The California Supreme Court Wednesday denied without comment a petition by developers Jennifer Lin and her brother Frederic that affects their plan to build a 51-luxury home community in Pleasanton's southeast hills, a development called Oak Grove.
The decision ends the Lins' legal battle with former Pleasanton Councilwoman Kay Ayala and a citizens group she organized.
It's expected that the citizens group's petition will now be certified by the Alameda County Registrar and returned to the City Council. The council would have a month once the petition is handed to City Clerk Karen Diaz to decide if it wants to reverse its 2007 decision to approve Oak Grove or ask voters to decide the issue in a referendum. If the question goes to voters, the referendum would likely be part of the local ballot in next June's statewide primary.
More than 3,700 registered Pleasanton voters signed the group's petitions in late 2007, enough to qualify the measure for a referendum to overturn the council's 4-1 vote approving the project. But before the county registrar's office could certify the signatures as coming from registered voters as required by law, the Lins successfully filed a suit before Judge Frank Roesch in Alameda County Superior Court to stop the process.
The Lins, represented by Attorney Andrew B. Sabey of the San Francisco law firm of Cox, Castle & Nicholson, claimed that Ayala and the citizens group failed to follow proper procedures in circulating the petitions. Ruling that the petition-gathering efforts were flawed, Roesch then ordered the county registrar not to certify the petitions.
It was that decision that the State Court of Appeal subsequently reversed on an appeal by Attorney Benjamin G. Shatz of the law firm of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, which represents Ayala and the citizens group. And, it was the appellate court decision that the Supreme Court refused to review Wednesday.
For Ayala and her colleagues, Wednesday's decision by the State Supreme Court is a major victory in a long effort to stop the Oak Grove project. Besides voting 4-1 to approve Oak Grove, with only Councilwoman Cindy McGovern opposed, the Pleasanton council later voted 3-2 not to join her in appealing the Superior Court decision. Councilman Matt Sullivan joined McGovern in supporting a bid for the city to become involved in the appeal.
It was also was a victory for Manatt, Phelps and Phillips of Palo Alto, and Shatz, its appellate attorney who researched and prepared the arguments to overturn the Roesch ruling.
The Court of Appeal also ruled against Roesch who said Ayala and her group could not recover legal costs. The Supreme Court decision not to review the case means that Lins could be required to pay the full costs of all litigation involving the Oak Grove case, which could run into the tens of thousands of dollars.
Even if voters eventually defeat an anti-Oak Grove referendum, there's now the question as to how Pleasanton's recently-approved Measures PP and QQ would apply to the project. Those measures, especially PP which was also advanced by Ayala and a citizens group and received a majority of the votes cast, places severe limits on hillside developments, such as Oak Grove.
Whether Oak Grove, which was proposed and approved by the council before Measures PP and QQ were passed, skirts the new rules by being "grandfathered" in as a project allowed beforehand, hasn't been decided. Indeed, it could require more court litigation to decide that argument.
The Lin family has owned the Oak Grove property since 1977. The site was zoned for residential development of up to 98 homes in 1991, and designated again for residential development when voters approved the city's Urban Growth Boundary ordinance in 1996.
The city's new General Plan and its voter-approved 29,000-unit housing cap also allow for up to 98 homes on the property.
The 51 lots would occupy 62 acres and another 4 acres would be developed with roads and services to support the lots, so 66 acres--or 12 percent--of the property would be dedicated to residential development and 496 acres--or 88 percent--would be given to the city at no cost.
Atty. Marty Inderbitzen, who has represented the Lins on their Oak Grove request, said, in a statement earlier:
"The construction of this project will fulfill the General Plan goals and objectives by clustering large-lot, custom homes, preserving large open space acreage and acquiring a public park system and trail rights-of-way through developer dedications. (If this project is denied), the property owner will continue to propose projects for this property until one is finally approved and built, with or without a park."