OCEANSIDE — Parties in a lawsuit alleging the Measure L referendum violated a new state law are gearing up for the case’s April 30 motion hearing.
The lawsuit, originally filed last summer, argues that the Measure L referendum violates Senate Bill 330, a new state law that intends to address the state’s housing shortage and affordability crisis by boosting supply and expediting housing production.
The bill is designed to speed up housing construction for the next five years by reducing the time it takes to obtain building permits, limiting fee increases on housing applications and preventing local governments from reducing the number of homes that can be built.
Last November, Measure L asked voters if they would allow 176.6 acres in South Morro Hills to be rezoned for North River Farms, a 585-unit housing development project proposed by developer Integral Communities. The measure failed by a landslide with more than 67% of voters saying no.
The Measure L referendum made it to the ballot as a result of efforts by several community members who gathered enough signatures to petition for the project to be put up to a vote. Prior to that, City Council had approved of the rezoning for the project in a 3-2 vote in late 2019.
Mark Dillon, the attorney representing developer Integral Communities, previously told The Coast News that Measure L was an “anti-housing, anti-growth referendum.”
Two lawsuits were filed in 2020 on behalf of Integral Communities that named City Clerk Zeb Navarro, County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu and Oceanside residents Arleen Hammerschmidt, Kathryn Carbone and Patte Hughes, three proponents of the referendum.
The first lawsuit alleged that the people who collected signatures for the referendum petition committed fraud, forgery and misrepresentation in the process. Judge Gregory Pollack saw no evidence of any of those claims and ruled in favor of the proponents last August.
Attorney Everett DeLano represented Hammerschmidt, Carbone and Hughes in the first lawsuit as well as the second lawsuit up until this point, but now the three say they cannot afford his services and may have to go to court without a lawyer.
Currently, the three are busy trying to raise money to pay DeLano to bring him back for the upcoming April 30 motion hearing. Though they still feel good about the case going in their favor, they would rather have an attorney to represent them.
“In any situation we feel it’s best if we have representation, especially in a David and Goliath setting where we as community activists are under attack by big money,” Hughes told The Coast News via email. “The reality is it’s very expensive to have representation.”
As of Tuesday, April 20, the three had received just over $10,000 in donations on a GoFundMe page. They owe $22,000 to get through the April 30 court date.
Any fees owed after that would depend on how the judge rules. “If it’s in our favor the developer may appeal, thus incurring additional fees,” Hughes said.
The lawsuits have taken a big toll on the three activists’ emotional health and finances.
“It’s been like a constant added stress and conflict,” Hammerschmidt said. “I’m still in disbelief that we could be sued for not adhering to a law that was not yet in effect, that the state elected leaders would ever pass and sign into law a bill that restricts citizen’s right to referendum on local leaders’ decisions.”
Hughes is worried that this lawsuit will scare residents from standing up for themselves and the community in the future.
According to the three, the lawsuit challenges their freedom of speech.
“This is a bedrock of our Constitution that the people here in the United States can speak freely without fear of being harassed relentlessly via the courts,” Hughes said. “Who could’ve ever imagined lawfully standing up for the future of the community under our rights of the California constitution would have led us here?”