Video game entrepreneur Doug Kennedy is preparing to file a lawsuit against the City of Sonora and possibly former Mayor Connie Williams in hopes of stopping a $1.8 million project to build bus stops on Stockton Road that he says will interfere with his nearby business and ongoing beer garden project.
Trevor Zink, a San Jose attorney who represents Kennedy, said they plan to argue that Williams should have recused herself from voting on the project at an Aug. 6 meeting because of a past dispute with Kennedy in her role on the Stage 3 Theatre Co. Board of Directors.
“Connie Williams is pushing the Stockton (Road) option forward in a clear and vindictive manner,” Zink said. “Trado is not going to lie down and let her continue this rampage against it and its businesses.”
Zink was referring to Trado Restaurant Corp., a former corporation that Kennedy and his wife dissolved late last year and reorganized as a Delaware-based limited liability company under the name 209 Events LLC.
The city’s project would construct bus stops on each side of Stockton Road west of South Green Street, as well as bottleneck the road to one lane on each side between South Green and South Washington streets.
One of the bus stops would be located in front of a Kennedy-owned building at 55 West Stockton Road that houses his company’s offices.
Kennedy says the location of the bus stop would reduce the number of parking spots in front of his building and create a safety hazard because people will likely cross Stockton Road illegally as opposed to walking up to the stoplight at South Washington Street.
Some of the feedback the city received prior to the council approving the project was that it made more sense to locate the bus stops on Stockton Road than the alternative option on South Washington Street.
However, a large number of people who voiced their opinions seemed opposed to either proposal and questioned whether the city should reject the $1.8 million in funding from Caltrans to complete the project.
“The vast majority of residents disfavor this project,” Zink said. “Since Trado is directly impacted by this, it will be the one that stands in the shoes of the vast majority of citizens who want to put a stop to it.”
Zink said that they believe Williams’ approval of the project is retaliation over a dispute between Kennedy and Stage 3 Theatre Co. that resulted in the latter being forced into an indefinite hiatus after being left without a home for staging plays.
The Stage 3 board had previously talked about suing Kennedy over allegedly breaking promises related to the timeline for completing his $5 million Sonora Armory entertainment complex, located in part of the nonprofit community theater group’s former home.
Council members Matt Hawkins and Colette Such both voted against the bus stops after expressing concerns about the project, which means it wouldn’t have passed if Williams recused herself because it would be a split 2-2 vote.
Williams has recused herself from all other decisions pertaining to Kennedy and his businesses since the dispute erupted.
She declined to comment on the potential lawsuit Monday, though City Administrator Tim Miller and City Attorney Douglas White confirmed they had heard of Kennedy’s intentions to sue.
Miller said he would wait to see what’s filed before making any statements on the matter.
White wouldn’t comment on the specific legal advice he’s provided to the city, but said they were aware of the threats from Kennedy prior to moving forward with approving the project.
“We’ve been aware of their threats to sue for some time and proceeded with the project understanding what they had been threatening,” he said. “We can’t prevent people from suing the city, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to prevail.”
As for the allegations that Williams had a conflict of interest, White said he and senior partners at his firm Churchwell White LLP have extensive experience in such aspects of law and feel that they would be able to successfully defend against that claim in court.
Kennedy, who lives primarily in Florida and has a home in Tuolumne County, said in a telephone interview on Monday that Williams should have recused herself as she has with the other decisions related to his projects and businesses that have gone before the council.
“This lawsuit will be more than just getting an injunction to stop the project,” he said. “It will also be about people not being able to use their city positions to retaliate against their personal foes.”
Kennedy said he hasn’t been back in Tuolumne County since about May while working on other business ventures, including a venture capital fund for independent video game developers with a former Sony Playstation executive.
Kennedy plans to return in October to review progress on his $5 million Sonora Armory project that will include a renovated and expanded Bourbon Barrel bar and restaurant, theater for live entertainment, and outdoor beer garden.
He estimated the project is about 95 percent complete, though he didn’t want to discuss a timeline for opening until he resolves his lawsuit against the city.
“My concern would be that if the City of Sonora thinks they can slap a bus stop and choke off my parking at Trado, what other decisions will they make in regard to the beer garden?” he asked. “It’s decisions like this that don’t make me feel very comfortable investing anymore time and energy in downtown Sonora.”
Contact Alex MacLean at email@example.com or (209) 588-4530.