Man claims Los Altos building inspector told him “Go back to India”

McKenzie Park in Los Altos. City of Los Altos photo.
McKenzie Park in Los Altos. City of Los Altos photo.

BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer

A man has filed a lawsuit against the city of Los Altos, alleging retaliation by three employees over a home renovation permitting dispute, with one city building inspector telling him to “go back to India.”

Satish Ramachandran, 55, filed the suit in U.S. District Court on Feb. 25. He is being represented by Oakland-based attorney Fulvio Cajina.

Ramachandran claims that Senior Building Inspector Greg Anderson made several discriminatory remarks to him in 2013, asking him why he lived in Los Altos, “as if immigrants did not belong there,” according to the suit.

The plaintiff bought his house at 889 Santa Rita Ave. in 1993, seven years after emigrating to the U.S. from India. His lawsuit states that he still speaks with a thick accent.

Ramachandran says he started interacting with employees from the Community Development Department to do some home renovations in 2013.

He spoke with then-Planning Services Manager David Kornfield and Building Official Kirk Ballard about whether he needed to obtain a building permit to tear down and rebuild a new patio.

Both told him that he would not need one, so Ramachandran said he went ahead and hired a contractor to do the work.

Kornfield no longer works for the city.

Later, Kornfield and Ballard allegedly contradicted what they had previously told Ramachandran and said that he needed a permit for the project.

Ramachandran met with both men several times “to remind them” that they had told him that he didn’t need a permit.

“Ramachandran’s conduct, which was perfectly reasonable and lawful, upset Kornfield and Ballard. Kornfield and Ballard, who are white Caucasians, became belligerent and hostile with Ramachandran,” the suit claims.

The plaintiff then raised concerns about Ballard and Kornfield’s “inconsistent and arbitrary decision-making in connection with permitting in Los Altos,” the suit reads.

The Community Development Department then sent Anderson to speak with Ramachandran about the permit, but Anderson allegedly got angry when Ramachandran told him that the work he had done on his patio didn’t require a permit.

Anderson, who is white, then made the inflammatory statements, according to the suit.

Ramachandran said he filed a formal complaint with the city about Anderson’s behavior, highlighting his alleged discriminatory comments, but he claims the city never contacted him.

Los Altos City Attorney Christopher Diaz, City Manager Chris Jordan and City Clerk Jon Maginot did not return a request for comment. Neither did Anderson, Ballard or Kornfield.

For the rest of 2013 and 2014, Anderson, Ballard and Kornfield allegedly “began targeting and retaliating against” Ramachandran, making his project permitting process “as onerous as possible.”

Ballard refused to accept the plaintiff’s plans when he submitted them, according to the suit.

Ramachandran finished the project in late 2014 or early 2015, but he would have later run-ins with the department.

In 2016, Ramachandran took issue with his neighbors, identified in the suit as the Jacobs, when they sought to make additions to a storage shed on the joint fence and property line between their houses.

The Jacobs, who are also white, “began to argue that their property extended into Ramachandran’s property,” according to the suit.

Ramachandran said he contacted the city several times expecting the project to be shut down because under the city building code, non-dwelling structures like storage sheds on properties smaller than 15,000 square feet can’t be turned into dwelling structures where non-dwelling structures didn’t have a 5-foot setback from the property line.

He said that once Kornfield “became involved” in the project, he took action “with the intent to harm Ramachandran” by approving the project and certified that the fence and joint property line should be moved to increase the size of the Jacobs’ property, shrinking Ramachandran’s lot.

“Kornfield’s actions were done in retaliation and with the intent to harm Ramachandran, who had previously complained about discriminatory behavior at the hands of Community Development Department staff,” the suit claims.

Ballard made $181,313.24 in salary and benefits in 2016. Kornfield made $181,267.44 and Anderson made $132,543.43.

 

17 Comments

  1. Maybe this dispute is the reason David Kornfield “no longer works for the city.” It would be helpful to know if he resigned voluntarily or was fired.

  2. My experiences with the building inspectors haven’t been pleasant either. I’m not Indian so I haven’t heard anything like what was allegedly said here. But they don’t seem real professional. But it’s city hall, so you don’t expect much and you dare not complain or they’ll retaliate against you. That’s the part of his story I completely believe. Glad this is anonymous.

    • Tip of the iceberg for city hall. You should look at the police department. I’ve heard rumors that our police officers are sleeping on-duty and that one of my neighbors called the city manager but never got a return call. My experience is that the city has been mismanaged for years. Marcia Somers suddenly resigned a few years ago and then the police chief resigned about a year later. Something is going on and we deserve to know what it is. I’m tired of hearing about our houses being robbed and then nothing happens.

      • Miriam
        >one of my neighbors called the city manager but never got a return call…
        >the city has been mismanaged for years.

        The city’s residents pay little attention to city hall/council and get the management/representation they deserve. No surprise.

        For things to change the residents need to speak up and demand council, mayor, city manager and staff and attorney account for their actions and decisions. Until then the mice make merry gorging themselves.

        Not too long ago a resident spoke up after noticing something funny involving forged memos and an attempt to cover up. City manager Marcia Somers and her deputy JWalgren “resigned” (were asked to).

        This reported lawsuit may just be starting at the tip and working its way into the iceberg.

  3. I call B.S. Sounds like a pushy homeowner who didn’t get his way. I’d be very surprised if it’s true. Greg Anderson is too smart, professional and level-headed to have made a comment like that, and Kirk Ballard is too wishy washy to say anything of substance. Kornfield I can believe. One thing that’s accurate is the “inconsistent and arbitrary decision-making in connection with permitting in Los Altos.” I have experienced that first hand. But it’s not exclusive to Los Altos – they all do that.

  4. I’ve seen this kind of dispute many times. People assume their fence is on their property line and often its way off. Typically, the issue comes up when someone doesn’t want their neighbor to do an addition.(Nimby)The building officials are pushed so hard by a property owner to make a ruling in their favor and when they don’t get they play the race card. The building department employees’ are too smart to say those things…..entitled citizens?

  5. This entire article is slanderous to the character of Mr. Anderson. What proof does the newspaper have about these statements of racism? The supposed journalist states the building inspector said: “go back to India.”

    To make sure the reader understood the comment should be construed as racist, the journalist says Mr. Anderson is white. Oh, I get it. The journalist is inferring that only a white man would say racist comments? If not – Why would the journalist highlight the color of Mr. Anderson’s skin?

    Again, we clearly see a journalist reinforcing a stereotype and throwing themselves headlong into the cultural wars. Overall, the journalist appears to have failed journalism 101 which requires confirming the facts of a story with other reliable sources. This type of article is merely tabloid journalism at its best or journalist incompetence and also racism (by the journalist) at its worst.

  6. “Los Altos White Men are Not Racist”, your comments are inane nonsense.

    The journalist reported what is in the lawsuit. Read the lawsuit and confirm that for yourself before you go around blaming the journalist for slander, reinforcing a stereotype, failing journalism 101, etc. If anything you are the one throwing yourself headlong into cultural wars by discrediting and blaming a journalist doing her job well and reporting the facts, something we want more of.

    The other comments suggest how scared people are to report about misconduct by city staff. Are we to walk around scared of these public servants or do we want transparency, as produced by the lawsuit and reporting?

    Are we to expect a “Fake News” thread from you and your brethren next?

  7. Goodjournalism, I believe transparency is a central pillar of government, and it’s the responsibility of the government to be open in their procedures, actions, analysis and final actions. I do believe individuals should always be reported for misconduct because government employees are agents of the state, which places a higher burden on them. However, the lawsuit is merely a statement of accusations, which a court has not found to be true. As we’re all aware, the judicial system operates on standards of review, which requires a jury or judge to evaluate the facts of a case and to make a ruling based upon those facts. In your statements, you stated the reporter was “reporting the facts.” While the reporter may be reporting statements from a legal document, the mere printing of words in a legal document does not make them “facts.” The legal document is merely unproven statements against another party. Until the court system adjudicates the case, the statements are not legally “facts.” From my perspective, I continue to believe the journalist was lazy, and she should have made an attempt to represent both sides of this unproven story. Does this sufficiently respond to your questions “brethren”

  8. The allegations in a lawsuit should be reported. We all know there are 2 sides to a story, and the Post reached out to those accused and they decided not to give their side of the story.

    There is a legal process here where the defendants have a certain amount of time to file a legal response.

    To suggest that we should wait to hear the allegations until the case is adjudicated is nonsense. Civil suits rarely go to trial. The most likely outcomes will either be that the judge throws out the case or the city settles out of court. If there is a settlement, we’ll never hear the city’s side of it. There will simply be a payment to the plaintiff and his counsel without an explanation.

    And the city council will never discuss this in open session or ask for a public explanation. Their counsel will tell them that statements they make in public might hurt the city’s case. So I’m not optimistic that we’ll hear much more about this except what is said in legal documents in the court case.

  9. One more thing White Guy, you say the reporter was “lazy” because she didn’t get a response from people who didn’t want to talk. How should she have elicited a response from them? Realistically, how would you do it?

  10. HR’s responses do a good job in showing up the biases and immaturity of ““Los Altos White Men are Not Racist” who seems to want it both ways: demand both sides be presented when one side doesn’t want to talk (why not? for fear of further incriminating themselves?), talk about transparency and yet dismiss a journalist doing her job that enables that very transparency by reporting on a lawsuit which in turn questions whether the actions by employees of the City of Los Altos are transparent and compliant with the law.

    To give credit where due: kudos to the Post and the reporter for reporting on this matter. It concerns all of us in Palo Alto and neighboring cities, confirmed by other comments above. I’d like to see the Post investigate this further and report more, enabling the very transparency in govt that we need badly.

  11. HR and GoodJournalism, First, I never said the court case shouldn’t be in the newspaper. Do not try to weave your story around a falsehood. My concern was the journalist’s failure to contact the City for comment. The article never confirmed their attempt to reach out to the City, and you are both assuming the journalist reached out. What facts are you presenting that confirms the journalist reached out to the City or Mr. Anderson? None. Why is this important? Because ethical journalism must strive to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. According to the Society of Professional Journalists, a journalist has an ethical responsibility to “take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible.” From my perspective, the journalist had a responsibility to confirm the facts of her work, whether the City may refuse her questions is irrelevant. She still had a responsibility to confirm the facts. It is the journalist’s failure to follow her professions ethical standards, which is unprofessional and lazy.

    In regards to your insults regarding my intelligence, naivety or maturity, I refer to a quote from Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “Insults are the arguments employed by those who are in the wrong.”

  12. White Man, please read the 16th paragraph of the story:
    “Los Altos City Attorney Christopher Diaz, City Manager Chris Jordan and City Clerk Jon Maginot did not return a request for comment. Neither did Anderson, Ballard or Kornfield.”

  13. White Man in Los Altos, perhaps it is time for you to stop projecting and drink the medicine you serve out so liberally. Do not try to weave your story around a falsehood. Stop reinforcing a stereotype about journalists and “Fake News”. Don’t throw yourself headlong into “the cultural wars”. Don’t accuse the journalist of failing journalism 101…tabloid journalism at its best…incompetence…racism at its worst. As with all projections it is you that is demonstrating what you are accusing others of…

    > From my perspective, I continue to believe the journalist was lazy

    You get hit by a 2×4 on your head…you get mugged by Reality…and you continue to believe the journalist was lazy…some perspective you have and it’s best you keep it to yourself.

  14. White Man, you haven’t answered my question — how does a reporter force somebody to answer a question if they have declined to do so? How should this “lazy” reporter force those people to talk? Because White Man is such an expert in journalism, this should be an easy question.

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