City Council had no business trying to coerce donation

letters@thetribunenews.comJanuary 25, 2013 

A line of cars on Prado Road, where many homeless gathered to live and sleep in their vehicles.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

The SLO City Council’s attempt to bully two attorneys into “donating” half their legal fees to homeless programs has backfired — and justifiably so.

To quickly recap, attorneys Stewart Jenkins and Saro Rizzo successfully sued SLO over the city’s issuance of citations to homeless people living out of their cars and RVs.

A judge ordered the city to pay the lawyers’ fees — $133,000 — whereupon the city offered the attorneys a deal: It would waive its right to appeal the judge’s ruling, as long as the lawyers donated half their fees to SLOCAP to help with homeless services.

The lawyers refused. So now what?

Is the city going to make good on its implied threat to file an appeal and invest even more money in the case?

Consider the downside: If the city loses again, it would be on the hook for paying the opposing attorneys even more than $133,000. (And for the record, the $133,000 isn’t out of line, when you consider the city paid more than $130,000 to the Oakland law firm that represented it in the case.)

We agree that it would be a generous and heartwarming gesture if Jenkins and Rizzo donated a portion of their fee — be it 5 percent or 50 percent — to homeless programs. But, we wholeheartedly subscribe to the philosophy that charity should be freely given.

The city’s attempt to coerce charitable giving is absurd. It should decide its next step based on the merits of the case — not on what the attorneys plan to do with the fees they were awarded.

But all this talk of charity has put us in a giving mood. We’ve decided to generously donate abig, fat brickbat to the city of SLO, and it doesn’t have to share it with anyone.

Oceano farmers market welcome

A freshly picked, SLO-grown bouquet is en route to folks organizing a farmers market in Oceano. Great idea. Oceano already is an agricultural hub where many fresh vegetables are grown and processed. That makes it a natural place for a farmers market. We also like the idea of a Sunday market, since that will be convenient for working families.

We wish the promoters the best of luck, and urge any organization that can provide a home — such as the Lucia Mar school district — to give the request serious consideration.

An early farewell to SLO councilman

It’s a little early to offer departing SLO Councilman Andrew Carter a farewell bouquet, so we’ll keep some rosebuds on ice until he leaves in February. Carter isn’t going far. He’ll become city manager of Guadalupe, a small city of 7,100 that’s just over the SLO County line in northern Santa Barbara County. Carter should do a fine job; he works hard, he’s professional and he’s a stickler for fiscal accountability. Who knows? Maybe someday he’ll come back to SLO County, wearing a city manager’s hat.

Copelands give generously to French

We’re prescribing an extra-large dose of bouquets for the Copeland family, for their $1 million donation to French Hospital. With that generous gift, the hospital foundation has raised 70 percent of its $6.4 million goal for the hospital’s expansion and modernization project.

Those plans include an advanced cardiac hybrid surgical suite, a new outpatient surgical suite, expanding and remodeling the intensive care unit, a remodeled and expanded birthing centers and a new wing with oncology beds. The project will cost an estimated $26.5 million — a significant investment that should pay off by helping the keep the community healthy for many, many years to come.

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