A hearing to remove San Juan Bautista Planning Commission Chairman John Hopper for cause was continued Tuesday night, at Hopper’s request and on the recommendation of the city attorney.
The City Council, in a unanimous vote, agreed to postpone the hearing until the next regular council meeting, set for Feb. 21.
City Attorney Deborah Mall reported that the city had received a letter from Hopper requesting a continuance. Hopper, Mall said, wanted to hire an attorney, but the attorney he contacted declined to accept the case.
Hopper, Mall said, requested any documents from the city that might help him clear his name, that his legal fees be paid by the city and that a court reporter be present at the February hearing. She said the city had no obligation to pay Hopper’s legal fees and that the nature of the hearing did not require a court reporter.
City documents Hopper requested will be provided, Mall said. The documents, she said, address Hopper’s medical condition related to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
Councilman Chris Martorana said the council should not proceed with Tuesday’s scheduled hearing without allowing Hopper to defend himself.
In December, the council voted 3-2 to set the hearing for Hopper’s removal. The actual causes for removing him were not revealed Tuesday night. But items in the council’s packet of information say that Hopper was, “Acting in excess of his authority as a planning commissioner.”
Hopper should be removed, the packet data says, for “failing to comport himself in public in a manner which is deemed appropriate by the current City Council. This includes but is not limited to his appearance at an October, 24, 2017, City Council meeting, where he appeared to be intoxicated.”
The city has received written communications from San Juan Bautista residents questioning Hopper’s ability to continue to serve as a planning commissioner. It also has received letters supporting Hopper.
Communications from Hopper in the packet indicate that he was filing a lawsuit against Martorana (last year’s mayor) for public defamation. But Martorana said Tuesday night that he has not been served with any legal papers.
A text to Martorana from Hopper states: “Hey, Chris Very sorry but because of ur (sic) statements tonight, despite your knowledge of my ADA and struggle with Cancer my Attorney feels I need to Sue you personally. …
“For some reason you decided to discuss my ADA issues Publicly. Without my input or ability to defend myself.
“I am amazed the City Attorney did not caution you.
“My business depends upon my ability to serve my clients without a stain upon my Character.
“You in ur (sic) Statements Publicly defamed me. …”
Texts received from Hopper indicate that members of the City Council were unhappy with him for being anti-development.
Texts from Hopper in October state:
“Talked to Dan (Councilman DeVries). Think there is an opportunity to discuss issue in closed chambers. Also any issues regarding me. (Understand at least there (three) members of Council in violation of Brown act have discussed my ADA issue). I’d really like to meet face to face Chris (Martorana) in closed session. I want to put on notice that three Council members, including you, Tony (Boch), Jim (West) and John (Freeman) have specifically discussed me as an issue: My read on this is that when I met with Jim West last week he said, ‘John you are anti-development. You act like it’s ur (sic) Planning Commission. We need to bring you down a notch. It’s not your Planning Commission …”
“So maybe he was speaking off the cuff. He was making clear to me that I was anti development. He had made “every dollar he had made on development.”
“I do not want to engage the City in a lawsuit because of damages.”
Regarding allegations that Hopper was intoxicated at a council meeting, Hopper texted:
“I was told today that somehow you have proof I was drinking prior to a City Council Meeting. Well if that’s the day I called you after being summoned to a meeting by a local Business owner regarding my input as a Planning Commissioner that’s true. The owner called me and discussed what he felt was a violation of the law. I left my home and met him. The news was troubling, which caused me to call you. … And yes. I think he bought me a beer. … If you review cmap (meeting video) it’s obvious I was not intoxicated yet suffering from spams (sic) in my right neck.”
In a Dec. 12 letter to the city, Hopper again states that the reason he believes the City Council is trying to remove him is linked to pro-growth advocates. He also states the move is related to a petition he signed to recall the mayor and two others on the City Council.
Hopper states he would be glad to meet with the mayor and city attorney, despite his attorney’s advice, to avoid litigation against the mayor and the city.
The January meeting of the planning commission was canceled. Hopper presided over the December meeting.