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Sunday, Oct 1, 2023

BALLPARK–Anti-Ballpark Activist Vows to Continue Fight

Ballpark: Judge’s Tentative Ruling Winds Up Favoring City, Padres

Bruce Henderson said even if a Superior Court judge rules against an anti-ballpark initiative this week, he’ll take the case to the federal courts, and all the way to the Supreme Court if possible.

Henderson, who has a long litigation history against city-financed capital improvement projects, said the prospect of arguing a case before the U.S. Supreme Court is something that “frankly, thrills me.”

The former city councilman said he may take the case to federal courts because it involves First Amendment issues of free speech, a finding contained in Judge Judith McConnell’s tentative ruling on Feb. 18.

But city attorneys said Henderson has no chance of litigating the case that far.

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“He’ll never get there,” said Assistant City Attorney Les Girard. “This is just more frivolous delaying tactics on his part.”

Girard said the city and the Padres were encouraged by McConnell’s tentative ruling, which she is scheduled to make permanent Feb. 28.

“It recognizes clearly that what they are trying to do is invalid under California law,” he said.

Both the city and Padres filed suits against two of Henderson clients, members of a group called Citizens for a Fully Informed Vote, claiming they were misusing the initiative process, and preventing the city from carrying out the terms of the ballpark project agreement.

The group filed the initiative late last year, which would effectively overturn Proposition C, the Padres ballpark measure approved by nearly 60 percent of city voters.

Tentative Ruling

The initiative, which needs some 50,000 valid signatures to qualify for a vote, has been suspended pending the court hearings.

In her tentative ruling, McConnell wrote the proposed initiative “addresses administrative matters and is not legislative in nature.”

The ruling also stated the plaintiffs (the city and Padres) “have satisfied their burden to establish a probability that the plaintiffs will prevail on their respective lawsuits.

The city’s main argument is that an initiative can be used only to propose new legislation, not to challenge what are administrative acts that carry out already approved legislation.

The Padres said in its suit the initiative would illegally obstruct the contract between the city and Padres that was approved by voters in November 1998.

Subsequent to the initiative launched last December, one other initiative challenging the ballpark measure was started. In addition, a referendum challenging the city’s finance plan for the ballpark was started this month. The deadline for that petition, which requires about 30,000 valid signatures, is March 1.

An initiative is a petition proposing new legislation and requires a minimum of 10 percent of the registered voters in the last general election to qualify for a vote.

A referendum is a challenge to an action already taken by an elected body, and requires valid signatures of 5 percent of the voters to qualify.

Several Lawsuits

Besides the petitions, there are four different lawsuits challenging various aspects of the ballpark project. Two suits filed last year challenge the adequacy of the environmental report. A Superior Court hearing on those suits is scheduled for March 6.

Another was filed against the San Diego Unified Port District for its involvement. Yet a fourth suit was filed against the city earlier this month by another Henderson client, challenging the city’s authorization of up to $299 million in bonds, which is alleged to exceed the maximum allocation by the city of $225 million for the ballpark construction.

The morass of litigation casts a pall over the city’s ability to issue lease revenue bonds for the ballpark project, Girard said.

“It’s very frustrating that one person or a small group of persons can harass the city in its efforts to conduct business on behalf of the electorate,” he said.

Henderson remains unbowed.

“Everything we do is focused on putting this back on the ballot,” he said. “We believe that when people voted for Prop. C they were not fully informed.”


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