Trial Begins in Former Mayor's Suit : South Pasadena: Lee Prentiss says the council, motivated by opposition to his conservatism, acted to revoke his building permit.


The South Pasadena City Council moved to revoke a former mayor's building permit against the advice of the city attorney, two key witnesses have testified.

The testimony came last week in Pasadena Superior Court as the trial began in the case of former Mayor Lee D. Prentiss, who claims the city pulled his building permit for political, not planning, reasons, and thus violated his civil rights.

All the defendants have denied the charges as ridiculous in interviews during the past year.

Prentiss' suit alleges that city leaders, motivated by malice and opposition to his conservative politics, instructed a city official nearly four years ago to revoke a permit for a three-story, 1,750-square-foot extension to his 86-year-old Craftsman-style home. The suit names ex-Mayor Evelyn Fierro, Councilman Harry Knapp and his wife Clarice, ex-Mayor James C. Hodge Jr., Mayor Amedee O. Richards and Transportation Commissioner Joanne Nuckols.

Prentiss received the permit the month before it was revoked and already had cut a new arch in a wall, removed cement and bricks and poured new cement foundations, his suit says.

City officials say the Oaklawn Avenue house was on the state Historic Resources Inventory and the expansion plans thus needed environmental review.

However, the state Supreme Court last July let stand an appellate court ruling that the city had wrongfully revoked the permit to expand 3,500-square-foot home.

The trial got off to a fiery start Thursday when former City Manager John Bernardi testified that the council decided to pull Prentiss' permit even though then-City Atty. Charles S. Vose advised against it. Vose resigned a week later.

"I felt it was political. I indicated there was no grounds to revoke the permit," said Bernardi, adding that building permits fall within the purview of the city's head of planning, not the council.

Bernardi, a 30-year city employee, said Fierro told him "Mr. Prentiss and myself (Bernardi) were good old boys who destroyed the city and it was time for pay-back."

Former Councilman James S. Woollacott said that in a breach of the Brown Act, which restricts what public agencies can do in closed meetings, the council decided to revoke Prentiss' permit.

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