Land use lawyer and Mission Viejo City Council candidate Geoffrey Willis says Measure D is so full of ambiguities that it leaves the city of Mission Viejo with no other option than to apply the law in broad strokes, thereby leading to the “demise of business and development in the city.”

Measure D, also known as the “Right to Vote” initiative, will go to the polls in June under a special election. If passed, the law is supposed to put land use zone changes out to a referendum.

Click here for the full text of the initiative.

Willis said businesses that want to make even a minor expansion would have to pay for the referendum. And, he said, the way the measure is written 51 percent of all registered Mission Viejo voters need to vote for a zoning change for it to pass, even if a business was willing to fork over the money to get it on the ballot.

Getting at least 51 percent of registered voters to the polls would be a lofty achievement in itself, Willis added, much less getting all of them to vote for it.

“It actually sounds like they’re trying to make it impossible to make any zoning changes in the city,” Willis said.

The confusion stems from the clause “majority vote of the electorate of the City of Mission Viejo,” under Section 4 of the initiative. The term “electorate” can mean all registered Mission Viejo voters – that means if only half of registered voters showed up to vote, and they all voted yes, the zone change still wouldn’t pass.

Another problem, Willis said, is that the type of amendment covered by the law is explained in some sections but not in the first section where amendments are mentioned. That means all zone changes — minor and major — would need to go to a referendum, Willis said.

Willis used the example of Mission Hospital, which is one of the city’s biggest employers. Say the hospital wanted to add a cancer wing. It would have to pay for a referendum that almost certainly would not work out in its favor.

Then there is the problem of notification. For each zone change, according to the language of the initiative, every household affected would have to be notified.

“If Mission Viejo mall is going to have traffic impacts within half a mile away, do I need to give notice to every parcel (household) affected?” Willis said.

These ambiguities in the language of the law will lead to one lawsuit after another to clarify the law when new scenarios come up, Willis said.

I’ve tried, without success so far, to reach attorney Brad Morton for a response. Morton represented Measure D supporter Cathy Schlicht, who sued the city over what she said was a misleading ballot argument against the measure.

Dale Tyler, one of the writers of Measure D, says he has spoken to impartial attorneys that give differing opinions to that of Willis. But he wouldn’t put me in touch with them, saying it would be a violation of attorney-client privilege.

I’m very much interested in talking with someone who understands the intricacies of land use law in Orange County and has an opposing view to Willis’. If you, or someone you know, fits this bill, please email me at


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