Shekou Lawsuits at Work Again Against an Entire City Council

Mayor Tom Butt is being sued by a group of owners who say he had a conflict of interest when he promoted the rezoning of their shoreline property as parkland, frustrating their plans to develop a business center there.

Former Richmond Mayor and City Councilwoman Gayle McLaughlin, now running for lieutenant governor, and current council members Jovanka Beckles, Ben Choi, Eduardo Martinez, Jael Myrick and Melvin Willis are named individually as co-defendants, along with the city and the council as a whole.

The suit was filed Dec. 1 in Contra Costa County Superior Court. A “memorandum of points and authorities in support of (a) motion for (a) preliminary injunction based on violations of the Political Reform Act,” and other documents, were filed Tuesday.

The plaintiffs — Richmond Development Company LLC; Doommas Enterprises LLC; Joe Shekou; Heidi Shekou; and Joshua Genser — own land in the city’s Northshore area.

Supervisor Hosts Meeting With Santa Venetia Residents Over Contentious MOU


On November 15, Marin Supervisor for District 1, Damon Connolly, hosted a meeting for residents and concerned citizens regarding a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the San Rafael Airport and the County. The MOU is in its draft state now while public comment is being solicited.

At the meeting, the public expressed concern over ownership rights of the levees that surround the 8 feet below sea level airport, which in 2012 got San Rafael City Council approval to build a massive indoor soccer complex adjacent to the airport runway. The complex has yet to be built. The airport has sought this levee agreement since 2006. It would give them control over maintaining much of the levee system, but ownership rights and endangered species habitat cloud the issue.

The entire November 15, 2017 MOU meeting is provided in this link:

A presentation hosted by the Gallinas Watershed Council on May 3, 2017 by noted Ridgway’s Rail (Clapper Rail) expert Jules Evens, presents the latest research on the rail’s population at the airport vicinity as well as other major impacts threatening this federally listed endangered species.
Video here:

For detailed background on Santa Venetia’s longstanding battle with the San Rafael Airport’s soccer complex, covering environmental, lighting, traffic impacts, noise and numerous safety concerns, please visit the following website:

The Truth About CEQA

CEQARecently, the California Environmental Quality Act, CEQA, has come under attack by forces backed by development dollars and a governor who’s promised to begin reforming this grand piece of legislation that was signed into law by Ronald Reagan. The NRDC has published a study called “CEQA-The Litigation Myth”. The study notes among other important facts that, …

  • The total number of CEQA cases is small, averaging only about 200 per year.
  • As a percentage of total civil cases, CEQA cases are 00.02% of 1,100,000 civil cases filed annually in California.
  • The number is also small as a percentage of projects subject to CEQA, around 1% or less.

CEQA critics have pointed out that published appellate CEQA decisions have ruled against public agencies and developers about half the time. In the critics’ view that creates an unacceptable risk for project developers. This conclusion is based on the evaluation of a small number of atypical cases. Drawing these broad conclusions from such a small sample of relatively unusual cases has no statistical value. A review of these cases shows that the courts often rule in favor of environmental petitioners, such as project neighbors and community groups, finding there to be abuses by project applicants seeking to avoid environmental disclosure or mitigation. This is exactly how the system is supposed to work.

Read more about this report here

Now The Fight Begins

Taxidermed Clapper Rail at CA Academy of Sciences

Taxidermed Clapper Rail at CA Academy of Sciences

If it were up to the 3 yes-voting members of the San Rafael City Council, clapper rails at Gallinas Creek would end up like this one, in a museum at the California Academy of Sciences. Last night 3 members did just that. Story here

The gauntlet has been tossed.

Recent Airplane Crashes Near Youth Sports Complexes

This presentation was made on December 3, 2012 by Gallinas Creek Activist, Robert Dobrin, at a meeting of the San Rafael City Council to decide the fate of a proposal to site a 4 acre indoor soccer complex on endangered species habitat at Gallinas Creek in San Rafael, California. The proposed site’s proximity to an active airport runway has caught the attention of the California Pilot’s Association as well as a range of concerned citizens. More at

California Pilots Association Warns San Rafael Airport

The California Pilots Association sent a dire warning to the San Rafael City Council not to approve the San Rafael Airport Soccer Complex.

Text of the full letter here. The final vote on the troubled proposal is scheduled for this December 3.

Latest Developments on the Airport Soccer Complex

More On Our Story-  here

October 4, 2012: SMART  contractors continue rail road demolition at Gallinas Creek train bridge. This may be a violation of their use permit. More


Protest at San Rafael City Hall- Over Threat to Clapper Rail- October 1, 2012


US Fish and Wildlife Fires Off Letter Criticizing the Airport EIR and Harmful Impacts to Clapper Rail and Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse. pdf Here
Fish and Wildlife makes reference to the airport pumping untreated tidal overflow and rainwater into Gallinas Creek. Here’s visual evidence filmed in 2008:



Gallinas Defense Committee Lawyers Fire Off Critique of Airport EIR

The City of San Rafael has been battling with environmentalists and concerned citizens for over six years over plans to develop a giant indoor soccer complex on a privately owned wetland/below sea level airport. The site sits on or near endangered species habitat, violates Caltrans restrictions on locating a youth play field near an active airport runway and numerous other quality of life issues for long time nearby residents. Recent news reveals that the San Rafael City Mayor, Gary Philips, has had an ongoing business relationship with the airport owners, triggering an investigation by the Fair Political Practices Commission, a state agency that strives to enforce objectivity in policy decisions.

Not only has Mayor Philips displayed the appearance of conflict of interest but so has one of the city’s planning commissioners, Larry Paul, an architect who was hired by airport owner Joe Shekou to design the main building for the soccer project. Blatant disregard for the democratic underpinnings of elected government is made all the sadder with the investigation of yet another city council member, Marc Levine, who is under investigation for failing to report his wife’s income on his recent bid to run for the state assembly. Levine also took a $1000.00 campaign contribution from the same airport developers. Are the endangered species in this troubled battle doomed? Maybe not, but the City of San Rafael reveals its clear intentions at every step of the way. Check out this email which was mistakenly sent to a Gallinas Creek activist from 2005 from then City Manager Rod Gould.

The above is an excerpt from a recent letter by environmental law firm, Shute, Mihaly and Weinberer, LLP.  This letter provides expert testimony and amplifies many of the public comments the City has thus far ignored. Reading this letter, it is apparent the City is bending policies to fit the project, instead of actually measuring the project against policies designed to protect the environment and safety. Specifically:

The EIR erroneously concludes that Clapper Rails will habituate to human activity and since they can be observed at the site, they must be thriving. These conclusions are unsupported opinions of the EIR preparer. CEQA does not allow the City to rely on bare opinions, and this shortcoming is eloquently pointed out in expert testimony included as Attachment C
Likewise, Climate Change impacts have not been adequately considered. Specifically the project requires the project to maintain their levees in a fixed position even though it is feasible, and likely environmentally preferable, to move those levees landward over time as sea level rises in order to preserve vital habitat.

There are numerous contradictions to General Plan policies. In particular, the City seems to be in denial about their own policies to protect dyked baylands. Noise impacts, the Deed Restrictions, lighting and numerous other issues contradict the City’s General Plan policies.

Last, but not least are aviation safety issues. The City’s attempt to dismiss as a threshold of significance the prohibition of group sports facilities in runway safety zones because the Airport Land Use Handbook does not regulate a private airport is improper and not supported by CEQA case law. Similarly, the City’s contention accident risk is less than significant because they will try to limit field occupancy and post a few more exit signs is improper. These proposed mitigations neither reduce the risk of an accident or demonstrate the carnage from such an accident would be reduced. Other problems associated with the project itself being an obstruction to the safety of aviators are also not dealt with improperly by the EIR.

The letter opens and closes with a request the City Council deny this project. It’s a shame City Staff and the Planning Commission have not reached the same recommendation.

This letter is essential reading for anybody wishing to stay informed about the Airport Sports Facility. Although lengthy, many of the pages are evidence in the form of studies and documents being formally added to the administrative record.

Reading the actual letter (12 pages) and reviewing exhibits A, B, C and D ( 7 diagrams and nine pages total) are most important.

The full text of the letter and attachments can be found here:


This is the home to Friends of Gallinas Creek

– a dedicated group of citizens, environmental groups and professionals, determined to save Gallinas Creek.

FINAL Appeal Against San Rafael Airport Indoor Soccer Complex

What: FINAL Appeal Against San Rafael Airport Indoor Soccer Complex – San Rafael City Council
When: Monday, August 6, 7 p.m.
Where: San Rafael City Hall, 1400 Fifth Avenue (map)

San Rafael’s Planning Commission approved this two-story, Walmart-size indoor and outdoor sports complex, 184 car parking lot with outdoor lighting, which would put soccer playing kids within 160 feet of an active runway and flight-path. The project would bring light and noise pollution, toxic runoff, increased traffic, and excessive disturbance to the marsh and creek.

On August 6, the city council will hear the appeal against this project which the Sierra Club and a host of other environmental groups oppose. It threatens sensitive habitat for the endangered California Clapper rail, salt marsh harvest mouse, black rail and steelhead trout, and other species in the Gallinas Creek watershed.

Additionally, Cal-Trans Aviation Division “recommends prohibiting group recreational uses” so close to this runway. “In general, society gives special attention to protection of children. Special consideration should be given to facilities that cater to children such as recreation and sports facilities.”

Learn more at
Sign the online petition!

For more information contact Mary Hanley at


Gallinas Creek is located in north Marin County, California; it is slightly north of China Camp State Park.


Tell the City Council NO to the Soccer Complex

San Rafael City Council
Phone (415) 485-3074
Fax (415) 459-2242

1400 Fifth Avenue
PO Box 151560
San Rafael, CA 94915-1560


[From Marin Conservation League] On June 6, 2012, the San Rafael Planning Commission, on a 5-1 vote, recommended approval of the San Rafael Airport Sports complex.

Background: In addition to concerns over the proximity of the project to Gallinas Creek and its endangered species habitats, the public has raised questions concerning the basic safety of a large sports facility open to both adults and children situated so close to an airport runway. The California Department of Transportation Division of Aeronautics commented on the Negative Declaration for the project in 2006 and the Draft EIR in 2009. But in 2011, the California Airport Land Use Planning Handbook was updated, and new safety standards and regulations were set.

A recent letter dated March 9, 2012 from the Division of Aeronautics makes two important comments: first, that a group recreation facility, especially facilities used by children, in defined runway safety zones is generally prohibited by land use guidelines; and second, that vehicles taller than five feet in the parking row closest to the runway would be considered an obstruction to air navigation.

On the first issue: Although the land use guidelines do not apply specifically to private airports, they could be viewed as setting a de facto threshold of significance under CEQA, in which case those areas of the proposed facility that lie within designated safety zones would raise the potential for “significant” impact on safety of users of the facility. Such an interpretation constitutes “new information” requiring a revised EIR.

On the second issue: A review of the proposed parking layout reveals that substantial portions of the parking lot, turnaround and auxiliary parking lot would need to be configured to avoid the chance for trucks or other vehicles greater than 5 feet tall to become obstructions to air navigation, in violation of the regulations.

Given the City of San Rafael’s potential liability in placing the facility in a hazardous area, or of allowing unsafe obstructions to air navigation in parking areas, city staff delayed further hearings until this information could be analyzed as to its implications on the FEIR process and on the merits of the project.

Background: On January 24, 2012, the San Rafael Planning Commission voted unanimously on January 24 to recommend certification of the Final Environmental Impact Report for a proposed 85,700 square-foot sports complex at San Rafael Airport. (See MCL Newsletter for November-December 2011).

The basic project: two indoor soccer fields/courts and an area for dance and gymnastics, a lighted outdoor soccer field for night games, an unlighted soccer warm-up area, and 7-day-a-week operation.

The project site is a 9.1 acre portion of the overall 119.5-acre airport site, which lies between the north and south forks of Gallinas Creek. Environmentalists have monitored wildlife in the marshes of Gallinas Creek, especially the endangered California Clapper Rail, and appreciate the habitat value of this diked, former tidal marsh. Its sensitivity was recognized in 1983, when the City and County agreed to allow higher-than-usual density near the freeway in order to keep the more sensitive wetlands to the east free from development. Both parcels were sold to developer Joe Shekou. Since then, his attempts to develop the eastern (airport) portion have never ceased.

Although a covenant dating from 1983 restricts uses of the airport, “public and private recreation” is included among those uses, city staff have argued that the complex complies with the covenant. MCL [Marin Conservation League] and many others view this response as unsatisfactory, citing the intent of the covenant, which was to limit development and human activities, not to intensify development.

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