Democrat Bryan Pease, on today’s ballot for the District 2 City Council seat held by Republican Lorie Zapf, is normally outspoken about previous high profile, high conscious lawsuits he’s handled.
Attorney Pease was happy to talk to the Reader in an August 27, 2014 article about his efforts to save UCSD’s Che Café.
Pease had already been heralded on local TV news segments as the cause-driven attorney who successfully stepped up to stop the removal of seals from Children’s Pool in La Jolla.
But he sent out no press releases about a March 23 ruling handed down by Superior Court Judge Gregory W. Pollack that said he lost the civil suit he filed against the Ocean Beach People’s Organic Food Co-operative.
From 2008-2015, Pease was a member of the nine-person board of directors that oversees the OB Co-op that started in a garage as a hippie-era food sharing commune and grew to a hugely successful member-owned co-operative that brings in $15-million annually. It is the largest employer in Ocean Beach.
After two years away, Pease was hoping to return to the OB Co-op’s board in November 2017. There were two seats open. OB Co-op board members serve three-year stints with no pay. Four people requested to be put on the ballot. Pease was one of the two candidates who was deemed to be “not recommended” by the board’s nominating committee.
Per the co-op’s by-laws, in order to get on the ballot without a committee recommendation, Pease needed to turn in a petition that supported his candidacy signed by at least 100 co-op owners. Pease did in fact turned in the petition with the 100 signatures, but he had changed the wording at the top of the petition.
Because he drafted his own petition, the board denied his inclusion on the ballot for the March 2017 OB Co-op board election. That denial prompted his Writ of Mandate civil lawsuit against the O.B. Food Co-op which was rejected in March.
Pease says the crux of the lawsuit lies with former general manager Nancy Cassidy and former board president Ofelia Alvarado who Pease says would regularly “pull strings” for their own agenda. “Things got contentious and people stopped liking me after I became a whistle blower.”
For instance, he says former co-op president Alvarado, “Flew off to Spain with $5,000 of the co-op's money.”
Pease says he advocated for a higher employee minimum wage to no success while the co-op propped up a “top heavy, overpaid” management.
One insider with knowledge of the lawsuit but who says was prohibited from speaking on the matter says the $5,000 trip to Spain was part of an international seminar to learn about operating successful co-ops from Mondragon, the world’s largest food co-op.
When asked about the fact that his lawsuit over his election to the board cost the OB Co-op money, Pease said the OB Co-op's legal expenses were covered by a “director’s officers [insurance] policy.” The OB Co-Op member who declined to be named says there is an insurance policy that kicked in, but only after the co-op paid for the first $50,000 in legal expenses to fight Pease out of its general fund.
Would he file an appeal to bring the lawsuit back? Pease said yesterday, “I am too busy talking to voters to worry about that now.” But he said even though he lost the lawsuit, “An injustice was committed,” by not allowing him to run again for the co-op board last year.
While there have been no published polls, political insiders say Republican Zapf will face off in November’s general election against one of three Democrats running against her.
What do the other two Democrats on today’s ballot say about say about their fellow Dem suing the neighborhood cooperative he helped run for seven years?
“We have been very upfront about not speaking [negatively] about other Democrats,” says Jordan Beane. “Besides I would not want to say anything that may negatively impact the co-op.”
Jennifer Campbell in an emailed statement from her campaign office had a completely different take. “It shows there are two kinds of people running for public office. Dr. Jen served on the boards of organizations to build consensus…Bryan suing the People’s Co-op shows that he cares about himself more than this community.”
Meanwhile, one of the founders of the OB Co-op who says he does not want to be named out of fear of getting sued had this to say: “I remember when it was all about people showing up to get a bag full of rice in someone’s garage in the early 70s. There was nowhere back then where you could get healthy food. We had food driven in from local farms. It used to be called the OB Ecology Group back then…Then it got so big, it seemed to have lost its soul, that people were just in it for personal gains. Maybe this [court decision] will show it still has a soul after all.”