Justices on the state Court of Appeal are considering whether petitioners who called for a public vote on a City Council decision to allow the 51-home Oak Grove housing development can proceed in their efforts.
The court heard 40 minutes of discussion last week with attorneys Benjamin Shatz and Andrew B. Sabey debating the ruling by Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch who ruled that the petition by a citizens' group was invalid. The group, Save Pleasanton's Hills, first organized by former Councilwoman Kay Ayala, gathered the signatures in less than 30 days as required by law, submitted them to the county registrar for certification, but then was blocked from proceeding by Roesch's decision that supported a suit by Oak Grove's developers that called the group's tactics improper.
At last week's hearing, attorney Benjamin Shatz of the Los Angeles law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, who represents the citizens' coalition, asked the appellate court to reverse Roesch's decision and allow the petitions to be certified. He said the developers, Jennifer Lin and her brother Frederic were wrong in their claim that the coalition failed to have all of the documents needed to show those who signed the petitions that specifically related to the Oak Grove development agreement approved by the council.
But Sabey, of the San Francisco law firm Cox, Castle & Nicholson, who represents the Lins, argued that the decision by Roesch was made after extensive reviews of case law and California statutes and should be allowed to stand. He said the Save Pleasanton's Hills coalition had no basis for challenging the decision by Roesch who ruled that its petition failed to comply with state law that requires all relevant materials related to the petition to be carried by those seeking signatures. He said representatives of the coalition failed to have a number of documents Roesch said were vital to offer to those interested in signing the petition.
Among the group's many omissions of text, Sabey argued, was a copy of the Development Plan, the focal point of and actual legislation adopted by the PUD (Planned United Development) ordinance Ayala and the Save Pleasanton's Hills coalition was seeking to referend.
But Shatz disagreed.
"The way the law is written is that the state election code says that you have to supply the text of the ordinance, which the petitioners did," he said. "That means the words that are written in the ordinance. It also means that the exhibits to the ordinance. It also means things that are attached to the ordinance and things that are incorporated by reference."
"But here what is called the development plan doesn't have any of those things," he added. "It wasn't copied word for word into the ordinance. It wasn't attached. It wasn't part of the council's ordinance. If everything the Lins had wanted were attached, then the referendum petition would be three feet tall. And nobody would be able to flip through all of that and understand it and read it and sign off on it."
He continued: "The election code statute calls for the text of the ordinance to be available. It doesn't say the text of the legislation. It's no different than the words written in a book. If the book refers to other things well that's not part of the text of the book. So that's really what this is about."
In their questions, two of the justices— Henry E. Needham and Mark B. Simons—appeared to have a full understanding of what the Pleasanton case is all about. Needham, especially, grilled Sabey on why the petitioners should not have the right to take their issue to the voters. The third justice, Terence L. Bruiniers, asked no questions.
The justices have 90 days in which to decide on the appeal.