Santa Barbara City Council has doubled down in its ongoing legal war against landlord Dario Pini over substandard housing conditions, voting to spend up to $375,000 more on Matt Silver, a private attorney specializing in code enforcement. In the past two years, the council has authorized the expenditure of $253,000 in Pini litigation; this addition will bring the total to $628,000. Making this unusual, City Hall appears already to have won.
In April, Judge Colleen Sterne ruled that seven Pini properties posed an imminent health threat to their occupants and ordered them turned over to a receiver for management and rehabilitation. City Attorney Ariel Calonne told the council this rehabilitation process could prove protracted. He expressed concern that occupants not named in the lease could find themselves moved out without benefit of relocation assistance. Pini, he charged, has already reneged on a pledge to help finance the transition.
The funding was unanimously approved. “This is the most extraordinary thing I’ve seen in all my years serving on the council,” said Councilmember Gregg Hart, who was lavish in his praise of Calonne. “You took this on, you created a path to success, and the community will be in your debt forever.” If Calonne wanted more money, Hart made it clear he would have been open to it. Neither Pini nor any of his representatives were present.
Pini’s attorney Paul Burns took decided exception to Calonne’s description of the trial, and in an interview the day after the council’s vote, he disputed Calonne’s assertion that Pini had offered only $7,000 for preliminary inspection work on the properties. Burns said that Pini is still awaiting an estimate of what the work will actually cost. Burns also disputed Calonne’s contention that City Hall would be reimbursed all attorneys’ fees and costs associated with prosecuting the case. Burns noted that the city did not prevail on four properties for which Calonne had sought the appointment of a receiver. “We prevailed on four, they prevailed on seven, and those are the ones we didn’t both contest. That’s hardly the slam-dunk victory Calonne described to the council. And the judge made it clear she was reserving any judgment on attorneys fees and costs.” Burns also contends Pini was willing to resolve the matter from the very outset of the litigation and sought to reach settlement.