Morro Bay staff accused of suppressing business competition

March 10, 2014
Antique shop owner Jeffrey Specht standing next to his Morro Bay store that the city tagged

Antique shop owner Jeffrey Specht standing next to his Morro Bay store that the city tagged

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

Antique shop owner Jeffrey Specht and his staff spent months clearing out, cleaning and painting a shop so he could open a business in Morro Bay. But city staff refused to grant him the operating permits for Specht’s antiques and candy store. A city building inspector also tagged the building making it appear that Specht was running an illegal business.

While Specht was kept from opening his business, the neighboring taffy shop owned by Joyce Leage, a relative of Councilman George Leage, was allowed to operate without proper licensing and permitting, a review of city files showed.

Specht says he was prevented from opening his shop because it would have competed with Leage’s relative. He is not the only person to complain about the city staff in Morro Bay. A number of people have filed or are planning to file claims against the city for illegitimately suppressing their business interests at a building few blocks away that formerly housed the Morro Bay Sun Bulletin.

Though the addresses are different, in both cases, when people attempted to open businesses in Morro Bay, Police Officer Gene Stuart came out to the location followed by City Building Inspector Brian Cowen, who tagged the building. City planners also denied the businessmen licenses and permits.

Last year, Specht, the owner of Angry Woodpecker Antiques, attempted to move his business from San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay. Specht leased a vacant doughnut shop at 1130 Front Street along the Embarcadero last June. In addition to selling antiques, Specht planned to offer ice cream, candy including taffy and possibly a salad bistro.

The salt water taffy shop that sits next door is managed by Leonard Willhite, who has long been in a relationship with Joyce Leage. Joyce Leage was married to George Leage’s brother, Willhite said. George Leage’s brother died, Willhite said.

Joyce Leage and Leonard Willhite

Joyce Leage and Leonard Willhite

The business license on file for the taffy store at the Morro Bay Public Services Office states the name of the shop is West Coast Light Tackle. The store previously operated as a tackle shop but converted several years ago to a taffy store with a sign above the store entrance that reads Salt Water Taffy.

The taffy shop does not have proper licensing, said Cathy Weaver, a Morro Bay permit technician. A business converting from a tackle store to a taffy shop must obtain a new license, Weaver said.

“They have to apply for a new business license because the use is changing,” Weaver said. “The new license would require review by the building, planning and fire departments.”

Willhite said he could not reveal the name of the business he manages.

“I don’t have the freedom to tell you that,” Willhite said.

Additionally, Joyce Leage’s taffy store does not have a use permit, according to the city’s address file for the business. Retail businesses in the taffy shop’s location require minor use permits, said Cindy Jacinth, a Morro Bay associate planner.

“If you can’t show us where your minor use permit is, we’re going to ask that you get one,” Jacinth said.

Nevertheless, Morro Bay code enforcers have let the taffy shop operate without proper licensing and permitting.

Vacant shop Jeffrey Specht rented next to Joyce Leage's taffy store

Vacant shop beside Joyce Leage’s taffy store

Specht says when he tried to obtain a license and permit for his business, Capital Projects Manager Rick Sauerwein refused to even accept his applications.

“He refused to give us any permits or issue us licensing,” Specht said. “He said no matter what we are not going to allow you to open a business in Morro Bay.”

Sauerwein said he remembers the discussion with Specht and Specht’s business partner Fred Lombardi but does not recall any conversation about permits or licensing.

“I don’t have any desire to deny anybody an opportunity to open a business here,” Sauerwein said.

Lombardi attempted to record the conversation, but Sauerwein immediately ordered him to turn off the camera, video shows. Sauerwein said he later learned that the Public Services office is a public place and he did not have the right to order Lombardi to stop filming.

Before Specht’s encounter with Sauerwein, Police Officer Gene Stuart visited the antique shop and pulled Lombardi out of the store, according to a lawsuit Specht filed. Stuart claimed that Specht was running an illegal food service and that an associate of his was on the run from a building inspector, Specht stated in the lawsuit against Morro Bay realtor Addie Pedersen.

Specht sued Pederson for misrepresenting herself to the city as the property manager for the shop he leased in order to trigger an eviction.

As Stuart held Lombardi for questioning, Building Inspector Brian Cowen arrived and, along with Stuart, accused antique shop staffers of living in the store, Lombardi said. Cowen later tagged the shop with a notice stating the building was unfit for human occupation. He did so without inspecting the building, Specht’s suit alleges.

Specht and his staff had spent two months cleaning and painting the building before Cowen tagged the building, the notice, photos and videos show.

Willhite claims that Specht and his staff were living in the store. Specht and the staff denied they were doing so.

Cowen declined to comment.

A month before Cowen tagged the building, a San Luis Obispo County Environmental Health Department employee examined the store. Environmental Health Specialist Denny Brewer told CalCoastNews the store appeared cluttered, but there did not appear to be any occupancy issues.

“I didn’t see evidence of sleeping quarters,” Brewer said. “I didn’t have any problem with them being there. They just needed to solidify what was on their menu and submit a health permit application.”

A week after Cowen tagged the building, then-City Attorney Rob Schultz visited the antique shop. Schultz, too, walked around the store, video shows.

“It did not appear as if anyone was living there,” Schultz wrote in an email to city staff after visiting Specht’s shop.

Specht speaking to Rob Schultz inside the store

Specht speaking to Rob Schultz inside the store

After Specht was not able to open his antique shop in Morro Bay, his landlords evicted him. Specht lost the antiques he had in the building. Specht says that the power of the Leage family led city officials to unjustly target his business while ignoring code violations committed by Joyce Leage’s taffy shop.

The Leages own three nearby restaurants, including two a block away. George Leage also owns a bluff on the same block of Front Street. He plans to build a hotel there, city files show.

Willhite said George Leage has no connection to his business.

“I wouldn’t wipe my ass with him,” Willhite said of George Leage.

George Leage declined to comment.

Willhite refused to provide a contact number for Joyce Leage.

Former Morro Bay councilwoman and current mayoral candidate Carla Wixom owns a restaurant on a hill above the taffy shop. Wixom, a political ally of George Leage, said she knew little about the closure of the antique store other than that Willhite was worried about competition.

“The guy in the taffy store was worried they were going to carry candy,” Wixom said.

 


142 Comments

  1. MoralistInTheBay says:

    I recently spoke at length w/one of the shop owners in that area … their comments were that these were scary people and that they were sleeping in the store. They also told us that the lease was put in their 18yr old son’s name because these folks have done this same “scheme” few times before. We’re not making comment whether City was correct or not, but would like to ask the author if he spoke with the local shop owners before he wrote this story (??)
    Thanks and we appreciate reading everyone’s comments.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 4

    • rickholliday says:

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 5

    • diamond says:

      Did the shop owner see them sleeping or just assume they were sleeping because of the time of day / night? FYI, for anyone who has opened, or in Morro Bay tried to open a business under time and money constraints, many many have worked late in to the am or pulled overnighters to try to get the business up and running to code. As far as a “scheme” putting a business under relatives names, these folks as you call them, must have read the King George league Playbook on how to “scheme” at all times. How many of Georges Businesses are under Georges kids names right now??? As usual Lying, cheating and being morally bankrupt is only reserved for George in this town like his red zone parking space and illegal residence that he continues to rein over while the city officials look the other way. The parade of George leagues charades is like the emperors new clothes. This the unknown source of yours, the “shop Owner” called them “scary people” ? Did they have weapons of mass construction or were they chanting redrum while painting the walls. I’m SURE if these scary monsters were sleeping in the shop, these phantom “shop owners” would have called the same Morro Bay PD and code enforcement that lets George League do these same things. Moralist, shouldn’t you call yourself (s) MoralistsInTheBay as you keep saying we….then look up morals in the dictionary an you will find this town lacking any.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  2. mbactivist1 says:

    Clearly, the events documented in this story are a very close match to the ones in the Sun Bulletin building story. In both cases, someone tries to get permits to open a business,but that business is opposed by people in the old boys/girls network who do not want competition. The person is not even allowed to submit applications in the standard manner, and ends up being sent to talk to a higher-level staff person. In one case, it’s Wold; in the other, it’s Sauerwein.

    In both cases, after the would-be applicant is denied the right to submit an application, a particular police officer shows up to harass the would-be applicant, followed by the building inspector who tags the building. Both would-be applicants lose money and time invested.

    But it doesn’t end there. There is also a pattern in the comments submitted in response to both stories in an attempt to defend City staff and officials.

    One striking common thread is the attempt to paint the people who tried to open the businesses as terrible characters who go around doing awful things – in other words, attack the victim. Another common thread is the attempt to portray the article’s author and CCN as incompetent and lacking evidence for their stories – attack the messenger. Some of the same people have said very positive things about CCN when they liked an article, but suddenly change their tune when they don’t, and the exposure of corruption hits a little too close to home.

    I think it is clear that CCN is going to be a major force in helping to clean up Morro Bay. I just hope that more victims will come forward and tell their stories.

    Guy tries to get permits and license to open store. Staff refuses to even accept his applications

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 16

    • Human Reason says:

      “Clearly, the events documented in this story are a very close match to the ones in the Sun Bulletin building story” !!!! YES !!!! We finally agree on something. However, in both situations you fail as always to look at the real reason why the permits were denied. You fail to look at the real reason because it doesn’t fit your agenda.. Everything has to fit your agenda and as I have stated over and over when you are proven wrong will you apologize and say you were wrong. NO !!!! You will move on to try and destroy another reputation and career.

      In both cases the tenant did not have the consent of owner form. The City, and all Cities, require this form. If you don’t have this form signed by the owner than your business license and permits must be rejected. In both these situations this is what happen. You can make up facts and spin it anyway you want but that is the facts that you cannot change.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 12

      • Moderator says:

        Less about other people, much much less.
        “you fail ..You fail….fit your agenda…when you are proven wrong… NO !!!! You will ”

        ! or ? moderator@calcoastnews.com

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 11

      • mbactivist1 says:

        It doesn’t sound to me like the owners are the obstacles to these businesses getting started. Consider these quotes from Mr. Friedman’s article on the Sun Bulletin building:

        “Building owner Clark Kayler, a Sacramento-based woodworker, said having his building red tagged was like getting slapped with a scarlet letter.

        “They are allowed to just label a building unsafe,” Kayler said.

        Kayler said the city has selectively enforced legal codes against him since he purchased the property in 2009.”

        “Morro Bay has singled out his building, Kayler said.

        “The scrutiny is not there for some people, and the scrutiny on my property never ends,” Kayler said.”

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 4

  3. Shocked in MB says:

    I have finally reached a conclusion- Morro Bay has a whole lot of people with way too much time on their hands.

    Behind every tree (and business sign) is a conspiracy and that conspiracy is supported by Black Helicopters and the whole plan is being developed by the “old boys/girls” who hold their meetings in the “bullet proof” castle along the Embarcadero (assuming there are enough red zones available for them to find those hidden LOCAL ONLY parking spots). When they cannot find enough Red Zone parking spots, they have to postpone their meeting and move it to one of the “old boys/girls” villas along the Mediterranean coast or their beach homes in Hawaii.

    I am just so happy that we have such a top notch local defense force in Morro Bay that can detect these conspiracies so quickly and protect we poor souls from those evil-doers.

    THANK YOU

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 26 Thumb down 15

    • mbactivist1 says:

      Very interesting, Shocked, you’ve come up with yet another old boy./girl strategy to try to divert attention from the facts and convince CCN readers that this article has no merit. This one won’t work either, but at least it’s entertaining.

      If I had just a little more time on my hands, it might be fun to list all the different spin doctoring approaches used by those who don’t want Morro Bay government corruption to come to light, but I’m too busy casing that bulletproof castle in my black helicopter, which I plan to land in a red zone as soon as George moves his truck. :)

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 15

      • middleoftheroad says:

        How much more time do you need…..you comment on here about every 30 min…..again this message is in no way a diversion tactic to steer the topic away from the enourmous good ole’ boy and girl group that runs this town….I just wish they would start holding me down a little too so that I may have some free time to comment on here every half hour….but I think I would rather use that extra time to spend with my daughters.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 7

    • rickholliday says:

      Shocked in MB……Pull your head out of the sand! Wake up! and it’s about time someone did something about the oppressing and harassment going on in Morro Bay but you just sit back and watch as it’s going to happen with or without YOU!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 6

    • rickholliday says:

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  4. Human Reason says:

    Permit denied because he couldn’t get a consent of landlord. This guy illegally gained possession of the property without a lease. Had to be evicted by the courts. He preys on elderly property owners . Do your research.the city cannot issue permits without landlords consent.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 19 Thumb down 18

    • mbactivist1 says:

      Uh, did you notice this statement in the story?:

      “Specht sued Pederson for misrepresenting herself to the city as the property manager for the shop he leased in order to trigger an eviction.” Note the word “leased”

      Sounds to me like the people who didn’t want Specht to open his store got together and hatched a plan to go after him on multiple fronts, one of which was a successful scheme to convince the landlord that Specht was a bad tenant – a scheme that apparently included false claims that people were living illegally in the store.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 20 Thumb down 19

      • Human Reason says:

        Yes Sprekt sued and lost and was evicted. Did you research that he has done this before in other cities.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 6

  5. wineguyjc says:

    When Hitler gave an order the elite followed it without question. When David Koresh said take the lethal pill all followed without question. When Jim Jones in Guyana said drink the cool-aid and follow me to alyssum all drank it without question. The point is that people, like Brian Cowen, Rob Livick and etal at the City of Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles do not think for themselves, even when they know the directive or order is in complete violation of the law. In fact, rather than back off and admit they are wrong in the face of overwhelming evidence they continue to lie, just so they can prove themselves a worthy team player in order to continue to draw their check. They are classic examples of what is wrong with government today – don’t think, don’t question, do as little as possible and never consider whether or not their actions are morally inept or illegal, much less violating someone else’s rights. One more comparison, in the City of Bell and Vernon every staff member knew of the corruption at the top (i.e. Mark Rizzo and others), yet no one spoke up – why? Simply as long as these miscreants keep getting their check weekly and will get their fat pension at the end they can care less what misconduct they are engaged in, participate in and even cover up. The only way that this corruption exists and continues to exist’s at this local agencies is that everyone knows of it and simply condones of it by not speaking out or up – they are all guilty of complicity. If you are in a room when a young woman is rapped and you do nothing but sit back idly because you don’t want to get involved – are you as guilty as the perpetrators – yes you are. The victims of this misconduct were in effect raped by a corrupt local agency and these lowlifes willing participated or condoned it, thus they are co-conspirators

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 26 Thumb down 7

    • mbactivist1 says:

      Wineguy, I agree with your basic premise, but I think there is one more factor here. Some of the participants among City staff may have wanted to do the right thing, but likely knew that if they didn’t go along with this kind of crooked scheme, they would lose their jobs or, at the very least, never get another raise or promotion.

      Can there be any doubt that phony “cases” against them could be concocted by the same high-level officials and staff who came up with phony “cases” against the permit applicants?

      I’m not saying it is right to go along with illegal activities. I’m just saying I think that a few people probably wanted to speak up, but were afraid they would be fired and blackballed if they did.

      I wish they would come forward now. If just one spoke up and told the truth, I think we would quickly see a domino effect.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 6

    • rickholliday says:

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  6. mbactivist1 says:

    It occurs to me that perhaps one of the most important things reported in the article is the fact that Mr. Lombardi attempted to video record a conversation with a City staff member at the Public Services building. Under what circumstances would someone trying to apply for a permit feel the need to video record a conversation with City staff?

    I think it is obvious that a person would only do that if that person felt that something improper was taking place and wanted to get some evidence. Ordinarily, permit application would be a routine, mundane process and there would be no need to record it. Clearly, something out of the ordinary was taking place for Mr. Lombardi to attempt to capture the event on video.

    There is another question that is obviously important. Why would a City employee mind being recorded if that employee was not doing anything wrong?

    “Lombardi attempted to record the conversation, but Sauerwein immediately ordered him to turn off the camera, video shows. Sauerwein said he later learned that the Public Services office is a public place and he did not have the right to order Lombardi to stop filming.”

    Finally, how could someone as high in the organization as the Capital Projects Manager possibly not know that the Public Services office is a public place and that it is perfectly legal to make a video recording there?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 6

    • Niles Q says:

      The public works office might be a public place and he can video tape the office but no one has the right to force someone else to be videotaped, outside of a subpeona and a deposition, or the police investigating a crime.

      Sauerwein was perfectly within his rights to refuse to be videotaped, especially given the way videos have been used in this town of late.

      The Sun Bulletin building case is a perfect example. The video of the police officer telling the drummer of the band to go ahead and play one more song, it lasted 34 seconds. What happened to the other 15 minutes of video? Creatively edited out, that’s what.

      This guy will get his chance to videotape people when his lawsuit goes to depositions, if it gets that far.

      Why didn’t Josh go to the courthouse and pull the court proceding for the eviction? These guys never paid the rent, that’s why the landlords evicted them.

      This whole story is one big fabrication by the idiot who wanted to open an antiques/taffy store. He should be thanking them for stopping this ill-conceived business venture. Better to be stopped from having a nightmare than to live through the nightmare of a failed business and bankruptcy.

      As for Leonard W., I love what he said about George Leage. Funniest thing I’ve read in print in many years.

      And the whole idea that George Leage is somehow running the town behind the scenes is absolutely ludicrous. Hell, he doesn’t even run the city council, let alone the building department.and certainly not the police.

      What a croc.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 13

      • mbactivist1 says:

        Wow, Niles, you have outdone yourself with this latest spin doctoring effort. Of course you did forget to address a few things:

        Regarding the video recording incident, the real crux of the matter is that under ordinary circumstances, people do not feel it necessary to video record submission of permit applications. However, I think most of us would if we felt we were being treated unfairly or illegally and wanted evidence of that.

        Regarding the video of the Sun Bulletin incident, you might consider the possibility that CCN chose the part most pertinent to the story. Why does CCN generally offer only video clips? Well, my guess is that it is because videos eat up a whole lot of bandwidth and space. It’s more economical to offer just small clips with material that gets to the heart of the matter being discussed. Readers can always request and view the complete videos themselves if they are curious.

        Specht had trouble paying the rent? I don’t know if that is true, as we only have your word for it. That said, most people trying to open a small business would have financial problems if the City refused to even accept their permit and license applications, and thus prevented them from opening the business and generating some income.

        As for the “antiques/taffy store” that you refer to, I the story said Specht wanted to sell antiques and candy. There are a whole lot of businesses in tourist areas that sell candy as well as other products. It’s not an unusual idea and most certainly not an “ill-conceived business venture”.

        Don’t underestimate Leage’s power. He’s still reportedly living in that illegal apartment and parking in “his” illegal parking space.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 7

        • Myself says:

          Lady you give your self too much credit about things you don’t know much about,but hey keep right on spewing and please keep your mind closed about anyone elses thoughts or ideas.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 7

          • taxpayer says:

            Don’t be too harsh. It’s all part of her illness and why she’s on disability.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 5

            • mbactivist1 says:

              Not me. Definitely not on disability so you must be thinking of someone else.

              That said, you folks are really getting desperate when you decide to attack people on the basis of disabilities you believe they have. Why not try sticking to the issues? Argue with facts and logic. Personal attacks aren’t going to swing anyone’s opinion your way./

              Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 7

          • mbactivist1 says:

            If you don’t like my arguments, try providing some verifiable facts to dispute them. Otherwise, how do we know you know what you are talking about?

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 7

            • Moderator says:

              Personal attacks removed.

              ? or ! moderator@calcoastnews.com

              Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

            • Myself says:

              Linda,you don’t bring any facts to the table in your arguments, you keep spewing favors,good old boys club and special deals,where are your facts to back this up,I’ve asked you several times to tell us who these people are and what favors and deals they are getting,maybe if you backed up your nonsense you wouldn’t get so many thumbs down.
              See you at the BBQ on Sunday.

              Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

        • Human Reason says:

          Address the issue that you cannot file for permits without a consent of owner form signed by the owner. In this case Spreckt was illegally possessing the building and the owner refused to give consent. Should the city ignore this basic requirement and issue permits to a tenant without the owners consent?

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 5

          • mbactivist1 says:

            CCN doesn’t just dash off a story like this without checking all the angles. Given that they tracked down the Sun Bulletin building owner in Sacramento and got his input, I suspect they also talked to the owner of this building as part of the research for the story. If that person’s version of things matched up with what you imply, I doubt if any story would have been published.

            Again, I would not be at all surprised if City staff and officials very deliberately worked to convince the owner that Specht was a bad tenant. I know for a fact that at least one former staff person has deliberately meddled in things that were none of the City’s business in order to cause trouble for people..

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 4

          • rickholliday says:

            Ok, then what is your logic about this with the Sun Bulletin. We had the owners consent and a 10 year lease! We submitted our application and we were told that they would not even take it! We then had to take a meeting with the then chief of police, Tim Olivas, Rob Schultz and John Weiss. We were told to open a B&B or a Tavern and nothing else! The city of Morro Bay refused to issue us a business license on the grounds that they did not approve of our use of the property!

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 4

            • Human Reason says:

              You were never told “open B&B or a Tavern and nothing else”. John Weiss can ocnfirmed that was never said. What you were told was what zoning area you were in and what allowable uses you can have in that area.

              Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

              • kettle says:

                How would you know what someone was told? Hearsay.

                Go into the city of SLO and ask about a fence permit.

                Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

              • rickholliday says:

                Really? Well I was at that meeting and so was Jim Davis, Tim Olivas, John Weiss and then city attorney, Rob Schultz but you know how was not there???? YOU, Human Reason, You were not there! We were told to open a B&B or Tavern and we addressed the zoning issues etc. long ago….WAKE UP Human Reason and follow along, there could be a test soon…..You might know it as……”YOUR VOTE”! John Weiss is a good man! Who do you think invited him to the meeting? YOU? NOT!! It was me! and John will tell the truth when the time comes and will not hide behind a “blogger name”…say something like, Human Reason, wait that one is taken…….I love you John! OH!!!!!!! and do yourself a favor Human Reason, and every one else! check the zoning for 1149 Market Street…It’s C2! Now Human Reason, read all of the citizens what operations are allowed in C2……….if what we wanted to do was allowable……then why no permit? Why meetings? I mean if it was so simple then why all the fuss?

                http://youtu.be/HMqVrKa8WDM Stay Tuned!

                Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

      • rickholliday says:

        Hey Niles…..I have the other “15 minuets” of tape from that night and I can’t wait for you and others to see it! Please contact my attorney; David Vogel at 541-7100 and leave your address, I will get you a copy of the full video! The cops screwed up so bad that the D.A. had to drop the case against Jim Davis and now he is going to sue the city and Paula Radke and will win! Stay tuned!

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

      • rickholliday says:

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