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Tuesday, 24 March 2015 00:00

San Mateo at Odds with Body Shop: Hudson Automotive Alleges Civil Rights Violations, Brings Lawsuit Against City

The owners of a long-standing family body shop are alleging the city of San Mateo has violated their civil rights after they were ordered to fix code violations while city officials looked the other way for nearby businesses.

Sean and Jill Hudson, owners of Hudson Automotive at 186 South Blvd., claim the city violated their first and 14th amendment rights after they spoke out against the city’s attempts to crack down on South Claremont Street automotive repair shops in late 2012 and have since been ordered to take down infrastructure vital to their business.

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City officials disagree, claiming they are simply responded to specific complaints about Hudson and consequentially filed a suit in San Mateo County Superior Court last September seeking the company remove two outdoor automotive lifts — which the Hudsons claim have been there since the 1970s — and create six parking spaces for customers.

San Mateo officials have a history with automotive repair shop owners in the South Claremont Street and Railroad Avenue area after they attempted to crack down on numerous code violations but were met with upset owners who questioned why their years-long practices were suddenly being scrutinized.

Unpermitted vehicle lifts, which is what the Hudsons are being ordered to remove, were a common violation business owners said they’d never heard of before. Ultimately, after city officials met with business owners, then-city manager Susan Loftus sent an October 2012 letter saying the city would put a moratorium on enforcement until it found a more comprehensive way to deal with the public nuisance problems ranging from graffiti to businesses conducting repairs on the street.

Since then, the Hudsons allege they’ve been targeted for enforcement while other shop owners have been left to their ways.

“As far as we know the city has not gone back to any of the other shops in the area but instead vigorously pursued the Hudsons,” said Camilo Artiga-Purcell, an attorney representing the Hudsons with the firm Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy. “We firmly believe the reason is the Hudsons were very vocal in some of those meetings in essentially saying for years they’d worked with the city and taken steps to make sure they were safe.”

City Attorney Shawn Mason said Loftus’ moratorium on enforcement of South Claremont violations is still in place but the Hudsons are located in another part of downtown and its issues stem from public complaints years earlier.

The city received specific complaints about the Hudsons’ unpermitted shed two-years prior to general complaints about South Claremont Street auto body shops practices, Mason said.

“Each case and each matter is a unique piece of property and really has its own history and the Hudsons’ enforcement measures began before the Claremont issue,” Mason said. “The Hudsons’ matter was raised, complained about to the city two years before the Claremont situation and so we were responding like we do to any other code violation to address that complaint.”

But the Hudsons argue varying city employees instructed them to do different things while making promises their violations would be settled.

“Mr. Hudson [told the city] ‘look I’m happy to work with you.’ The problem is the city told him to do X, then Mr. Hudson did X. Then the city came back and said no, that’s not good enough, now you’ve got to do Y,’” Artiga-Purcell said. “There’s a back and forth, back and forth and the Hudsons are constantly trying to abide and work with the city in good faith and the city comes back with changes that are costing them money.”

According to the Hudsons’ complaint, they removed the small shed that was used as a waiting area for customers at the city’s insistence and thought that would settle the issue. Instead, the city is now ordering they also take down two of their outdoor lifts that have been on site for decades, an issue that’s being overlooked at South Claremont businesses, according to the suit.

“The final threat to the Hudson business we believe, is because Mr. Hudson spoke out when the city was attacking the life blood of the auto repair business in San Mateo and the city said you have to take down two of your five lifts, which would essentially have crushed their business,” Artiga-Purcell said.

While the suit argues Sean Hudson’s freedom of speech was threatened, Artiga-Purcell would not confirm exactly what was said as the litigation is still pending.

The parties are due in court for a case management conference May 15. The Hudsons originally filed a federal lawsuit, but that case is on hold until the local court handles the city’s suit through which the Hudsons have filed a cross complaint alleging their freedom of speech and equal protection rights have been violated.

Mason contends the Hudson case isn’t personal, and that officials are following protocol and intend to readdress former complaints about other auto body shops.

“With respect to the Claremont properties, it’s not over,” Mason said. “Our intention is to go back to the Claremont properties to address those as well.”

We thank The Daily Journal for permission to reprint this article.

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