The The developer of a proposed indoor soccer complex in
San Rafael has sued two outspoken critics and left the door open for suing
as many as 50 others.
San Rafael Airport LLC, which is owned by
Joe Shekou, filed a lawsuit in Marin County
Superior Court April 21 against 2 Santa Venetia residents and "Does 1
The lawsuit claims the residents own an illegal boat
dock that encroach on airport property, and that they trespassed on airport
property to take photos of the soccer complex site.
One resident offered blunt criticism of
"It seems like an attempt to silence people with views
that are different from his," he said. "They're abusing the legal system to
violate the First Amendment rights of the entire neighborhood."
Residents who live around the San Rafael Airport have
vigorously opposed Shekou's plan to build a $6
million, 86,000-square-foot project on land
between the San Rafael Airport and McInnis Park golf course.
A 35-foot-tall building
along Gallinas Creek would include two soccer fields, a baseball and
gymnastics training compound, a mezzanine with a kitchen, a cafe that sells
wine and beer, locker rooms and offices. There would be two outdoor sports
fields and two parking lots with almost 300 spaces.
Critic such as these residents have spoken out against
the project at public meetings, citing proximity of the site to wetlands,
the reduction of views, potential harm to endangered species and an
agreement reached years ago they claim prevents major development.
"My understanding is my client reached an agreement
with the other property owners," said Neil Moran, a San Rafael lawyer
representing San Rafael Airport, LLC.
But one of the resident's attorneys disputes that.
"It's clearly a SLAPP
suit designed to retaliate against him," she said, referring to a legal
maneuver known as a "strategic lawsuit against public participation."
"The whole purpose of it is to intimidate people and
keep them from speaking out" .
The lawsuit's allowance for up to 50 other people has
scared neighbors, said a critic who lives on Vendola Drive.
"We don't know who the other 50 are," she said.
"Everybody's sweating bullets."
Moran said the lawsuit is not meant to silence the
resident for speaking out against the proposed project, but to get rid of
their boat docks and prevent him from coming onto airport property. He said
it is unlikely that other people would be sued.
"We do not presently have plans to name other
defendants," he said.