Zoning case turns into campaign attack
| Attorney Chris Pettit wanted a rezone for property adjacent to his law office at Rustic Lane and Vance Jackson. City Council denied his request. On Friday, April 22, a Stop Art Hall sign had been placed next to his office sign. By Sunday, it was gone. (Photo by Lisa Sorg)
Because Council denied Pettit's rezoning request last December, the local estate attorney has posted hypertensive red-and-white "Stop Art Hall" signs throughout District 8, including in front of the Cody Library, an Early Voting site. Pettit sent mailers to District 8 residents calling Hall "a liberal Democrat," criticizing him for broaching the Patriot Act during a Council meeting, and insinuating that he is a liar and a criminal.
Pettit and his attorney, David Earl, are suing the City over the zoning case.
The tempest began, Pettit says, when he wanted to turn a house adjacent to his property on Honeycomb Drive into additional law offices. City Staff and the Zoning Commission recommended approving the zoning change from residential to office, under four conditions, including parking and signage restrictions.
Hall moved to deny the rezone; by a 6-1 vote, Council rejected Pettit's request. Richard Perez, Enrique Barrera, Julián Castro, Chip Haass, and Mayor Ed Garza also voted against it. Joel Williams voted for the rezone; Roger Flores Jr, Ron Segovia, Patti Radle, and Carroll Schubert were absent.
"The neighborhood association and the condominium association were against it," Hall said in an interview. Citing the lawsuit, Hall said he could not elaborate on the case.
Hall's staff allegedly spread throughout the neighborhood that Pettit was planning to build an apartment building.
In addition to the signs, Pettit's mailer alleges that Hall "was convicted" of violating federal election laws by failing to file campaign finance reports as Bexar County Democratic Party Treasurer.
Hall said when he became treasurer he discovered the party hadn't filed state or federal records for several years. By the time he compiled the records, Hall said, the filing deadline had passed. "I came in and had to clean up a mess."
Federal Election Commission records show that the local party was fined $5,000. However, an FEC spokesperson told the Current that Hall was not convicted. "We don't use that term. These are civil penalties, not criminal charges."
Asked about the implication that Hall had been criminally charged, Pettit, an attorney, acknowledged it was a "poor choice of words."
Pettit also mentions in the mailer that in a Council resolution, "Hall voted against the Patriot Act," widely criticized federal legislation that endows federal authorities with additional search and seizure powers, including those to confiscate or examine patrons' public library records. Hall did not vote against the act - only Congress can do that - but he and Radle wanted to vote for a resolution opposing it, a largely symbolic gesture. Since 2001, more than 400 U.S. cities and towns have passed resolutions against the federal law, citing privacy concerns. "I was not aware of that," Pettit said. "But they took up the city's time they should have been discussing the budget."
Pettit also bashed Hall over law journal articles, implying two of the three Hall says he's written don't exist. (Hall provided copies of the articles, including one on international banking that appeared in the New York Law School Journal of International and Comparative Law to the Current.) Pettit said he's especially concerned over Hall's 2000 article in The Scholar: St. Mary's Law Review on Minority Issues. In it, Hall argues for reparations for African Americans on the grounds that they have been awarded to other minority groups, including Japanese Americans and Native Americans, who have been discriminated against in the U.S. Hall also discusses the legal precedents and racial tensions that could determine whether African Americans receive reparations to compensate them for their decades of slavery.
From the 47-page article, Pettit, who is white, quotes Hall, an African American, as writing "White America today tends to distance from both the sins of slavery and of its forefathers."
Beneath the quote, Pettit writes: "As residents of District 8, you should read this article to understand the real Art Hall."
(Hall also wrote "We owe it to our children to encourage them to be good people and do better, and if they are angry, to channel that anger to improving and unifying their community.")
Asked why Hall's opinion on reparations is a District 8 issue, Pettit replied, "I think it's somewhat shocking. Everyone should see it." Pressed to elaborate, Pettit refused.
"I would just say read it." •
By Lisa Sorg