A San Diego Superior Court judge properly removed from the ballot a 1999 initiative seeking to kill implementation of the deal between the City of San Diego and the Padres baseball team for a new stadium. The Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division 1, ruled that the initiative interfered with administrative actions of the city government, rather than legislative actions. Administrative actions may not be placed before the voters.
In making the decision, the court said its ruling rendered moot a motion by the initiative's proponents to strike the lawsuit by the city and the Padres as a SLAPP suit, or "strategic lawsuit against public participation."
The deal between the city and the Padres began after the city's voters approved Proposition C in 1998, which authorized the city to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Padres to build a stadium and redevelop 26 blocks in downtown San Diego. The MOU laid out the conditions that were required for the project to continue, including assurances that the Padres would participate in the development of a hotel and that the city redevelopment agency could obtain acceptable financing terms for its $225 million investment in the new baseball park.
Subsequently, opponents of the ballpark deal circulated an initiative seeking to terminate the MOU because the conditions required under the MOU had not been met. Among other things, the initiative required the city to carry out the contract's terms "by such administrative and non-legislative acts as may be necessary and appropriate to carry out the purpose and intention of Proposition C and the MOU." The city and the Padres were granted summary judgment by a Superior Court judge before the election. The initiative proponents then appealed the lower court's decision.
The proponents argued that the initiative was legislative because, as the court said, "it decides whether the project should proceed, not how it proceeds." The proponents also argued that the manner of financing for the project is a legislative decision. But the Fourth District disagreed.
While acknowledging that the initiative sought to make a policy statement that would bind the city, the court concluded, "The proposed initiative does not seek to change this policy by its plain language, but rather to change the substance of the implementing decisions that were created by Prop. C. In other words, the proposed initiative seeks to substitute the proponents' judgment regarding compliance with the applicable conditions and the feasibility of financing, in place of that process created by Prop. C and the MOU, which confided such implementing decision to City administration." This, the court said, is an unacceptable attempt to interfere with an administrative decision.
The initiative proponents also filed a motion to strike the city's and the Padres' causes of action based under Code of Civil Procedure Section 425.16, the so-called anti-SLAPP law. In so doing, the proponents argued that the lawsuit that knocked the initiative off the ballot was designed to interfere with the initiative proponents' free speech activities.
However, a court cannot grant an anti-SLAPP motion to strike "unless the court determines that the plaintiff has established that there is a probability that the plaintiff will prevail on the claim." The appellate court concluded that once the city and the Padres had been granted summary judgment as a matter of law, "there was nothing left for [the trial court] to decide with regard to the pending SLAPP motions …" Thus, the SLAPP motions were moot.
City of San Diego v. Dunkl, No. D035559, and Padres v. Dunkl, No. D035585, 01 C.D.O.S. 601, 2001 Daily Journal D.A.R. 757, issued January 22, 2001.
For Dunkl and initiative proponents: J. Bruce Henderson and Kent C. Wilson, (619) 236-6616.
For City of San Diego: Charles A. Bird, Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps, (619) 699-2406.
For San Diego Padres, Mark C. Zebrowski, Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich, (619) 699-2693.
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