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JUDGE DENIES LAND CO’S APPEAL TO BLOCK MEASURE J

SOAR stays on Camarillo ballot

Judge denies land company’s appeal to block Measure J

By Kathleen Wilson

kwilson@vcstar.com 805-437-0271

A Ventura County judge ruled Wednesday that the SOAR extension measure for Camarillo can stay on the November ballot.

Superior Court Judge Vincent O’Neill denied Calleguas Land Co.’s request to block the measure. The company and Camarillo resident Wayne Davey sued city officials over alleged failures in the voter petition process that was used to qualify the initiative.

O’Neill found no procedural errors that were serious enough to merit removal of the measure from the ballot. He did suggest there could be litigation after the election over a substantive issue: whether hundreds of acres of agricultural land were incorrectly described as being within the city.

That would only occur if the measure passes, according to O’Neill’s ruling that runs nearly three pages.

Chuck Cohen, an attorney for Calleguas Land Co., said a decision on an appeal would be made by late Thursday afternoon.

Elections officials say time is short. They have asked for a final court decision, including the results of an appeal, by Friday to meet ballot printing deadlines.

‘I’m disappointed,’ Cohen said of the ruling.

Richard Francis, an attorney for one of the signature-gatherers, said he was ‘generally gratified’ with the decision.

‘I think the judge had a very difficult case in front of him, and he did an admirable job of dealing with the arguments,’ Francis said.

The various Save Open space and Agricultural Resources measures across the county, enacted in the 1990s to 2000s, require voter approval for development of protected farmland and open space.

Proponents are asking Camarillo residents to

renew a growth boundary set for the city in 1998, plus add a “Conejo Creek Voter Participation Area” for hundreds of acres of agricultural land outside the city limits.

Voter approval would be required to rezone that property to a nonagricultural use if the city annexes the land.

Calleguas, which owns most of the acreage, argued that the description misled voters into thinking they had authority over unincorporated county land. The city attorney’s summary shown to petition signers said the land was within the city but it is not.

The company had plans to develop 895 acres of agricultural land at the base of the Conejo Grade, but the project was rejected by the Camarillo City Council in the face of stiff community opposition.

Calleguas’ attorneys cited the description of the voter participation area as one reason the initiative should not appear on the ballot. But O’Neill’s ruling said that issue was beyond the realm of procedural matters properly brought before an election, especially given the short time for a decision.

Calleguas also claimed that the proponents failed to give required notice to the public and did not include the full text of the initiative in the petition that voters signed and that the measure lacked required language.

Proponents published a notice of their intent to circulate the petition in the Ventura County Star. Plaintiffs’ attorney Sean Welch said they had to do more than that because the newspaper has not been adjudicated by a court to be a general-circulation newspaper for Camarillo.

Notices should have been posted in three public locations on top of that because The Star was adjudicated in Ventura County but not Camarillo, he said.

O’Neill, though, agreed with the defendants’ claim that The Star acquired the adjudication of the Camarillo Daily News when its former owner purchased the local newspaper in 1992.

Plaintiffs said the initiative shown to voters omitted key portions of the original SOAR initiative passed in 1998 and a map. O’Neill said voters were not denied any relevant information.

“In sum, petitioners failed to show how the differing language or the different maps would render a voter incapable of understanding the full import of the 2016 measure,” he wrote.

A missing heading and clause enacting the measure were not disqualifying, he said.

The 1998 initiative expires at the end of 2020, and renewal would extend it until 2050.

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