Commentary: Museum House petition process has been unnecessarily burdensome

In just a few days, Newport Beach residents gathered 13,730 signatures to require a public vote on the Museum House condominium tower project.

More people signed the petition than voted for City Council members Scott Peotter (11,920) or Kevin Muldoon (11,768).

It is also clear to observers of this process that, if needed, twice this number of signatures could have been obtained.

This accomplishment is all the more remarkable in light of the unprecedented deceitful media campaign, including intimidation of petition circulators and signers. Peotter launched a series of personal attacks on petition supporters.

The City Council attempted to suppress the people's right to petition by requiring thousands of unnecessary pages such as the environmental impact report and random staff report exhibits to be included in the petitions. This made them weigh more than 10 pounds each and cost thousands of dollars to print. It didn't work.

Now project supporters are alleging that the petitions are deficient because some maps are in black and white instead of color and the EIR was not printed in large enough type. Really?

If the City Council were to reject the petitions for these reasons, it would require a breathtaking display of arrogance and contempt for the city's residents.

The council now must print and mail 10-pound ballot pamphlets (20 pounds if you accept the arguments of project sponsors), to 57,020 registered voters. An election that would have cost less than $200,000 will now cost in the millions.

This waste of taxpayer dollars is the responsibility of those council members — including the four remaining after the November election — who required all the extra pages to frustrate the petition process.

The new council can avoid these costs by rescinding the approvals for the project.

Ironically, the project has many positive attributes and could have competed well on its merits. Museum House supporters should be asking some hard questions of their political consultants.

KEITH CURRY is a former mayor of Newport Beach who recently left the council because of term limits.

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