Nine current and former tenants from The Barlow in Sebastopol on Wednesday sued the owner of the outdoor market district, seeking damages in connection with February flooding that destroyed several businesses.
The lawsuit accused the owner of the 12-acre district, Barney Aldridge, of negligence and breach of contract. The tenants want repayment of hundreds of dollars in extra fees tenants paid annually for flood-protection measures like equipment and building inspections they claim were not done. Also, they urged the court to award them compensatory and punitive damages.
Among the plaintiffs are Crooked Goat Brewing and Community Market, an anchor tenant, as well as Tamarind Clothing and Freideman Wines, who were unable to reopen after the nearby Laguna de Santa Rosa overflowed its banks. Another two, Fern Bar and Scout West County, did not flood but claimed they suffered financial losses because of disruptions all around them during the ensuing months. Seven of the plaintiffs who joined in the suit were among the 24 businesses that flooded.
The Barlow flood has been among the most startling and highly publicized aspects of the region’s February storms, which sent the Russian River to heights not seen since 1995 and raised the huge Laguna de Santa Rosa wetland complex more quickly than many can recall.
The civil suit, filed in Sonoma County Superior Court, could be the first of several, after the 6-year-old marketplace was overwhelmed by the Feb. 26 and 27 disaster. It happened despite detailed flood-protection procedures developed as a requirement of building in what’s known as a “special hazard flood area” about 1,000 feet away from the laguna wetland.
Key flood-protection measures included individually tailored, interlocking aluminum flood logs designed to be installed between brackets in each roll-up storefront at The Barlow, with a bottom beam that seals against the floor and a special locking log for the top that exerts downward pressure to seal the entire barrier, up to 10 feet high. Sump pumps located inside each leased space and hooked up to generators were to handle any minimal water that might leak inside.
The flood-proofing plan required for development of The Barlow represented an ongoing legal obligation, the plaintiffs alleged. But due to “botched installation efforts, not a single entrance ... had the correct number of logs installed,” exposing any business within the flood area to inundation, according to the suit. The remaining plaintiffs are Two Dog Night Creamery, The Nectary and Victorian Farmstead Meat Company, located inside Community Market.
Many of the claims made in the 31-page suit matched findings in a report published in late May and written by Sebastopol building official Glenn Schainblatt, in which he concluded that “all the planning to ensure the emergency plan performed (at The Barlow) as anticipated was ignored.”
Aldridge, reached by phone Wednesday, said what he has said before about the situation.
“I think it’s tough to blame a person for an act of God — for a flood — or a team of people or an individual,” he said. “There was a flood. The entire Russian River flooded and was named a disaster zone by FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency). So to pin it on a person or people, is a tough row to hoe.”
Aldridge’s staff came under fire almost immediately after an atmospheric river stalled over much of Sonoma County in February. Tenants accused them of waiting too long to begin flood preparations, failing to alert tenants in a timely manner and, most critically, delaying securing temporary laborers and equipment needed to install the flood logs. At the time, Aldridge was on the East Coast.
Plaintiffs in lawsuit against The Barlow and owner Barney Aldridge
Suffered flood damage; all now reopened:
Crooked Goat Brewing
Two Dog Night Creamery
Victorian Farmstead Meat Company (inside Community Market)
Destroyed by flooding and couldn’t afford to reopen:
Didn’t flood, but claimed financial losses due to disruption of marketplace operations:
Scout West County