Voter Packet Goes to Press After Judge Rejects Challenge: By MATTHEW ARTZ

Friday August 27, 2004

Berkeley’s voter information packet is ready for printing after Superior Court Judge James Richman dismissed complaints Thursday challenging the wording of two controversial ballot initiatives. 

Authors of a ballot measure to liberalize the city’s marijuana laws and a measure to create a Tree Board to protect public trees both protested that the City Council had approved ballot titles designed to undermine support for their initiatives. 

Tree Board author Elliot Cohen further charged that the city attorney’s analysis, included in the voter packet, offered misinformation. 

Among his litany of complaints, Cohen argued that the city had overstated the measure’s cost, refused to consider potential savings and used “alarmist language” to frighten voters that the initiative would increase the risk of fires. 

However, state election law required Cohen to provide “clear and convincing” evidence that the ballot measure language was false or misleading, a standard Judge Richman ruled Cohen failed to meet. 

The ballot titles, which voters will see on their touchscreen machines, became embroiled in controversy this summer when the City Council spontaneously decided to review the language for three measures they opposed. 

Judge Richman denied the request of marijuana advocates to revert to the original draft. That version placed the measure’s most controversial provision—a by-right use permit to cannabis clubs—at the bottom of the ballot statement rather than the top.