Roesch's tentative ruling, which allows the Lins to proceed and tosses out petitions by former Councilwoman Kay Ayala and the Save Pleasanton's Hills citizens coalition that she organized, raises questions about the requirements imposed on those who want to fight City Hall. In his strict interpretation of California Elections Code section 9238(b), Roesch is ruling that Ayala and others who spent 30 days last November and December gathering signatures for their referendum failed to carry with them all of the documents related to the Lins' petition and the City Council's subsequent approval of the project. Although the Ayala group made multiple copies of the ordinance adopted by the council that approved the housing project as well as a stapled attachment of the developer agreement on the land grant, Roesch says that wasn't enough. What was approved was a large packet of material related to the Oak Grove property. To persuade registered voters to sign her petition to overturn the council's approval of the project, Ayala needed to have all of those documents, which Ayala claims weighs some 14 pounds.
If Roesch's tentative ruling is made permanent, an action that could occur at any time, the judge will single-handedly toss out referendum petitions signed by more than 4,000 registered voters as officially counted and verified by the Alameda County Registrar's office. Ayala and her coalition could appeal that decision, of course, at a likely cost of more than $40,000. Of course, if he reverses his tentative ruling and decides in favor of Ayala, then the Lins can appeal. In either case, an appeal could take a year or more to get through the courts, with the Lins unable to proceed with their development until a resolution is reached. The Pleasanton school district, in its legal battle with Signature Properties over payment for a proposed Neal Elementary School on Vineyard Avenue, has been in court for four years with a trial date now scheduled for April.
In recent history, Pleasanton has seen a number of referendums similar to what Ayala and her group are seeking. None of those seeking signatures on their petitions carried much information, certainly not 14 pounds of background material, duplicated many times for the multiple signature-gathering stations petitions generally have. In San Ramon, Mayor Abram Wilson said those seeking a referendum to overturn the City Council's approval of a multi-million-dollar Civic Center and new central city complex are just circulating petitions with no background materials. Cities up and down the state have seen much the same thing. Roesch's interpretation, at least in his tentative ruling, seems overly strict. If indeed it follows the state code, our legislators should review the law to see if that's really what they intended when placing these requirements on petition proponents. Calling for a referendum should be easier than what Roesch has initially ruled.