In September, Samuel Ignacio, whether operating on his own or in concert with opponents of the West Davis Active Adult Community, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging that the proposed senior housing project with its Davis-Based Buyers Program would perpetuate racial imbalance and discriminate against minorities by restricting sales to residents of Davis.
Last Friday, January 18, 2019, U.S. District Court Judge Morrison England signed the order dismissing the suit in its entirety by mutual agreement of the parties, Ignacio v. City of Davis et al. The suit had been filed in federal court against the City of Davis, Binning Ranch Holding Company LLC and J. David Taormino.
The lawsuit alleged that the recently approved West Davis Active Adult Community violated fair housing laws, based on the “Davis Based Buyers Program” proposed by the developer. In response, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the case was not yet ripe for review.
Rather than opposing the defendants’ motion, a city release explained that “the Plaintiff agreed to dismiss the case without prejudice, which means that the plaintiff or another party could file a similar lawsuit in the future if they believe that specific facts support a fair housing claim.”
The dismissal of the case allows for the thoroughly vetted project to move forward without further delay. The West Davis Active Adult Community is comprised of 325 for-sale units with 80 percent of the those being age-restricted (55 and over), 150 affordable senior apartments, an activity and wellness center, and other neighborhood amenities as approved by the numerous City Advisory Commissions, City Council and the majority of Davis voters.
Mayor Brett Lee said, “This project went through a very thorough public process inclusive of a Measure R vote, I am pleased to see the will of City Council and the majority of Davis voters is being upheld without unnecessary delay.”
Councilmember Dan Carson said, “Our City has acted on numerous proposals that enhance the local economy, and help increase housing opportunities for our community. Unfortunately, several of these projects have had lawsuits filed against them delaying their benefit to the greater community. I am pleased to see that this lawsuit was dismissed by the court. I am confident that the city will prevail in the other legal challenges still in play and validate the decisions of this council and the voters to approve them.”
John McIntyre, from the San Jose based law group Shea & McIntyre, took over for Sacramento civil rights attorney Mark Merin. Mr. McIntyre did not immediately respond to an email from the Vanguard for comment. David Taormino, the developer, deferred comment until a meeting early next week.
Alan Pryor, one of the opponents of the project, did not immediately respond to a request for information, while Rik Keller did not offer any insights into the dismissal of the suit.
In separate comments to the Vanguard, both Councilmembers Lucas Frerichs and Will Arnold offered choice words about the suit.
“The fact that this lawsuit was dismissed should surprise no one. It never had merit. It was simply the latest in a pattern of politically-motivated lawsuits, timed specifically to try and swing an election,” Councilmember Arnold stated.
He added, “On the surface, these lawsuits may look like crude-but-harmless political stunts. In reality, they are an attempt to subvert our democratic elections and to avoid campaign finance scrutiny. Fortunately, the voters see right through this tactic, and the dark money behind it is spent in vain.”
Similarly, Councilmember Frerichs stated, “This meritless lawsuit is yet another instance of ‘when you can’t win on the facts, go after the process.’
“It was an attempt call the project and program into question, and intended to harm the chances of WDAAC’s passage at the ballot box,” he continued. “Thankfully, the lawsuit failed on both counts – the voters saw right through the nonsense and passed the project, and the program is found to be legally sound, as well.”
The Vanguard hopes to get more insight into the dismissal following a conversation with at least one of the parties early next week.
Assistant City Manager Ashley Feeney indicated that at this point the suit wasn’t ripe.
“The lawsuit anticipated a program, the Davis Buyers Program,” he said. “It was clear that the program would be something in the future (and) it would be vetted to ensure it was in compliance fair housing law. The suit came in based upon this program… my sense is that it was premature to go and have the suit.”
He indicated that at this point the project would go forward. The Davis-Based Buyers Program would be developed and finalized about the time the first building permits are issued. Therefore, the next point for a potential lawsuit would be around the time that program was developed or possibly at the point at which an actual buyer attempted to purchase a home and was denied.
In the order signed by Judge England, it stipulated that “the entire action and all causes of action be dismissed, without prejudice…”
The lawsuit filed in federal court alleges that the project would perpetuate racial imbalance and discriminate against minorities by restricting sales to residents of Davis.
The suit was filed by Samuel Ignacio, a Filipino/Hispanic senior, on behalf of all other minorities outside of Davis, and argued that the project with its provision limiting purchase by those living outside of Davis is in violation of fair housing laws.
The “residency requirement” for 90% of the proposed sales is unlawful, Mark Merin, the attorney filing the suit alleged, arguing that “in communities with populations that are disproportionately White and/or nonminority they perpetuate segregation by excluding minority applicants who live outside the community from obtaining housing there. Residency requirements prevent minority families from moving to high-opportunity areas ensuring that overwhelmingly-White communities remain overwhelmingly-White.”
The Vanguard has learned that Samuel Ignacio, 64, is a current resident of Sacramento but lived much of his life in Vallejo.
There are questions about whether he would even have standing to sue in this matter, as it does not appear from publicly available records that he has a history of gainful employment or the ability to purchase a unit at WDAAC.
In their motion to dismiss, the city and real parties in interest argued that the plaintff’s claims “are constitutionally and prudentially unripe and, in addition, Plaintiff lacks Article III standing.”
The plaintiff’s claims “are all directed at a contemplated ‘Davis-Based Buyers Program’ referenced in a proposed, but not executed, written development agreement.”
Mr. Boutin argues, “Succinctly, the agreement that is the foundation of the Complaint has not yet been entered into. As such, there is neither a final, binding agreement nor final terms to adjudicate. There is no actual, live controversy. The action was prematurely filed addressing issues that may or may not ever occur.”
In their motion to dismiss, the defense argued that at the time of the filing, September 24, 2018, none of five necessary conditions had occurred or been satisfied.
—David M. Greenwald reporting