A Santa Ana activist group is continuing its years-long battle against a planned 37-story tower in the city and has filed a petition for review b y the state Supreme Court.
The activist group, which calls itself the Coalition for Accountable Government Ethics, sued in 2010 after the Santa Ana City Council removed a condition from the city’s agreement with One Broadway Plaza tower developer Mike Harrah that he prelease the building before construction.
The activists argued that since the tower was approved in a 2005 referendum, changes to the development agreement must also go to a citywide vote.
Last year, Superior Court Judge Derek Hunt agreed with the activists, ruling that the issue must be put back before the voters.
But the 4th District Court of Appeal last month reversed Hunt’s ruling. In its 3-0 decision, the appellate court agreed with the city’s contention that residents were voting only to approve a zoning ordinance, not the development agreement.
The state Supreme Court rarely grants such petitions, said Dan Wildish, attorney for the activists. But Wildish said he was confident that the court would make an exception, because the case presented important constitutional questions.
“I think there are some constitutional issues at stake that warrant a court review,” Wildish said.
Those questions involve the state elections code. If residents had voted on the development agreement, then the change in the prelease requirement must go back to voters, according to state law. The city argues that residents voted only on the zone change.
Activists had appeared ready to give up because they could not afford the costs of bringing a case to the Supreme Court. But Wildish said he worked out a payment plan with the activists.
“I really believe in what the group was doing, so I kind of gave them a break,” Wildish said.
Activists say they are confident they will be granted a victory if the court decides to review their case.
“Getting them to take that half-a-minute look … if we can get before the high court we think we’re going to overturn this,” said group member Jeff Dickman. “If the high court doesn’t hear the matter, then really we’re done.”
Meanwhile, Harrah has several hurdles to overcome before he can begin construction, including the $10.8-million cost of street improvements, the Orange County Register reported this week.
Interim City Attorney Joe Straka did not return a phone call seeking comment.
— ADAM ELMAHREK