Dan King
Dan King · June 5, 2024

ARLINGTON, Va.—Yesterday, two Pasadena City Council members publicly said they’ve been left in the dark about an ongoing constitutional lawsuit filed in September 2023 against the city, the mayor, councilmembers, and certain staff, even though the city’s attorney claims to be acting on “instruction from city council.” 

The lawsuit, filed by Pasadena entrepreneur Azael “Oz” Sepulveda and the Institute for Justice (IJ), seeks to enforce a settlement the city reached with Oz two years ago in an earlier lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the city’s parking minimum law. The settlement would allow Oz to open his auto mechanic shop on Shaver Street with just a handful of parking spots, after he was originally told he would need 28 parking spots to open for business, which he does not need, cannot afford, and would not physically fit on the property.  

In the two years since the settlement, the city has continued to refuse to let Oz open, and city attorney Bill Helfand recently argued to Harris County District Court Judge Beau Miller that the city should be immune from the lawsuit that seeks to enforce the settlement the city signed off on. The judge rejected that attempt to have the case dismissed, calling the city’s position that it is immune from following its own agreements “bad public policy,” but Helfand vowed to file an interlocutory appeal on “instruction from city council” to drag out the bogus immunity argument.  

Helfand did just that, immediately appealing the ruling, which puts the merits of the case on hold until the city’s immunity claim is resolved by the court of appeals. The appeal will drag the case out for months or maybe even years, where the city will argue that it can enter into a settlement agreement, breach that agreement, and never have to face a lawsuit based on that breach due to its supposed immunity. Meanwhile, the burdens imposed by the city’s tactics pile up on Oz as he continues to be forced to pay for a loan on a property the city won’t let him use for his one-man mechanic shop, on top of the lease he continues paying for his current location.  

But Pasadena city councilmembers cast doubt on Helfand’s tale to the judge, as they told news outlet The Texan

“We have not been briefed on this case in the past year either in public or executive session,” Councilmember Thomas Schoenbein said. “I only learned of the issue from the media after the April hearing.” 

Councilmember Pat Van Houte added that she has also been kept in the dark on the issue and would have to research the matter further.  

“There is no valid reason for the city to continue with this absurd appeal, especially if its lawyers aren’t even being transparent with the city’s elected decision makers,” said IJ Attorney Diana Simpson. “It’s been two years since the city agreed to let Oz open but went back on its word. It’s time to stop with the games.”