Thursday, July 14, 2011 | A proposed 37-story tower in Santa Ana known as One Broadway Plaza must go back to voters before it can be built, a Superior Court judge ruled this week.
The decision is being hailed as a victory by a group of residents who have for years been fighting the development of what would be the tallest building in Orange County.
“Relief” was resident Jeff Dickman’s reaction to the news. Dickman is a member of the Coalition for Accountable Government Ethics, the group that sued the city over the development. “We felt real strong about the case, but you’re never sure.”
The City Council first approved the project in 2004, and it was approved by voters the following year. But developer Mike Harrah couldn’t meet a condition to have the building 50 percent preleased before the start of development. Council members last year amended the development agreement to remove the prelease condition.
The residents group filed suit against the city, arguing that because the tower was approved by a referendum, any change to the development agreement must go back to voters per the California Elections Code.
Assistant City Attorney Jose Sandoval, who handled the case on behalf of the city, said it was up to the City Council to decide how to proceed from here. “We’re going to report to the council and determine what our options are,” he said.
Council members Michele Martinez and Vincent Sarmiento said they needed to see the ruling before they would comment. “Being an attorney, I never comment on something I haven’t read,” Sarmiento said.
Other council members and Harrah couldn’t be reached immediately for comment.
Attorneys on both sides said the council’s options appear to be limited. The city can either hold a referendum or appeal the ruling, the attorneys said.
Judges don’t typically rule against legislative bodies like a city council, said Dan Wildish, the residents group’s attorney in the case, making it all the more clear that the council-approved amendment was illegal, he said.
“It’s always difficult for a judge to question and overrule an elected body,” Wilidish said.
Wildish called the ruling a historic day for the city and all of Orange County. “It’s pretty amazing. … This judge just ordered an election.”