-old lawsuit because he wants to see to it that "somebody like Mr. Mathys or the City Council can never tell anybody where they can live based on the size of their family, the color of their skin or the size of their pocketbook."

Herzog said he had attended about 40 similar bond hearings in California, but never one like the Fresno City Council meeting.

Asked by lawyer Douglas T. Sloan, who is representing the city, whether the jeers and boos he heard at the City Council meeting were reaction by neighborhood residents to being called "racist," Herzog replied he didn't believe so.

He acknowledged under questioning by Mathys' lawyer, Nancy Jenner, that his recall of the City Council hearing was based on his memory and he had not reviewed a transcript or watched a video of the March 25, 1997, meeting.

Herzog also admitted he had called some of the neighborhood opponents of his project racist and was asked by Jenner what criteria he used to reach his opinion.

The personal statements he had heard, he said, about "not wanting 'those people' in their neighborhoods," or references to "Hmongs with 13 kids" or Hispanics referred to in a derogatory term.

Weren't some of the neighbors Hispanic? Jenner asked.

"Discrimination is not exclusive to white people," said Herzog.

Much of his three-plus hours of testimony Wednesday was in response to Sloan's questions about financing of the Wellington project, and the profits he and Conway, owners of Affordable Housing Development Corp., expected.