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City Attorney Mike Aguirre disputed the assertion by a lawyer for Sunroad Enterprises claiming that the company should not stop work on its office building near Montgomery Field Airport unless a court tells it to.

About an hour after Sunroad attorney Steven Strauss’ announcement, Aguirre said Mayor Jerry Sanders has the authority to halt work on the building because federal and state officials have demanded it.

“You can’t hide behind the courts,” Aguirre said.

Strauss disputed Aguirre’s argument, and Sanders has asked for a formal legal analysis from the law firm representing the city in the legal dispute.

Aguirre pointed to various letters from the California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, which stressed that the building’s 180-foot height was prohibited.

In a Sept. 14, 2006 letter, Caltrans told Sunroad, “Until you receive a permit from the Department, it is unlawful for you to proceed with construction.” The company did not obtain the permit in question.

Later that month, Caltrans reiterated its stance to a Sunroad attorney:

If construction in violation of [state public utilities code, or PUC] proceeds, you are proceeding at your own risk, as you have been notified of the Department’s position. Additionally, if an aircraft accident occurs at the site of the Sunroad Centrum 1 Building because of this PUC violation, you are assuming all liability for the accident.

In January, Caltrans told Sanders’ top land-use aide, Jim Waring, that the city’s decision to allow Sunroad to “weather proof” the building “makes it difficult to regard the City’s actions as anything other than an attempt to undermine State law.”

Aguirre said all of these interactions with the state government show that the city has no choice but to stop all work on all aspects of the project, regardless of whether the work takes place on parts of the building below the 160-foot height limit set by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“If a wing or a wheel of a plane clips that building, there will be severe moral and legal consequences,” Aguirre said.

Strauss said Aguirre was exaggerating the situation, and that the airport was safe.

“It’s not a safety issue, otherwise it’d be closed,” he said.

Strauss called on the city attorney to try his argument in court, where he could seek an injunction to stop construction if he was so sure of his case.

“The city attorney believes there is a legal basis to stop construction, he should go to court,” Strauss said.

“Mr. Aguirre doesn’t like to go to court; he doesn’t fare well in court.”

EVAN McLAUGHLIN

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