The Pine Cone's editorial of the week

Previous Home Next

Editorial: Here we go again

Published: Dec. 2, 2011

CARMEL HAS Melanie Billig, and now Pacific Grove has John Troth — two people intent on imposing their will on their neighbors, democracy be damned.

Billig’s contempt for majority rule is famous, of course. She’s determined to stop the City of Carmel from selling Flanders Mansion, no matter how many times the city council and the citizenry vote to get rid of it.

Thanks to utterly misguided state laws, any individual, if he’s determined enough and can hire enough lawyers, has the ability to thwart decisions of local government that don’t suit him.

Billig has exploited this power to the max, leaving anger and frustration in her wake, not to mention big legal bills for taxpayers as they try to implement ordinary and reasonable decisions about what should be done with their own unused property.

As regular readers of this newspaper are aware, Billig has resorted to ridiculous and self-contradictory arguments to get her way — first demanding an election to determine the fate of Flanders Mansion, and then insisting the election be ignored because it didn’t turn out the way she wanted it to.

Instead of condemning this sort of contemptuous behavior, the courts actually encourage it. So it’s easy to see why Troth’s lawyer didn’t feel the slightest bit of embarrassment at making a ridiculous argument in court Wednesday.

The Pacific Grove City Council voted 5-2 a couple of weeks ago to let the restaurant at the city’s golf course stay open until 10 p.m. three days a week on a temporary basis to see if the extended hours are a good idea, or whether they’ll disrupt the neighborhood with noise, traffic and drunken revelry.

Troth, who owns a home across the street, wants the clubhouse to close at dusk, as it has done for years. Being opposed to the extended hours — even on a temporary basis — he hired lawyers to make his case to the city council, which is the appropriate venue. But when Troth lost, he sued, arguing that the city council’s decision was illegal. That suit should never have been filed, of course. Golf course clubhouse hours are a purely local matter; unless he can prove gross malfeasance, nobody should ask the courts to overturn a city council’s determination about what they should be. In fact, you shouldn’t be allowed in the front door of the courthouse seeking to overturn any decision reached by a majority vote of elected officials just because you disagree with it.

But Troth doesn’t see things that way. To him, as with many activists, the courts are simply another inviting place to make a stand. And since they’re billing $300 an hour or so, attorneys are always happy to encourage them.

Thus, David Sweigert, representing Troth, stood in front of a Monterey County Superior Court judge this week and very earnestly presented an argument that the P.G. golf course clubhouse mustn’t be allowed to stay open until 10 p.m. for even one night because Troth would be “irreparably harmed” if it were.
And when the judge, instead of laughing out loud, asked him what that damage might be, Sweigert answered, “the community’s faith in the government.”

We’ll tell you what erodes the community’s faith in their government: When the courts are used for ridiculous purposes.

Troth, and Sweigert, should feel ashamed.