More arguments were heard last week in a Santa Ana courtroom in the One Broadway Plaza case, but Superior Court Judge Derek Hunt remained noncommittal as to when he’ll issue a ruling in the lawsuit over the building of what would be the tallest tower in Orange County.
Developer Mike Harrah has been trying to meet preconditions attached to erecting the proposed 37-story tower in downtown Santa Ana since the Santa Ana City Council first approved the project in 2004. Voters also signed off on the project when they passed Measure A in 2005.
So far Harrah hasn’t been successful. The biggest obstacle in his way is a condition requiring him to have 50 percent of the building preleased before construction starts.
Last year, the City Council approved an amendment to the development agreement that removed the prelease condition.
It was this amendment that spurred the group of activists, known as the Coalition for Accountable Government Ethics, to file the lawsuit. The suit argues that because the tower was approved by a referendum, any changes to the development agreement must also go back to a vote, per the California Elections Code.
The city argues, however, that the development agreement was never part of Measure A and that voters approved only the rezoning ordinance.
In a courtroom battle Thursday, each side made their cases before the judge.
“The development agreement was not part of the vote, it was not placed to the voters, it was simply the rezoning,” said Assistant City Attorney Jose Sandoval.
Daniel Wildish, attorney for the activists, argued that the city attorney’s impartial analysis says the ordinance approving the development agreement would go into effect if Measure A is approved. This, Wildish said, is evidence that the voters were voting on the bigger picture, not just the rezoning.
“To suggest that the citizens came out to vote on a rezoning ordinance and weren’t looking at the big picture is ludicrous,” Wildish said.
When Hunt decided to hear the case in February, he said the lawsuit might have presented a “novel legal question” over what should or should not go to a vote of the people.
He reiterated that question Thursday. “Am I right that there is a slight public policy debate here?” Hunt asked the attorneys.
Both sides avoided the public policy question. Instead Sandoval referred to case law he said supports his argument. And Wildish stuck to his core argument that Measure A was “talked about as a package” and not just a rezoning ordinance.
Hunt said he wanted to take his time to issue a ruling. If Hunt decides in favor of the activists, the city could leave the lease condition in place or refer amendement to a referendum.
— ADAM ELMAHREK