News

Joke not funny to council gadfly

Don Letcher still unhappy after 13 years of ranting

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?

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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.

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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.

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Joke not funny to council gadfly

Don Letcher still unhappy after 13 years of ranting

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Wed, Feb 2, 2011, 5:05 pm
Updated: Thu, Feb 3, 2011, 4:35 pm

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.

Comments

Tom
Waverly Park
on Feb 2, 2011 at 7:52 pm
Tom, Waverly Park
on Feb 2, 2011 at 7:52 pm

He was a cop? I thought that cops need to have good judgement and relatively even tempers.


Mr. Worldallwrong
Blossom Valley
on Feb 2, 2011 at 8:24 pm
Mr. Worldallwrong, Blossom Valley
on Feb 2, 2011 at 8:24 pm

What nerve this guy has!! You got to hand it to him for speaking up.


Old Ben
Shoreline West
on Feb 2, 2011 at 9:45 pm
Old Ben, Shoreline West
on Feb 2, 2011 at 9:45 pm

Mountain View actually has STANDARDS for rental housing? It was my impression that you could tape a few empty crates together and call it an apartment in this town.


USA
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Feb 2, 2011 at 10:20 pm
USA, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Feb 2, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Mountain View seems to have more than its fair share of nut jobs and homeless for just a little suburb.


Felino
Rex Manor
on Feb 2, 2011 at 10:27 pm
Felino, Rex Manor
on Feb 2, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Ha! That's hilarious. I would love to have been present when Mr. Letcher first read the meeting minutes.
He should rent a unit to Ideafarm!


Arton
Shoreline West
on Feb 3, 2011 at 7:13 am
Arton, Shoreline West
on Feb 3, 2011 at 7:13 am

So now the witch hunt begins with this guy. The Voice just can't let people exercise their free speech and leave them alone without throwing it to the "community" dogs.


USA
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Feb 3, 2011 at 9:34 am
USA, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Feb 3, 2011 at 9:34 am

Arton - Don Letcher has had messages written on the side of his house and in his driveway for years. No one is impinging on his free speech.

The problem is that people like Don and IdeaFarm are going way beyond expressing their opinions. They are intentionally creating situations around themselves. For example, IdeaFarm publicly displays asinine comments about "queers", though I doubt he really hates them. In doing so, he provokes a reaction which then feeds delusions about government being out to get him. In Don's case, it's the city inspectors that are out to get him.


@USA
Rex Manor
on Feb 3, 2011 at 9:56 am
@USA, Rex Manor
on Feb 3, 2011 at 9:56 am

USA- Whatever you want to say about Don Letcher, and there is plenty (I live in the neighborhood), it is no way funny to joke about using government power to take someone's home or property. It is very simply a gross abuse of power in addition to being completely devoid of basic humanity. Tom Mean's did what he does, namely make incredibly and unnecessarily stupid comments in public. What always shocks me is the throng of council sniffers that comes flying out of the woodwork anytime someone dares question their authority or brilliance, which happens far too infrequently as it is.

Your opinion regarding other people's intentions should be kept to yourself. You have no idea what anyone else thinks or why they do the things they do, and for you to project your opinion as fact is weak.

@Tom-It seems like good judgement and even temperment would be nice to see out of the people in charge of the police (city council), too. It's pretty hard to argue that Means comment had either. And I sincerely hope you are not Tom Means.


Hardin
Cuesta Park
on Feb 3, 2011 at 11:25 am
Hardin, Cuesta Park
on Feb 3, 2011 at 11:25 am

Judging from the past actions of Mr. Letcher to his tenants, and the writings on his property, its pretty clear that his judgment should be questioned. If he was given a bad hand by the City, he has succeeded only to makes things worse by his subsequent actions.

Whether Tom Means was joking or not is irrelevant. His intentions aren't in question here, its his lack of discretion in recognizing the proper venue when expressing oneself. Council meeting time is for City business and becomes part of the public record. Mr. Means displayed poor professional judgment in "joking" in this venue. Not only that, but it was a poor choice of a joke, considering its potential to be inflammatory.

Every sexual harassment class I've attended for work is in agreement with this: consider carefully what you say in professional circles, during work time, and consider your audience.


"Just Think About It"
Old Mountain View
on Feb 3, 2011 at 12:39 pm
"Just Think About It", Old Mountain View
on Feb 3, 2011 at 12:39 pm

What ever happened to freedom of speech and expression? If you don't like it that's fine. Look at this as a peaceful demonstration...........Usually Where There Smoke There's Fire.......


Old Ben
Shoreline West
on Feb 3, 2011 at 1:34 pm
Old Ben, Shoreline West
on Feb 3, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Our "elected officials" behave like feudal lords. They should be watching Egypt.

Global Kapital, meet Global Revolution.


kook kook
Cuesta Park
on Feb 3, 2011 at 4:16 pm
kook kook, Cuesta Park
on Feb 3, 2011 at 4:16 pm

HES JUS A KOOK LIKE THE IDEA FARM NUT.


jupiterk
Gemello
on Feb 3, 2011 at 4:57 pm
jupiterk, Gemello
on Feb 3, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Tom Means just underwent training with the gomorrahs in Italy. Looks like he lacks the proper attitude to be a part of this city council. oh, sorry, excuse me. The entire city council is crooked anyways. Go on, Tom. you are a perfect fit with the other members.


the_punnisher
Whisman Station
on Feb 3, 2011 at 9:33 pm
the_punnisher, Whisman Station
on Feb 3, 2011 at 9:33 pm

This Means behavior is one of the reasons I relocated OUT of the " fiefdom " of Mtn. View. The people near DOG CITY have always had swelled heads and their proclamations sometimes border on the asinine.

Their behavior mirrors the situation you find in countless communities in the Midwest and South, with the MVPD acting like the dreaded " Southern Sheriff " stereotype.

I've seen the property many times and I have wondered what the MV " City Fathers " did to piss him off. Now I know that he got the same treatment.

Add the parochial behavior over the new ILLEGAL ALIEN magnet, I can see where the MV state of the city is headed.

A THIRD WORLD ENCLAVE in the SFBA...or to make things easier: East Palo Alto South....


Hardin
Cuesta Park
on Feb 4, 2011 at 8:53 am
Hardin, Cuesta Park
on Feb 4, 2011 at 8:53 am

"This Means behavior is one of the reasons I relocated OUT of the " fiefdom " of Mtn. View. The people near DOG CITY have always had swelled heads and their proclamations sometimes border on the asinine.

Their behavior mirrors the situation you find in countless communities in the Midwest and South, with the MVPD acting like the dreaded " Southern Sheriff " stereotype.

I've seen the property many times and I have wondered what the MV " City Fathers " did to piss him off. Now I know that he got the same treatment.

Add the parochial behavior over the new ILLEGAL ALIEN magnet, I can see where the MV state of the city is headed.

A THIRD WORLD ENCLAVE in the SFBA...or to make things easier: East Palo Alto South...."

-----------------------

I think you've been reading too many comic books about vigilantes.

Though Mr. Means behavior was unprofessional, the behavior of the City Council and City staff in general is not nearly as barbaric as you expose it to be. That's backed up by the City's distinction of being one of the best run small cities in the US, and the prosperity we all enjoy living here.

Also, let's not fool ourselves, there are no heroes in the article above. If the City acted foolishly with a bad joke, Mr. Letcher has shown an illogical, combative, and destructive bent to his approach to the issue, bordering on paranoia.

This issue is not the black and white issue you are framing it to be.


Garrett
another community
on Feb 4, 2011 at 1:40 pm
Garrett, another community
on Feb 4, 2011 at 1:40 pm

It seemed to me the who issure got started by Zoning


Neighbor
Old Mountain View
on Feb 4, 2011 at 3:29 pm
Neighbor, Old Mountain View
on Feb 4, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Tom Means comment is both funny and appropriate. Don Letcher is constantly wasting the time of the council and the public with misinformation and accusations of corruption and abuse of power. It amazes me that the Voice gives him so many opportunities to express his nonsense when their own investigations of his long standing grievance showed he was in the wrong and had misrepresented the history of the dispute. While Letcher often sounds reasonable at first glance, his facts are often wrong and he seems to deliberately mislead people. I'd be happy to not see any more letters from or stories about Don Letcher and especially happy to attend a city council meeting where I didn't have my time wasted by his ugly rants.


Steve
Sylvan Park
on Feb 4, 2011 at 3:37 pm
Steve, Sylvan Park
on Feb 4, 2011 at 3:37 pm

What an excellent opportunity for some journalism! How about an unbiased story of the battle between Mr. Letcher and the city of Mountain View. You could trace it from its roots, I suspect somewhere with building inspection. Continuing with his arrest at city hall, through Martello's last act (punitive fees mandated when bringing non-conforming properties to code, enacted immediately after Letcher's 'Voice' editorial slamming him) and right up to present day. Let's get the background behind the angry messages. He might be nuts, or just maybe he has something important to warn us.


Neighbor
Old Mountain View
on Feb 4, 2011 at 3:51 pm
Neighbor, Old Mountain View
on Feb 4, 2011 at 3:51 pm

I think the Voice already did that article a couple years ago. As I remember, Letcher version of events did not stand up to scrutiny. I can't find a link to the story I'm thinking of -- anyone from the Voice able to post a link here?


Ron
Waverly Park
on Feb 4, 2011 at 4:05 pm
Ron, Waverly Park
on Feb 4, 2011 at 4:05 pm

What a load of horse hockey on the part of so many Means attackers on this board. Means may have made a poorly thought out joke, but it is a far cry from that to announcing the death of civility in Mountain View politics. Sheesh. Letcher is a nut, who went off half cocked when he was faced with permit regs and tossed his tenants and started a public tantrum. To MOST residents, his painted walls are a JOKE, not a last bastion of free speech against the evil MV government. And the Voice is not "throwing him to the community dogs". He threw himself to the dogs of public opinion when he blocked his driveway, posted keep out signs, and painted rants on his wall!


PH
another community
on Feb 5, 2011 at 7:23 am
PH, another community
on Feb 5, 2011 at 7:23 am

Just like Ideafarm, he has the right to free speech, but I wonder where it crosses the line between the rights of an individual and the good of a society as a whole. These people are not playing on an even field as it it very hard to know the truthful facts of their complaints and the city doesn't put people on corners with signs or paint their replies on buildings. If they are right, then they should find relief through the legal system and keep their personal differences with the city out of the public's face. Many people are tired of, as well as insulted by, these public displays of private issues and just want to drive down the streets without seeing these ugly signs. How many of us would want to live across the street from these things and have to look at them all the time? The media should run factual, accurate, unbiased stories that adequatley tell the public about these people and then stop giving them so much attention. After that they might stop this stupidity and let us have a better city to live in.
One question: Does Lechter even live in our city or is he just another property owner out to make a buck? After all, the people who live here should be the first concern of the city council.
Why don't these guys just go away quietly and let us have a nicer city to live in, as I am certainly not the only one who feels that these people make our community less attractive to everyone, and that alone can have a negative economic impact on all of us.


DCS
Old Mountain View
on Feb 8, 2011 at 8:29 am
DCS, Old Mountain View
on Feb 8, 2011 at 8:29 am

Old Ben - LOL! You are absolutely right, the rentals in Mountain View are a disgrace. I can't even tell you hom many rentals I visitied and left in disgust before deciding to rent in San Jose. We own a small condo here in downtown now.


Mntn Maven
Waverly Park
on Feb 8, 2011 at 12:52 pm
Mntn Maven, Waverly Park
on Feb 8, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Seems like a lot of people in town can't take a joke. Y'all should move to Berkeley where free speech is disallowed.


No
Gemello
on Feb 8, 2011 at 2:40 pm
No, Gemello
on Feb 8, 2011 at 2:40 pm

No Trespassing

No Warning

No Kidding


Susan
Castro City
on Feb 8, 2011 at 3:17 pm
Susan, Castro City
on Feb 8, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Don also makes life fairly miserable for many businesses in the vicinity of his house. He needs to have a good chat with a mental health counselor and get some meds to help deal with his paranoid view of life in a very nice city.


Management
Cuesta Park
on Jun 6, 2011 at 1:13 pm
Management, Cuesta Park
on Jun 6, 2011 at 1:13 pm

More POWER to Don Letcher!


eldesthanson
another community
on Jul 13, 2011 at 10:40 am
eldesthanson, another community
on Jul 13, 2011 at 10:40 am

even a nut job can be right. mountain view inspectors do adhere to insane rules.

for example, you can have a sink in an office building for your employees to wash their food. of course they will also wash personal dishes there. but mountain view health inspectors will shut you down if you add a dish washer for them to use.

how many of you have a refrigerator with an ice maker at home? convenient, right? well, according to moutain view inspectors, you are RISKING YOUR LIFE! so don't try sneaking one into your mountain view office.

the inspectors don't care if it makes no sense, it's the rules! well, THEIR rules, anyway.

but you know, evicting all your tenants and getting painted as insane yourself won't make cleaning up the tin pot inspection empire any easer...


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