Mission Viejo voters will weigh in today on the city’s controversial ‘Right to Vote’ initiative, marking the climax of a fight to strip the city council of some of its land use zoning powers.
The initiative — also known as Measure D — was drafted and promoted by members of the political grassroots political group formerly known as the Citizens for Integrity in Government, which disbanded in 2005 but informally reunited to elect Councilwoman Cathy Schlicht in 2009.
Proponents of the initiative say the city’s character as a master planned community would be protected under the initiative because it lets voters have the final say over land use zone changes. For example, a change in housing density would require voters to sign off on the zone change in a citywide referendum, paid for by the business wanting the zone change.
But opponents have countered that the initiative is written in a way that it would do just the opposite and open the door to affordable housing developers looking for creative ways to interpret the state’s affordable housing laws.
The months leading up to Election Day have seen bitter fighting on the council and a lawsuit brought against the city by Schlicht, who claimed that a ballot argument against the measure was packed with misleading statements.
Land use lawyer and prospective city council candidate Geoffrey Willis argued that the initiative would open the city up to a flood of litigation because the law is badly written. Willis said that the language of the initiative makes it sound like 51 percent of all registered voters — and not just those that vote — would be required to sign off on the zone change for it to pass.
Willis also said minor and major amendments aren’t clearly defined throughout the initiative. According to Willis, that means all zone changes — minor and major — would need to go to a citywide vote.
“It actually sounds like they’re trying to make it impossible to make any zoning changes in the city,” Willis said.
But Attorney Brad Morton — who is also the sponsoring group’s founding member — doubted that any judge would interpret the initiative in the ways Willis described.
When Schlicht sued the city over a ballot argument against the initiative, it cost the city $40,000. At the time, she blamed the city attorney, saying he gouged the city with high legal fees.
Schlicht also said city staff had violated their impartiality by taking a side on the issue and failing to vet the ballot argument for potential inaccuracies. Her lawsuit managed to get a sentence and two other words struck from the ballot argument against the initiative.
Councilman Frank Ury — a vocal critic of Schlicht, the initiative and the group sponsoring it — has said the initiative is an effort to strip power from the council by people who have tried to get elected but couldn’t, including computer programmer and former city council candidate Dale Tyler.
Writers of the initiative got their idea from a Yorba Linda ‘Right to Vote’ initiative known as Measure B, but that doesn’t provide much in the way of insight because it has yet to be tested in that city.
Check back tonight for updates on the vote.
— ADAM ELMAHREK