The future of Delta Greens, an upscale senior housing development, was no closer to being solved after a more than one-hour debate Tuesday night at the Galt City Council.
The conversation centered on whether the project should move forward and, if so, what the next step would be. At the same time, many of the public speakers focused on issues surrounding e-mails posted online this month of conversations between Councilwoman Barbara Payne and Jerry Slinkard, the engineer for the Delta Greens project.
The land for the Delta Greens development, which has often divided the council, is currently not included in the city's General Plan. The plan details the current city limits and the sphere of influence, which is where the city plans to grow in the next couple of decades.
The General Plan is moving through the Sacramento Local Agency Formation Commission for final approval.
Delta Greens advocates asked the city to put the item on the agenda, because they wanted to pull back the General Plan from LAFCo to amend the city's sphere of influence to include the project. Only a council member can put items on the agenda.
Mayor Randy Shelton said he put the item on the agenda because he wanted to address questions to city staff for them to answer at another meeting. One of the main questions he had is what is the best way the city could bring Delta Greens or any other project into the city's sphere of influence now that the General Plan is on its way to approval.
"If you own property … near the sphere of influence, wouldn't you want to go through the application process for the property if so desired?" he said.
But Andrew Meredith said the council members should have pushed for the city to include the project when the General Plan was approved earlier this year.
"Here we are 10 months later arguing about what we've argued about for 10 or 15 years, and eventually we're going to have to move on," Meredith said.
Payne said things have changed since the city approved the General Plan.
She voiced concerns about a regional plan called the South Sacramento Habitat Conservation Plan, which is scheduled to be completed in 2011.
She said the city needs to find out more information about whether Galt will have a hard time modifying its sphere of influence once the plan is in place.
"We didn't have all the information on the restrictions the habitat conservation plan could put on our future," she said.
Councilman Donald Haines said he believes the concern is solely about the Delta Greens project.
"This debate has gone on way too long. … We need to focus on other needs of the city," he said.
While he does not support delaying the General Plan, Councilman Darryl Clare said he supports finding out more information about how the city can include the Delta Greens property in its sphere of influence in the future.
Having been involved with the General Plan process from the beginning, Mattie Shepherd said Delta Greens should be added because it was originally included in the plan.
"If you are dragging your feet for six years, you can drag your feet a bit longer … until you can make an informed decision," Shepherd said.
But citizen Jerry Stribling is concerned about the costs associated with delaying the plan.
"If you are going to delay this, you will put another burden on the city of Galt," Stribling said.
If the city delayed the habitat conservation plan, Galt could be charged for any additional work the county has to do, said Richard Radmacher, a senior planner with the county's planning and community development department, at a previous meeting.
The county is expected to come back before the council on Sept. 15 with more information on the habitat plan, and city staff said it will plan on answering other questions the council mentioned on Tuesday night at that meeting.
The project's developers, Lewis Operating Corp., has said it will pay for any expenses caused by the delay of the General Plan, said Slinkard, the project's engineer.
Comment also centered around e-mails that vocal Delta Greens opponent Mike Eaton posted online. In January, he requested all of the correspondence between council members and those working with the property's developers.
But he did not receive the e-mails until July, after his lawyer threatened to sue the city. Eaton's attorney is his wife Charity Kenyon. She is also the News-Sentinel's media law attorney.
The e-mails include Payne giving advice about the project to Slinkard, including telling him to push the project through before the next election because the council members could change.
Payne has said previously that she should be allowed to advocate for projects she believes are beneficial for the city, and council members are continuously talking with people in the community about projects that could come to Galt.
Citizens Rick Walters, Dan Jimenez and John Slaughterback are advocating that Payne should abstain from voting on the project because they said the e-mails prove she has a close relationship with the developer.
Pointing out that he has contacted all the council members by e-mail and phone, Slinkard said Walters and others' attempts to say Payne is biased is a "harassment and intimidation campaign."
He said Payne was doing what a typical council member should do, by talking to voters and stakeholders, studying issues and asking questions.
In support of Payne, citizen Al Baldwin applauded her service to the city.
"To attack people on the council because of e-mails, it's just a political ploy," Baldwin said.
Walters said at the meeting that he is planning on sending a letter to the Attorney General's office, the County Board of Supervisors and other state entities because he accused Payne and Mayor Randy Shelton of having conflicts of interest.
Walters alleged that Payne and Shelton are members of the political action committee Protect Galt's Future, which formed to advocate for the Delta Greens project.
Shelton and Payne did not give a response to Walter's allegations at the meeting.