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Oak to Ninth Opponents Plan Legal Challenge To Petition Denial

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday September 12, 2006

A member of the Oakland coalition that sought a citizen referendum on the controversial Oak to Ninth project says that the group “is, of course, planning a legal challenge” to an Oakland city attorney’s ruling throwing out referendum petitions. 

Oakland preservationist Joyce Roy, who represents the executive committee of the Northern Alameda County Group of the Sierra Club on the Oak to Ninth Referendum Committee, said details of the legal challenge will be released in the near future. 

Roy is a co-plaintiff in a lawsuit already challenging the proposed development under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In addition, a second, related lawsuit has been filed by the Oakland Heritage Alliance in an attempt to save the Ninth Avenue Terminal Building which would be all but destroyed in the proposed Oak to Ninth development. 

Oakland City Council approved an agreement last June and July with developer Oakland Harbor Partners for a 3,100-residential unit, 200,000-square-foot commercial space development on the 64-acre parcel of land on Oakland’s estuary south of Jack London Square. 

Last month, Oak to Ninth Referendum Committee members submitted more than 25,000 signatures on petitions calling for a referendum on the development proposal. 

Last week, however, Oakland City Attorney John Russo threw out the petitions, saying, in part, that the development agreement that petition signers were asked to approve or disapprove was not the final agreement voted on by City Council. 

“The California Elections Code requires that the referendum contain the ‘text of the ordinance … that is the subject of the referendum,’” Russo wrote in his denial letter. “A cursory review of the Oak to Ninth petition reveals that the wrong draft of the ordinance was attached. Petition supporters attached an outdated version of the ordinance.” 

Russo added that “the error [of the petition] is underscored by the nature of some of the information not included with the petition,” including two maps attached to the final ordinance that showed the amount of public access to the open space in the project. 

“Without these maps,” Russo wrote, “a prospective signer who was interested in the actual amount of public access in the plan area would have had great difficulty in making a fully informed decision on whether to sign the petition.” 

Russo’s ruling came in response to Harbor Partners’ appeal of the petitions. 

The problem, according to Roy, is that the copy of the ordinance included with the petitions was given to the referendum committee by the Oakland City Clerk’s office as the official version of the ordinance. 

“By law, someone challenging a city ordinance only has 30 days to submit a petition once the ordinance is passed,” Roy said. “We went to the City Clerk’s office the day after the final vote [on July 18] to get a copy of the ordinance, but the clerk told us that all of the amendments had not yet been put into the final version.” 

Roy said that after referendum committee member James Vann went to the city clerk’s office on Friday, July 21, “the clerk downloaded the ordinance from her computer, and that’s what was used in the petitions.” 

The Oakland City Clerk’s office could not be contacted by press time to verify this account. The final version of the document was still not readily visible on the city’s website as of Monday. 

The front page of the official City of Oakland website has an “Oak to Ninth” link that connects to a page operated by the Planning and Zoning Division of the Oakland Department of Community and Economic Development. The page contains dates of various city actions on the project, along with links to related documents, concluding on June 20, under the heading of the City Council/Redevelopment Agency. The 118-page development agreement between the city and Harbor Partners linked to this page is still listed as “City Council Draft of 6/8/06.” No final draft is yet available on the Internet.