Less than a week after voters decided nearly 20 growth-related ballot measures, an attorney for a developer who lost an election last January made its case to the Second District Court of Appeal. The lawyer for Costa Mesa-based Messenger Development argued that a referendum over a 3,200-home development in the City of Moorpark was illegal.
During a January special election, Moorpark voters overturned their City Council's approval of Hidden Creek Ranch, a subdivision proposed inside Moorpark's sphere of influence. Voters also approved an initiative that requires an election before development may occur on land zoned for agriculture or open space. The latter was part of the Save Open-space and Agricultural Resources (SOAR) campaign that has swept across Ventura County.
The special election appeared to deal two fatal blows to Messenger, which had worked nearly a decade on the Hidden Creek Ranch project. But Messenger went to court, challenging both the referendum that overturned approval of the project and the Moorpark version of SOAR.
The builder lost the challenge of the referendum at the trial court level, but the case was argued before the Second District Court of Appeal on November 8. (The lawsuit over the SOAR initiative is on hold pending outcome of the referendum lawsuit.) One of Messenger's primary arguments is that voters did not receive complete information. The referendum was over the development agreement between the city and Messenger, but other legislation, including a general plan amendment, was contingent upon the development agreement, Messenger argued. Voters could not decide on the development agreement without seeing the entire package, according to the developer. Messenger further contended that the form of the petition that qualified the referendum for the ballot was improper because the petition shrunk an 83-page development agreement down to 19 pages of microscopic type that was nearly illegible.
Besides the technical quarrels, the developer also argued that the referendum severely hampered Moorpark's ability to provide necessary affordable housing, and that the vote left Messenger with zoning that conflicts with the general plan.
Attorneys for SOAR, who are defending the city, argued that the voters have spoken on two perfectly legal ballot measures. They contend that Messenger was only complaining about having to play by new rules that directly insert the electorate into land-use decisions.
A decision in the case is due by early February.
Hidden Creek Ranch v. City of Moorpark, No. B127901.
For Hidden Creek Ranch, Wendy Lascher, Lascher & Lascher, (805) 648-3228.
For Moorpark: Richard Francis, (805) 486-5898.
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