Lodi News Sentinel
January 29, 2005

Steven Herum is a study in contrasts. The Stockton attorney represents a Lodi citizens group in which no Lodi citizens seem to be members. He’s a staunch Democrat firmly entrenched in the heavily Republican San Joaquin Valley.

Steven Herum

He fights Wal-Mart Supercenters up and down the state, yet one of his clients, developer Alex Spanos, plans to build such a store at his north Stockton shopping complex.

Herum, 51, has made a name for himself in Lodi during the past year with his involvement in the greenbelt and Supercenter debates. His profile reached fever pitch a few weeks ago, when he brought a City Council hearing on the Wal-Mart project to a screeching halt after asking Mayor John Beckman to recuse himself for a conflict of interest.

Beckman reportedly told Herum that he looked forward to voting against Wal-Mart during a social gathering in December. Herum waited until the Jan. 19 hearing began before levying the accusation, which forced an early ending to the meeting.

“He has the capacity to stir up a lot of trouble,” says City Attorney Stephen Schwabauer, who worked for Herum’s firm — Herum Crabtree Brown — prior to coming to Lodi in 2000. “For that reason, he has developed alliances as well as people who don’t like him.”

Herum declined to be interviewed for this article. He will argue against the Supercenter on behalf of Lodi First, a local citizen’s group, at City Council’s special hearing on the 226,868-square-foot project on Thursday.

And, with Beckman sitting on the sidelines, Herum will have a four-member council to work with. By removing the mayor from the proceedings, Herum created the potential for a deadlock that, under state law, could stop the Supercenter in its tracks.

“He’s a good lawyer,” says Beckman, who is an attorney himself. “You are to zealously represent your client. He does that well.”

Lodi First

Herum is a fast, confident speaker who rarely fails at getting his point across. At one City Council meeting last year, Councilwoman Susan Hitchcock interrupted a presentation to compliment the attorney on his powers of persuasion. He presents himself as the consummate professional.

Who exactly Herum’s client is is an entirely different matter. The attorney won’t disclose names of Lodi First’s members, choosing only to describe the organization as a “citizen’s group.”

Yet Betsy Fiske, who chaired the Small City Preservation Committee in last year’s Measure R campaign, says she doesn’t believe any of her group’s members are involved with Lodi First.

“It seems there may be some people who want to oppose the Wal-Mart Supercenter for their own financial purposes,” Fiske says. “I’ve been told that it is individuals and businesses, but I have absolutely no clue.”

Some believe the group is a front for grocery stores and their workers unions. Such organizations were active in last year’s fight to approve Measure R, which would have limited the size of retail buildings in Lodi. The initiative was defeated in November by nearly 60 percent of the vote.

Councilman Larry Hansen said there’s a “good chance” that Herum’s clients include organized labor unions. But a representative from the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 588, which represents Lodi’s grocery workers, said on Friday that the union has no affiliation with the group.

Food4Less President and CEO John Quinn said in an e-mail last week that he doesn’t know who is behind Lodi First.

Bakersfield developer Lee Jamieson believes he does. Jamieson’s firm, Jaco Oil Co., was behind one of the Wal-Mart Supercenters on Highway 99 near Bakersfield that Herum stopped with a lawsuit last year.

In that situation, Herum represented a group called Bakersfield Citizens for Local Control. As with Lodi First, the attorney refused to disclose the group’s membership, but Jamieson believes they were a front for Save-Mart and other supermarkets.

“They’re not citizen’s groups,” Jamieson says. “They’re the retail clerk’s union.”

Schwabauer says there is no legal way to force Herum to disclose the group’s membership until after an expected lawsuit challenging the Lodi project’s environmental report is filed. After that, such information can be revealed through the public disclosure required during legal proceedings.

Under California’s Environmental Quality Act, however, such groups can continue to remain anonymous, says Bakersfield City Attorney Ginny Gennaro. Even after Herum filed a suit challenging that city’s approval of two Supercenters, a judge ruled that he did not have to disclose the names of Bakersfield Citizens for Local Control’s members, she said.

Greenbelt and Wal-Mart

Herum has been active in Lodi issues for years. He represented a group called the L.I.F.E. Committee in 1989 in the fight against Lodi’s anti-growth initiative, Measure A. That issue eventually settled and led to the city’s 2 percent growth limit.

And, he currently represents a group of landowners in an area between Lodi and Stockton that has been attached to developer A.G. Spanos Co. His wife, Judy Martin Herum, is managing partner of the Martin Dairy, which is located in the area attached to Spanos.

In September, while arguing for his client’s request to join the city of Stockton in front of the Local Agency Formation Commission, he called for another Lodi councilman to recuse himself from the bench. That time it was Keith Land, a LAFCO commissioner who at the time sat on Lodi’s City Council.

Herum claimed Land had a conflict of interest because Lodi officials wanted the land in question for the expansion of their wastewater treatment plant. Land pointed out that it’s ironic that he’s now fighting the Supercenter in Lodi when his client at LAFCO that day, Spanos, plans to build a Supercenter at Interstate 5 and Eight Mile Road.

“Here he is opposing a group that’s building a Wal-Mart, and he’s representing a firm that’s building a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Stockton,” Land says. “I don’t get it. I guess it just depends on who’s greasing your palm at the time.”

‘A superior intellect’

After graduating from Stanford University in 1975, Herum went to work at the state capitol in Sacramento. He became a special assistant to then-Gov. Jerry Brown and also worked as chief of staff to then state Sen. John Garamendi.

Former state Sen. Patrick Johnston met Herum when the attorney was fresh out of Stanford in the mid-1970s. Johnston at the time was working in Garamendi’s office. He remembers being impressed with his intelligence and ability to find a common ground during negotiations.

“He was a superior intellect with a very wry sense of humor,” Johnston recalls. “It was more mature than his years.”

Herum left Sacramento for law school, graduating from the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law in 1979. He became an expert in land use and the California Environmental Quality Act, and eventually teamed up with attorney Steven Crabtree to start his own law firm.

He’s represented developers building 2,000-home subdivisions and golf courses on Williamson Act-protected lands. He’s also served as president of the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce and currently sits on such boards as the Building Industry Association of the Delta and the Stockton Port Authority.

While serving as the Port Authority’s commissioner, Herum became an unwilling participant in one of the county’s biggest scandals when Monte McFall tried to elicit support for a proposed power plant in Stockton. Herum declined McFall’s offer to keep a main artery to the port open in exchange for support of the plant, and later told the FBI what he knew.

McFall is currently on trial on charges of federal corruption.

Different sides

Local attorney Ann Cerney often finds herself lined against Herum on land use issues, particularly in the greenbelt area between Lodi and Stockton. Cerney is a Lodi activist known for her opposition of replacing agriculture and open space with development.

When it comes to the Supercenter, however, the two find themselves surprisingly on the same side.

“We’re almost universally on opposite sides,” Cerney says. “Except for Wal-Mart.”

Cerney has known Herum since he came out of law school in the late 1970s and calls him “a brilliant, brilliant guy.”

She’s not alone. Most who come in contact with the attorney can’t say enough about his abilities while arguing a case in the public forum.

“He’s very persuasive,” Hansen says. “He’s not one that I would look forward to working against.”

Schwabauer says: “Mr. Herum is a very creative and capable man. I don’t often agree with him, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that you would be foolish to underestimate his capacity.”

Even if the council denies Herum’s appeal of the Planning Commission’s decision to approve the project’s environmental report, many expect the issue to continue in litigation. Herum frequently compares Lodi’s situation to that in Bakersfield, where he appealed that city’s decision to approve the project and stopped two Supercenters in mid-construction.

He won’t say whether such a lawsuit is on the horizon if Lodi approves the project on Thursday. As Beckman can attest, it seems that Herum doesn’t show his cards until the time is right.