Judge Upholds Vote for Vista Redevelopment

Times Staff Writer

A Superior Court judge on Monday rejected the claims of a citizens' group seeking to invalidate the city's controversial redevelopment ordinance and ruled that ballots were not tampered with during a recount.

Judge Lawrence Kapiloff dismissed the suit brought by Vistans for Honest Government. The group had alleged that during a recount for November's Proposition K, ballots "were inappropriately handled" and their "security compromised by being left unattended."

Kapiloff found that there was "nowhere near the evidence one ought to find to turn an election over" and said, "I can find nothing (in the evidence) that can be considered irregular."

The ruling also lifted a temporary restraining order that had barred the Vista City Council from formally adopting the redevelopment ordinance.

Monday's court decision appeared to deal a final blow to the efforts of a group of slow-growth advocates to have the election overturned. It also paves the way for the formation of a redevelopment agency that city officials hope will restore the city's dilapidated downtown.

"We are very happy with the ruling," Vista City Manager Morris Vance said. "The next step is to get everything implemented. The council must first adopt the ordinance and I assume that could happen as early as the next council meeting (next Tuesday).

"There are many things that need to be done in this city, and I would hope that both sides on this issue can get together and heal the wounds this has created."

Patsy Filo, president of Vistans for Honest Government, said her group will not appeal the ruling but will start an initiative drive to dismantle the redevelopment ordinance in the next election.

"We will go back to the streets to get an initiative to take Proposition K off," Filo said. "That is what the people have wanted all along. This has become a political war in this city."

Proposition K originally failed by one vote on election night, and its margin of defeat widened by three votes after officials found 40 absentee ballots that had not been counted.

Because of the close finish, Mayor Mike Flick, who supported redevelopment, asked for a recount. That recount yielded a tie, 3,726 "yes" votes and 3,726 "no" votes, but the measure still failed because it needed a majority to pass under state law.

Flick then challenged six of 68 ballots that San Diego County Registrar of Voters Ray Ortiz had disqualified because the voter's intent could not be determined. On Dec. 23, Superior Court Judge F.V. Lopardo ruled that four of the disputed ballots should be counted as "yes" votes. Proposition K was then deClared a winner.

In January, attorneys representing Vistans for Honest Government asked the court to overturn Proposition K on grounds that city officials violated the California Election Code by not placing the full text of the ordinance on the ballot. Kapiloff rejected that claim, saying that the challenge was based on "the flimsiest of technicalities."

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