OCEANSIDE — A lawsuit alleging “egregious violations” of the California Elections Code and the California Political Reform Act has been filed against the City Clerk, the Registrar of Voters and petitioners opposed to the North River Farms project.
Last month, petitioners gathered enough signatures according to City Clerk Zeb Navarro’s office to put a referendum on the November ballot that could potentially overturn council’s decision to green light the North River Farms development project in South Morro Hills.
The lawsuit alleges the petitioners committed fraud, forgery and misrepresentation in the signature gathering process; withheld important information from signers; and conducted illegal political fundraising for the petition.
According to Mindy Wright, a spokeswoman for project developer Integral Communities, the lawsuit was filed Jan. 14. Integral Communities has stated its support of the lawsuit that was filed by Oceanside resident Barbara Hazlett.
“We’re still waiting on a stamped copy,” Wright said via email.
The lawsuit comes a few weeks after the Jan. 8 City Council meeting when Mayor Peter Weiss accused petitioners of forging his name on the petition, but it was actually another Peter Weiss who lives in Oceanside and works as a real estate agent who signed it.
Kathryn Carbone, an Oceanside resident who was also named in the lawsuit as one of the petitioners, filed a grand jury complaint on Jan. 15 against Mayor Weiss for his accusation.
Carbone said it was “completely inappropriate” for him to accuse signature gatherers of forgery without evidence or proof.
“First of all, those signatures are confidential and were safeguarded by the leaders of the referendum effort, as well as by the Oceanside City Clerk’s office after they were delivered on December 20th, 2019,” Carbone said via email. “So, how did Mayor Weiss gain knowledge that his signature was on the petition?”
Neither Carbone nor Arleen Hammerschmidt, another petitioner who was named in the lawsuit, wished to comment on the lawsuit.
According to Hazlett, petitioners lied to voters and tried to set property owners and farmers back by opposing the North River Farms project.
On Dec. 19, Integral Communities filed a formal submission with Navarro regarding 14 alleged violations of state and municipal law alleged to have been committed during the election referendum process.
Though the Registrar of Voters is currently going through the process of verifying and counting the signatures, the developer wants an investigation into how those signatures were gathered.
“We respect the right to seek voter consideration of government decisions, however, these efforts must be conducted lawfully and properly,” said Ninia Hammond, project manager for North River Farms, in a statement provided to The Coast News. “We seek judicial review of activities that may have violated California’s referendum rules by the organizers of this effort against North River Farms.”
Oceanside resident Nadine Scott, who has been an attorney for more than 30 years, said the lawsuit is a “malicious attempt to stop a committed group of people from exercising their rights under the Constitution.” She added that untrue allegations of fraudulent conduct would be grounds for suit by the defendants.
“This purported lawsuit is an attempt to prevent public participation on matters of public importance such as doing a referendum and exercising ones Free Speech (sic),” Scott said via email.