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Court strikes down ballot initiative challenge

SANTA ANA � Orange County Superior Court Judge John M. Watson on Monday rejected a challenge to a June 6 ballot measure that seeks to give Yorba Linda voters the final say on major city projects.

Watson's ruling said City Clerk Kathie Mendoza lacked standing to challenge the "Right to Vote" Initiative. And, he said, if she had standing, her arguments lacked legal merit.

"I'm excited. I feel we are vindicated," said Jim Horton, a member Yorba Linda Residents for Responsible Redevelopment, which created the initiative.

Neither Mendoza nor her attorneys could be reached for comment Monday evening.

City Councilwoman Keri Wilson said the issue has been a tough one for Yorba Linda.

"The judge ruled, and now the issue moves to the ballot box," Wilson said.

"I'm comfortable with that. This has been a hard time for our community, and I'm very confident that we can get through this."

Members of the residents group created the initiative last summer because they didn't think the council was acting on their concerns about a proposal to build dozens of homes in the city's Town Center.

Mendoza refused to certify the initiative in the fall, saying its petitions failed to meet state rules requiring them to include the full text of the planning documents the initiative's passage would affect.

But the City Council, on advice from attorneys, placed it on the ballot anyway, with plans to seek legal review before the election.

Mendoza sued in January. In a confusing turn, her challenge had to name the City Council as her opponent because it put the initiative on the ballot.

During a hearing on the issue Monday morning, Watson said he was confused about the city's role � was it for the initiative or against it?

The city's attorney, Jeff Dunn, said the council wanted Watson to decide whether the initiative was valid.

"Seems like they just want to pass the buck," Watson said.

Much of the hearing focused on Mendoza's criticism of the initiative petitions.

Her attorney, Lawrence Permaul, said the full text was needed to ensure voters understood what they signed.

But Fred Woocher, representing Yorba Linda Residents for Responsible Redevelopment, said the petitions contained more than enough selections from the documents to inform voters.

Watson's ruling, which echoes a tentative ruling issued Friday, said the full text isn't needed.

"We had said over and over again that we felt the full-text issue was not valid and that it was not an issue," Horton said.

Watson also said Mendoza lacked standing to bring the suit. Even if she had standing, his ruling added, the City Council trumped her by placing the initiative on the ballot.

If passed, the initiative would create a new barrier to the city's efforts to redevelop its Town Center.

Council members passed new zoning rules for the area in December � which would have exempted the project from the initiative.

But the Yorba Linda residents' group secured new petitions for a referendum to challenge the decision.

The council decided against bringing the new rules to a public vote, and rescinded them in February.


Aug. 5, 2005: Yorba Linda Residents for Responsible Redevelopment turns in "Right to Vote" Initiative petitions with 8,647 signatures.

Aug. 24, 2005: Orange County Registrar of Voters validates the signatures.

Sept. 15: Yorba Linda City Clerk Kathie Mendoza announces she will not certify the initiative.

Sept. 20: City Council approves the initiative for the June 6 ballot with plans to seek court review.

Dec. 20: The council adopts zoning documents that set building allowances for its Town Center project.

Jan. 5: Mendoza asks the Orange County Superior Court to invalidate the initiative.

Jan. 17: Yorba Linda Residents submits two petitions, one with 9,849 signatures and one with 9,641 signatures, to overturn the building allowances.

Feb. 1: County registrar informs Mendoza that the petitions contain enough valid signatures to force reconsideration of the zoning documents.

Feb. 7: City Council rescinds approvals of zoning documents.

Friday: Superior Court judge tentatively rules against Mendoza's initiative challenge.

Monday: Judge issues final ruling rejecting initiative challenge.

June 6: Community vote on "Right to Vote" Initiative.

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