Registrar certifies petition opposing Museum House condo tower project

The Orange County registrar of voters has certified the signatures gathered by a Newport Beach activist group challenging City Council approval of a 25-story condominium tower in Newport Center.

The action could result in a special election.

On Wednesday, the city clerk's office received notice that the registrar was able to certify at least 5,619 signatures from Line in the Sand's efforts to halt plans for the Museum House.

According to the notice, the registrar received 13,788 signatures. The office ran through 6,584 of them before reaching the 5,619 requirement to certify the referendum.

It took Line in the Sand, the political arm of Still Protecting Our Newport, or SPON, about two weeks and at least $40,000 to gather the signatures. The group turned them in to the city clerk's office on Dec. 21, which then sent them to the registrar.

The certified petition will be presented to the City Council during its Feb. 14 meeting, said city spokeswoman Tara Finnigan.

At that point, the council has two options, she said. It could repeal its earlier approval of Museum House or direct the clerk to start working on an election to bring the development's future to a direct vote of the people.

If the council chooses the election option, Finnigan said, voters may see Museum House on the November 2018 general election ballot or the June 2018 primary election ballot, or a special election could be held, perhaps later this year.

City officials said they did not immediately know how much a special election could cost.

"Line in the Sand is delighted that the registrar of voters verified our signatures in such a timely manner and looks forward to seeing whether the City Council will rescind its approval of the project or put it to a public vote," said Line in the Sand spokeswoman Jennifer McDonald.

The Museum House tower is slated to replace the Orange County Museum of Art at 850 San Clemente Drive. The museum would relocate to a site near the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, but the move is not finalized.

Line in the Sand organizers have contended that the proposed 100-unit, 295-foot-tall condo tower would present traffic problems for Newport Beach and set a precedent for more high-rise residences, transforming Newport into something like Los Angeles.

The Museum House's developer, Related California, has argued that the tower would be a world-class addition to Newport Center, generating more than $20 million for the city and schools through various fees Related would pay.

"We are clearly disappointed that the well-funded ​misinformation campaign against Museum House​​, which was fueled by a political action committee as well as undisclosed secret money,​ has qualified signatures for a referendum," Gino Canori, Related California's executive vice president, said in a statement.

It was unclear Wednesday how a lawsuit, filed in January by the Orange County Museum of Art, would affect Line in the Sand's certified petition. The museum has argued that the petition should be found invalid because the group did not comply with state election code.

"We support OCMA's court filing ​because rules matter and those promoting the referendum did not follow some of the most basic parts of California election law," Canori said.

Among the lawsuit's arguments are that the petition has small font, making it "virtually unreadable."

bradley.zint@latimes.com

Twitter: @BradleyZint

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