Court to rule on Measure G

A wealth of stirring debate and court filings in recent weeks
have led up to a court hearing Wednesday that could decide the fate
of the Growth Control Initiative.
A superior court judge will hear arguments from both a plaintiff
requesting removal of the fiercely controversial measure off the
election ballot, along with the defending anti-initiative citizens
group pushing for the March vote.
A wealth of stirring debate and court filings in recent weeks have led up to a court hearing Wednesday that could decide the fate of the Growth Control Initiative.

A superior court judge will hear arguments from both a plaintiff requesting removal of the fiercely controversial measure off the election ballot, along with the defending anti-initiative citizens group pushing for the March vote.

Judge Steven Sanders is expected to rule on local resident Rebecca McGovern’s lawsuit, which was filed Oct. 1. It disputes the legality of a signature referendum that overruled the Board of Supervisors’ initial approval of the initiative – then called Ordinance 760 – and placed it on the ballot.

McGovern, represented by environmental legal firm Earthjustice, claims the referendum circulated to residents in April omitted legally mandated language.

McGovern and Earthjustice hope a win in court Wednesday would lead to a re-enactment of the Board’s April 1 approval of the initiative, said Earthjustice lawyer Trent Orr.

“If they (organizers of the referendum) had been paying attention, they would have just taken back the whole thing and re-did it,” McGovern said Monday.

The defendant – the Farmers and Citizens to Protect Our Agricultural Heritage – organized that referendum, which overruled the Board’s 4-1 vote. Its lawyer says Earthjustice is relying on ambiguous statutes in the state Elections Code.

“There is a standard that is very, very, very clear,” said Marguerite Mary Leoni, the lawyer for the ‘Farmers and Citizens group.’ “The standard is set forth in Supreme Court case after Supreme Court case. If there is any doubt, he (Judge Sanders) has to let this referendum go forward.”

McGovern actually filed the suit against the county Board of Supervisors for its approval of the referendum. The Supervisors, however, advised its counsel earlier this month in closed session against defending the case.

The litigious process since the Oct. 1 filing has moved along at a relatively rapid pace, according to the parties involved, because of the approaching election. If Sanders does not make a final decision during the expected two-hour hearing, Earthjustice’s legal team expressed an ongoing urgency to the case.

“We are respectfully asking the court to decide as soon as possible… There is a very real possibility it could go beyond the superior court down there,” said Orr, the Earthjustice lawyer, referring to the likelihood for an appeal from the side that loses.

Recently added to the mix – an anonymous group called Los Valientes maintains the county Board of Supervisors violated the state open meetings law by allegedly playing a major role in drafting the initiative. For that, Los Valientes filed an opposition to the McGovern suit that claims the initiative should be abolished.

The Brown Act assertion was one of six allegations concluded from a private investigation commissioned by Los Valientes. The report alleges corruption in county government and mostly focuses on Supervisor Richard Scagliotti.

The plaintiff, defendant and county have each requested Los Valientes’ opposition be stricken from the case because, they say, the allegations are irrelevant.

The Sacramento-based governmental firm hired by the county even filed for sanctions, or penalties, last week against Los Valientes and its lawyer Michael Pekin.

That request refers to the opposition as having an “improper purpose” that raises “frivolous arguments,” according to court documents. The county is seeking costs from Los Valientes for court proceedings and attorney fees.

According to Pekin, not only are the Brown Act assertions relevant, but he also plans to argue that the Board’s approval of the signature referendum should have permanently defeated Ordinance 760. He claims a McGovern win Wednesday should lead to the initiative’s ultimate demise, exactly what McGovern doesn’t want.

“The Board of Supervisors themselves revoked Ordinance 760,” Pekin said.

The hearing Wednesday will be held at 10 a.m. in courtroom 101. The superior court building is located at 440 Fifth Street in Hollister.

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