Conspiracy clearance

District 5 Councilman Jay Schenirer may have gotten a legal scolding over his interactions with developer Paul Petrovich, but he and city officials have now won most of their legal battle

Sacramento City Councilman Jay Schenirer has been absolved of conspiracy charges from the developer of Crocker Village, though the fate of District 5’s elaborately planned community remains in limbo.

Crocker Village was envisioned as a modern urban center, a vibrant living hub with an array of housing options anchored near the light rail and within sight of Sacramento City College. Tailored to everyone from students to senior citizens, it was heralded as bringing a smart mixed-use living and commercial landscape to the city. Sacramento officials first approved a master plan and an environmental impact report for the project in 2010, but a bitter legal fight between the developer, Paul Petrovich, and the city has since nearly derailed it.

The drama started when Petrovich changed his original design plans to incorporate a newly signed Safeway grocery store lease, which brought with it 16 gas pumps that were highly unpopular with people in the community.

A group calling itself Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association began rallying against that part of the project, and the wheels essentially fell off. The revised version of Crocker Village barely passed the planning commission and had a rough time in front of City Council members in July 2015. The council allowed the housing portion of the development to move forward, but withdrew its approval of the commercial component, particularly the parcel connected with Safeway’s would-be gas pumps. Since then, the only part of Crocker Village that’s been built is its senior housing and some 83 brownstone-style homes.

Recently, Petrovich started installing infrastructure and underground utilities for the commercial land.

The overall building stagnation around Crocker Village involves the fact that Petrovich has been pushing a multitiered lawsuit against the city since fall 2016. His legal filing alleges conspiracy, defamation of character, prejudice, due process violations and financial damages. In January of this year, Sacramento County appeals Judge Michael Kenny ruled that Schenirer broke procedural rules and showed bias against Petrovich leading up to the council’s last vote on Crocker Village. The judge called for a re-vote on the project with Schenirer not participating. The city immediately appealed the judge’s decision.

After several preliminary hearings and postponements, civil court Judge David Brown issued a major ruling in the case on June 12. In it, Brown agreed with the city’s position that due process was administered and that there was no conspiracy to deny the Safeway lease or favor other grocery stores who would build without the gas pumps. Brown further ruled that the permit for gas pumps was not a development right but subject to discretionary approval by the council.

Finally, Brown dismissed the charges of personal defamation asserted by Petrovich.

But the courtroom smoke hasn’t entirely cleared. Brown has not yet resolved Petrovich’s discrimination claim against the city. The judge asked Petrovich and his associates to provide examples of other development projects that received more favorable treatment on gas pump approvals by July 3. The city will have 30 days to provide counter arguments.

The project continues to be entangled in legal chess moves at a time when Sacramento is experiencing a major shortfall of housing options. People who took the jump and committed to buying in Crocker Village have their own set of concerns.

“I don’t think a gas station would be so deleterious, but we need the grocery store and other retail services,” said Pastor Terrence Williams, who bought one of the Crocker Village’s brownstone units. “We bought our homes expecting the retail center, it was promised to us.”

Eric Johnson, President of SCNA, the neighborhood association that took on Petrovich, remains firmly opposed to the gas station.

“In the original community meetings, we were sold on a walkable, bikeable, transit-oriented development,” Johnson told SN&R. “We saw beautiful renderings of families strolling through a retail village with plazas and green spaces. Now we see a bait-and-switch of typical over development with a sea of asphalt, high traffic counts, and car culture dominance. We thought we were getting something else."