Airport Complex Fight Grows

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Opposition: Organizer Mary Feller (left) and a man who chose to remain unnamed protest a proposed indoor soccer complex near Gallinas Creek on Monday outside San Rafael City Hall. Residents who live near the site appeared at a City Council meeting to make their objections. Some of the protesters wore masks as a statement that they didnŐt want the developer to add their names to a suit against two of the critics. (Special to the IJ/Darcy Holdorf)

More than 35 San Rafael residents blasted the City Council on Monday night for a perceived cozy relationship with the developer of a proposed indoor soccer complex, then presented an apparent e-mail from former city manager Rod Gould expressing both his support and the City Council's for the project close to a year ago.

Many of the demonstrators wore Mardi Gras masks, bandanas and even a pair Groucho Marx-style glasses during the unannounced protest during open time for fear of being added to a recent lawsuit filed by developer San Rafael Airport LLC, which is owned by Joe Shekou, against two Santa Venetia critics. Three police officers showed up to monitor the crowd, and at one point Mayor Al Boro yelled angrily at a man for speaking with a mask on.

"We haven't heard from them (the council), so we don't know where they stand," said R D, one of the two people named in the lawsuit.

After listening to one protester read the purported e-mail exchange between Gould and airport spokesman Bob Herbst, Councilman Paul Cohen said he was concerned to hear the former city manager apparently express support for the project and speak for the entire council. He said it did not instill confidence in a public process.

"It was an error of judgment on Mr. Gould's part," Cohen said.

The authenticity of the e-mail could not be confirmed late Monday night. But Gould, reached by telephone in Poway, where he is city manager, said:

"That was my view at the time, and I still think it's a good project. I'm no longer a player in San Rafael politics."

Attorney Neil Moran, who represents San Rafael Airport LLC, would not discuss the protest when reached Monday night. But, reading from a prepared statement, he said the lawsuit targets only two people for alleged trespassing and aims to prevent them and any others from bypassing airport security.

"The San Rafael Airport has an obligation to the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Homeland Security and the airport's pilots to take responsible measures to secure the aviation facility against illegal trespass," Moran read.

San Rafael Airport LLC wants to build a $6 million, 86,000-square-foot project on land between the San Rafael Airport and McInnis Park golf course.

The 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.

However, many surrounding residents from Contempo Marin, Captain's Cove and Santa Venetia have fought the project from the get go, claiming it is too close to sensitive wetlands, too large, a threat to endangered species and an breach of an agreement reached years ago they claim prevents major development on the site.

Following months of complaints by surrounding residents, San Rafael Airport LLC filed a lawsuit in Marin County Superior Court April 21 against Dobrin , claiming his boat dock illegally encroach on airport property and that Dobrin trespassed on airport property to take photos of the site.

Part of the suit aims to tear down the boat dock owned by Dobrin, although he is not the only resident living on Vendola Drive with a boat dock that is on airport property.

At Monday's meeting, many of the protesters held signs that said such things as "Speak Up Get Sued" and "City Council Wake Up & Smell The SLAPP Suit," a reference to a type of lawsuit filed against individuals to prevent them from speaking out against a particular issue.

Citing the e-mail from Gould, organizer Mary Feller said the city appears to favor developers more than residents. She said the lawsuit made the situation worse because now everyone is worried about being sued for speaking out against the proposed project.

"This is Marin, not Stalinist Russia," she said.

Mayor Al Boro told Feller to stop speaking because her time was up, although she continued to do so. When a man in the back wearing a black ski mask said Fuller could have his allotted time, Boro slammed his gavel down several times.

"Take your mask off if you want to address me," Boro yelled.

Boro defended the council by saying it has not made up its mind about the project. The project remains under consideration at the Planning Commission.

"This council has never addressed this project," he said.