If the action inside the Mission Viejo City Council chambers last night is any indication, the battle over the “Right to Vote” ballot initiative on the June ballot is only going to get more heated.
As my story Monday detailed, the initiative asks voters to approve a city ordinance that would require any zoning changes to be put to a popular referendum. In March, Councilwoman Cathy Schlicht filed a lawsuit that challenged the wording of the city’s ballot argument regarding the measure.
In her suit, Schlicht made 23 challenges to the city’s ballot argument, which was authored by Councilman Frank Ury, saying it was full of misleading statements against the measure. A judge ruled last week, upholding three of the 23 challenges. At the meeting, Schlicht and other city officials continued to litigate her case.
Schlicht contended that the judge pulled certain sentences from the argument because they were “lies” – she also insinuated that staff was colluding with other council members to take a side against the initiative.
“The city doesn’t have the right to take a side,” Schlicht said. “To me it appears to be that your taking sides.”
Schlicht then attacked City Manager Dennis Wilberg’s characterization of the judge’s changes to the argument as “technical changes.” She said Wilberg should have been more careful to explain the changes.
“This wasn’t a technical change . . . it was the judge stopping councilman Ury from misleading the voters,” Schlicht said.
City Attorney William Curley responded that the city manager was under a “double-edged” sword should he explain the changes further, and he said that further explanation would only warrant more accusations of city staff “taking sides.”
Curley estimated that the court action cost the city close to $40,000 in staff expenditures. Mayor Patricia Kelley chastised Schlicht for wasting taxpayer dollars.
Schlicht also blamed Curley for not filtering out two sentences from the argument that the judge found to be “misleading.”
“If the city attorney had looked at this and spent his 40 hours, then maybe we could have come to an agreement and not spent all day (in court),” Schlicht said.
Schlicht claimed the judge’s decision was her victory, while Ury said he couldn’t be more “ecstatic” that the judge left the argument to stay essentially the same.
“I am appalled that a city councilmember, a sitting city councilmember, would sue the city,” Kelley said.
In his ruling, the judge, Luis Rodriguez, removed two sentences and one word in the argument. Here they are:
The sentences removed included “Under State law, it CAN NEVER be developed with housing, EVER!” – A sentence referring to housing development on the Costa Del Sol Golf Course, and “Businesses wishing to expand their facilities would have to go to a full vote of the people at their own expense.”
In the sentence “Section 6.1 also promotes SUBSIDIZED HOUSING in any new building in Mission Viejo, and forces Mission Viejo voters to pay for it.” The word “forces” was removed.
— ADAM ELMAHREK