Self-described gadfly Don Letcher is known for his weekly, sometimes daily, accusations of sundry city misconduct to local newspapers and city officials. But this week's angry rant from Letcher seems to strike at the core of his 13-year tiff with the city.
It was spurred by a paraphrased statement by council member Tom Means in the Nov. 16 City Council meeting minutes: Means "would like council to think about a city/community designation for 788 North Rengstorff Avenue."
That address is Letcher's property near Old Middlefield Way, which he believes the city has been trying to drive him off of since 1997. "The city of Mountain View takes people's land," Letcher said. "It's the same thing they were trying to do for the Francia property."
But what appears to Letcher to be a proposed "taking" of his property by Means was actually a joke, said Means. Letcher admits he didn't hear the comment in person.
Means made the joke as he criticized the now-dead proposal to rezone the city's last orchard, owned by the Francia family, for a long-desired park in the Whisman neighborhood. Means recalled saying, "If we're going to do that, why don't we do it" to Don Letcher's property?
Basically, Means was using humor to express opposition to just the sort of "taking" Letcher is afraid of. It's not unusual for the libertarian to take such a position.
But Letcher insists it wasn't a joke. "I take real offense" to insinuations "that Means is playing a joke," he said. Letcher claims that Means called his home and left a voicemail in which "he made it very clear... he wants me to shut up and stay away. It's no joke, he's told me he's coming after my property."
"Some people can't take a joke," said Means, one of several city officials who say they've grown tired of correcting Letcher's false accusations over the years, accusations which Letcher apparently circulates in senior citizen social circles.
Fueling Letcher's rage is the belief that he has been kept from renting out six housing units on the property he's owned since 1962 because of an effort by city officials to make sure the homes were code compliant in 1997. It's not clear why, but he responded to the code inspections by kicking his tenants off his property. He admits to having faced a lawsuit from his tenants for evicting them, and having to pay the tenants several hundred thousand dollars in an out of court settlement.
Because his homes were vacant more than six months, Letcher has lost the property's grandfather status that allowed residential use on the property, said City Attorney Jannie Quinn. She added that the property has been zoned for commercial use since the city annexed it in 1963.
Letcher, a retired Sunnyvale police officer, may get a break soon. In next year's general plan update his property is proposed for a more flexible commercial and residential designation.
But Letcher says "I want them to leave me the hell alone" and doesn't trust that city officials will do that, rezoning or not. He's suspicious that Quinn will add a long list of conditions to the one-time conditional use permit the city will require for him to rent the homes under the potential zoning change. Quinn denies it, saying the homes only need to be habitable and meet the city's safety and fire codes.
Correction: In a previous version of this story the Voice incorrectly reported that Letcher lost a lawsuit with his former tenants. He told the Voice that he was sued by his former tenants, but he settled out of court.