Here’s a short primer of court rulings that are relevant to the current SA lawsuit. Impartial reading indicates that the county superior court is likely to rule in favor of Santa Clara.
San Diego v. Dunkl
This 2001 case is strikingly similar to Santa Clara’s. In 1998 San Diego voters approved Proposition C for a downtown ballpark redevelopment project according to the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the City, the redevelopment agency, and the Padres baseball team.
The following year a group circulated petitions for a referendum on certain project expenditures. The court blocked the initiative, saying the actions in question weren’t “legislative in character but rather were administrative measures properly within the domain of the City administration.” The decision was upheld on appeal, with the appellate court noting, “There is no constitutional right to place an invalid initiative on the ballot.”
Worthington v. Rohnert Park
Although the issue is quite different, this case is another that closely parallels Santa Clara’s in that it concerns contract negotiations about an already-established policy – in this case federal policy.
About 25 years ago the U.S. Congress enacted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which allowed Native American tribes to operate casinos. In 2003 the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria, announced plans to build a resort and casino on land located west Rohnert Park. The Rohnert Park City Council subsequently approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Federated Indians about the project.
In response, a group filed a petition for a referendum. When Rohnert Park refused, the group went to court. The superior court denied the petition, saying the City’s agreement was an administrative act following a policy established by a superior power (federal governmant). The decision was appealed and upheld.
“When an action requires the consent of the governmental entity and another party, the action is contractual or administrative,” the appellate court wrote. “The give and take involved…is not legislation, but is a process requiring the consent of both contracting parties.”
Reagan v. Sausalito
In 1960 the Sausalito City Council adopted a resolution affirming city policy to acquire the Shelter Cove waterfront property. In response, Russell Reagan filed a referendum petition similar to that recently filed by Santa Clara Plays Fair, demanding the City Council repeal its resolution or allow residents to vote on it. However, the background of the case is quite different.
In this case the court ruled that the council’s action was legislative because the two resolutions on which the city based its claim that the actions were administrative were not directly concerned with the Shelter Cover property. And in any case, the measures had been repealed prior to being adopted – the reason was the city’s failure to comply with city planning commission review requirements.
“The record discloses no action or declaration of policy in existence at the time…upon which the determination to purchase Shelter Cove is based…[thus it] is a legislative act and therefore the resolution is subject to referendum.” By comparison, Santa Clara’s actions were based on the voter-approved Measure J, which is written into the city code (Section17.20).
Citizens For Jobs v. Orange County
What makes this case interesting is that it involves two conflicting ballot initiatives, both approved by Orange County voters. In 1994, voters approved Measure A, authorizing Orange County to convert a military air base to a civilian airport. Then in 2000, the voters passed Measure F restricting the actions of the Board of Supervisors. Airport backers and the county both filed suits contesting Measure F on the grounds that it violated state law and was “unconstitutionally vague.”
The court agreed, saying Measure F was “fundamentally flawed and in violation of the constitution and laws of this state.” Further, “Should the citizens of the County of Orange not wish to proceed with the building of an airport …they can seemingly accomplish this in a variety of ways including the passage of an initiative repealing Measure A.” The appeals court upheld the decision.
You can find these decisions at law.justia.com.