Voters in Monterey County may be closer to deciding two land use ballot measures after a 15-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in an unrelated case that recall petitions need not be circulated in multiple languages.

Last year, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled that petitions in a Santa Ana Unified School District recall were invalid because they had been circulated only in English. In March, a federal district court judge, relying on the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, declared invalid an initiative to overhaul the Monterey County general plan because initiative backers printed petitions only in English. After the general plan ruling, the county Board of Supervisors pulled off the ballot a referendum of a proposed 1,100-unt housing project for the same reason (see CP&DR, May 2006).

Under the Voting Rights Act, the government must publish election materials in other languages if more than 5% of voters speak a language other than English. However, theen banc panel that reheard the Santa Ana school district case voted 14-1 that the multi-lingual requirement does not apply to citizen petitions.

Requiring translation of citizen petitions “is very likely to have a chilling effect on the petition process itself,” Judge William Canby wrote for the court. “A requirement of translation for recall petitions is far more likely to be used as a sword than as a shield.”

Exactly what will happen with the Monterey County land use measures is unclear. Proponents said they would push for a special election because it is too late to get the initiative and the referendum on the November ballot. But county officials said they were still studying the situation and noted that a U.S. Supreme Court review of the Ninth Circuit decision is possible. Additionally, litigation over the two ballot measures is pending in federal court.

The Ninth Circuit case is Padilla v. Lever, No. 03-56259, 06 C.D.O.S. 8808, and was filed on September 19.

While growth control votes in Monterey County remained in question, the county and the City of Salinas reached a settlement in the city’s lawsuit over county plans for the 2,500-acre Rancho San Juan. The county has been planning for growth on the ranch just north of Salinas for some time, but the city sued over a specific plan, which includes the 1,100-unit Butterfly Village project for which a referendum is pending (see above.)

The city agreed to drop its California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit when the City Council and Board of Supervisors approved an 18-point “Greater Salinas Area Memorandum of Understanding.” The document permits the city to annex about 3,000 acres north of town, designates land to the north and east of the city for development while preserving farmland to the west and south, requires imposition of a countywide traffic impact fee, and calls for county-city cooperation on issues such as affordable housing and infrastructure improvements.

Salinas officials said the city needs room to grow because of severe overcrowding and a lack of affordable housing.

Rancho San Juan growth opponents immediately seized on the settlement and closed-door negotiations behind it, and the opponents hinted they may file a suit insisting that the settlement should be subject to environmental review.

A referendum contesting adoption of a redevelopment plan for the Bayview Hunters Point district in San Francisco has been blocked by City Attorney Dennis Herrera. He declared the referendum petitions were invalid because they did not contain the entire redevelopment plan.

The city adopted the plan, which emphasizes development of 3,700 new housing units in the 1,300-acre project area, earlier this year (see CP&DR Redevelopment Watch, September 2006). Fearing gentrification, opponents gathered enough signatures on a referendum petition to force an election. But Herrera determined on September 19 that the petitions were invalid without the plan itself. Opponents said they would likely sue over Herrera’s decision.

A controversial proposal by Santa Clara County to build a 7,000-seat concert hall at the county fairgrounds in San Jose is apparently dead after the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 not to pursue the project. The decision came shortly after county analysts revealed that rising construction costs would require at least a $15 million county subsidy.

The county began pursuing a concert hall at the aging fairgrounds in 1998, shortly before the City of San Jose and downtown advocates began talking about building a similar hall in downtown. Eventually, the county decided on a plan in which it would issue about $80 million in bonds to pay for the fairgrounds facility and hire the House of Blues to run it. The city sued and lost one round in court before paying to settle the lawsuit (see CP&DR In Brief, May 2006; CP&DR Public Development, December 2004).

Backers of the county project said it could generate tens of millions of dollars for the county over the next three decades. But when it came time to move forward, three supervisors said the project was too risky, especially when the county already has a $200 million budget shortfall.

The county’s decision may give new life to the proposed downtown concert hall, which has languished.

Yolo County has dropped its eminent domain action to acquire 17,300 acres of farmland and open space in a triangle between the cities of Woodland, West Sacramento and Davis. Instead, the county reached an agreement with the property owners that limits development and water sales.

The county commenced eminent domain proceedings on the Conaway Ranch more than two years ago because of concerns about the loss of farmland, endangered species habitat and water (see CP&DR Local Watch, August 2004). After eminent domain proceedings began, a collection of Sacramento area developers acquired the ranch, which has 50,000 acre-feet of water rights.

Under the settlement, the owners may sell up to 1,500 acres of land in small parcels. For sales of parcels larger than 250 acres, the county will have the right of first refusal. All land remains subject to the county general plan, which currently permits virtually no development. The agreement calls for water to be used first to satisfy farming, habitat and recreation needs on Conaway Ranch. Surplus water could be sold but the county would have the first right to negotiate a water purchase and would receive a cut of proceeds if another entity buys the water.

Property owners said they may use the land as a mitigation bank and sell conservation easements.

On-the-ground restoration of San Dieguito Lagoon in Del Mar began in September after 15 years of planning, permitting processes and litigation. The restoration plan by the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority calls for creation of a 115-acre saltwater marsh, construction and rehabilitation of nesting sites for endangered birds, and permanently reopening the mouth of the river (see CP&DR Environment Watch, September 2003). Construction is expected to take two years. Southern California Edison is paying for the project as mitigation for ongoing operation of the San Onofre nuclear power plant about 30 miles to the north.