By Steve Dreyer
The City of Poway last year quietly settled a long-standing legal battle with two Green Valley property owners for $295,000.
The settlement with Dianne and Alex Armstrong and Lee Tartre was signed last June but, as part of the agreement’s terms, was never made public. It has come to light after the News Chieftain sought the document under the California Public Records Act.
The two property owners sued the city in January 2008 after a contractor was hired by the city to clear an easement to a small creek behind nine Avenida La Valencia properties in 2006. Workers relied on outdated, city-provided maps and took out more trees than they were supposed to while creating an access way of between 15 and 20 feet.
Following a two-week trial in May 2008, a jury found both the city and the plaintiffs negligent. The jury awarded Tartre $144,763 and the Armstrongs $84,328 in damages. However, the jury also deemed the plaintiffs 20 percent responsible and the cash awards were reduced by that much.
The jury found in the city’s favor in regard to the allegations of violation of civil rights and trespassing and held the city’s contractor was not responsible in the matter. A judge later overturned the jury’s verdict regarding civil rights violation, putting the city in the position of having to pay the plaintiff’s legal fees of over $800,000. However, an appellate court later affirmed the jury’s decision.
The settlement agreement calls for the city to pay Tartre $200,000 and the Armstrongs $95,000. Neither party admits liability and neither is allowed to “initiate public disclosure, or to hold a press conference, prepare a press statement or make any statement at a public meeting regarding the substance of this agreement.” However, the parties agreed that the settlement is a public document and could be disclosed under terms of the state’s public meeting and public records acts.
A 60-page file containing the settlement agreement and related documents, released under the Public Records Act, can be found