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Tuesday, Feb 27, 2024
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REDEVELOPMENT–City Wins Round in Ballpark Dispute

No sooner did the city clear one legal hurdle concerning the Padres ballpark last week, then it began looking toward another on March 6.

But given the record of former city councilman Bruce Henderson, there are certain to be more hurdles thrust in the city’s path.

The next court date deals with two lawsuits filed against the city challenging the adequacy of the ballpark environmental impact report.

The plaintiffs, the Coalition Advocating Redevelopment Excellence (CARE) in one case and the owners of the Clarion Bay Hotel in the other, say the city’s EIR failed to outline sufficient mitigation measures for the project’s many impacts, including traffic, noise and lighting.

Assistant City Attorney Les Girard said the EIR meets the state’s environmental code, and that he expects the city to prevail.

Last week, Superior Court Judge Judith McConnell formalized an earlier ruling that declared an initiative petition drive launched last year by ballpark opponents as invalid.

Written by Henderson, the initiative sought to overturn Proposition C, the ballpark measure, because certain requirements contained in the agreement between the city and Padres had not been met.

McConnell agreed with the city’s argument that the initiative was illegal because it challenged administrative acts taken to fulfill the ballpark agreement, rather than proposing new legislation.

The ballpark agreement between the city and the Padres was ratified by nearly 60 percent of city voters in November 1998.

Henderson said he intends to appeal McConnell’s ruling, either in the state Court of Appeal or in federal court.

“What Judge McConnell did was essentially destroy the initiative process in California by allowing the proponents to be sued directly,” he said.

Henderson may have lost a battle last week, but he is fighting City Hall on several other fronts, which will further delay starting the ballpark’s construction. The original timetable set the project’s completion in April 2002, but that schedule appears highly unlikely.

A different lawsuit filed last month contends the city violated the terms of the ballpark agreement by approving a financing plan allowing the city to issue up to $299 million in lease revenue bonds. The suit states the city’s contribution to the project is capped at $225 million.

In response to the city’s action, Henderson began collecting signatures for a referendum that’s aimed to put the issue before voters. On March 1, Henderson attempted to deliver what he said were about 40,000 signatures asking for that ballot measure.

But once at the City Clerk’s office, Henderson changed his mind and withdrew the petitions because city officials told him they couldn’t accept them.

“They told us that they weren’t permitted to ‘accept’ them. Those were the key words,” Henderson said. “We’ll be going to go to court to obtain a court order from a judge to make them do this.”

Bonnie Stone, the city elections clerk, said the city was willing to “take custody” of the petitions and set in motion the review process on the number and validity of the signatures.

By accepting the petitions, the city would be saying they are valid, which is impossible to determine at that time, Stone said.

To qualify for the ballot, the referendum needs 29,938 valid signatures, she said.

Yet Girard said the referendum cannot be considered legal even if it gets the minimum number of valid signatures. He said the referendum, like the initiative the judge just ruled invalid, challenges an administrative act, not a legislative action.

Also, Girard said the referendum would be disqualified on technical grounds because the petitions did not carry with them all the required documents to the council’s action. He said to be legal the petitions should have all the referenced agreements, an amount that was more than 100 pages but less than 500 pages.

Henderson said before launching the petition drive, he requested a full text of the ordinance, and was given only six pages.

Girard said there is no doubt Henderson will go to court over the referendum. Just to get a court hearing on the matter could run between 45 to 60 days.

Then there is the most recent lawsuit challenging the maximum bond issue, which involves publishing legal notices within a 60-day timeframe, Girard said.

“If form holds true, he’ll probably wait until the last minute to do that,” he said.

Henderson’s main motive appears to be to delay the project as long as possible using the court system, and causing the project’s costs to increase so much that the ballpark becomes unaffordable, Girard said.

Henderson said his motives should be transparent.

“My motive is clear and should be, to any attorney, unambiguous,” he said. “First, it’s to represent my clients. Second, my motive, and I believe the motive of all the people I’ve been dealing with is, we want this back on the ballot.”

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