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About-Face Is Ordered on Ballot Wording of Citizens’ Growth Issue

Times Staff Writer

Reversing a ruling made eight days ago, the San Diego city attorney’s office agreed Friday to recommend last-minute changes in the wording of two competing slow-growth measures that will be placed before city voters Nov. 8.

The recommended alterations, which must be approved by the San Diego City Council, came after a community organization sponsoring a slow-growth ballot initiative complained that the ballot summaries were heavily biased in favor of a rival measure placed on the ballot by the council.

Peter Navarro, a spokesman for Citizens for Limited Growth, said Friday that he is encouraged by some of the recommendations, but that they do not address all the group’s concerns.

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Navarro said that, unless the council agrees to place the title of his group’s plan, known as the “Quality of Life Initiative,” in the ballot summary language, his group will probably seek a court order to force the change.

“If (council members) simply go for a few cosmetic changes, then the intention of that is to try to weaken what is a very strong case before the courts,” Navarro said. “Clearly, if that’s all that happens, the voter would still be a confused loser, and the blame could be laid right at the doorstep of City Hall.”

The council placed its plan, Proposition H, and the citizens’ plan, Proposition J, on the ballot in an Aug. 9 vote that included approval of the summaries that voters will see in voting booths.

Both plans cap home building and restrict construction on the city’s remaining hillsides, wetlands, flood plains and canyons. The citizens’ initiative is stricter in both areas.

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Chief Deputy City Atty. Ted Bromfield, who rejected the citizen group’s bias claims eight days ago, said Friday that the titles of the rival growth-management plans will be discussed in a report to the council Tuesday that will include a full list of complaints by Citizens for Limited Growth. But he said that he would not recommend adding the title “Quality of Life Initiative” to the citizens’ measure.

“That’s not appropriate on a ballot . . . that is not a neutral ballot,” Bromfield said.

Dismissal Overruled

Bromfield’s Aug. 25 dismissal of at least three other claims made by Citizens for Limited Growth was overruled Friday by Assistant City Atty. Curtis Fitzpatrick, who said that the changes would be recommended in the interest of fairness.

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“As a legal issue, a pure and simple legal issue, we believe that our chances of prevailing in a court of law are quite good if they bring an action,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’re talking about fairness. We want to be as fair as we can.”

The recommendations will put the council members in a difficult situation. They must choose between adding language to the ballot summary that Citizens for Limited Growth believes strengthens its position on Nov. 8, or rejecting the advice of their own attorneys and facing an almost certain lawsuit from the group.

A spokesman for Mayor Maureen O’Connor said Friday that she had not seen the recommendations but would be willing to amend the ballot summaries if they are unfairly worded.

Councilman Bruce Henderson, one of the strongest council opponents of the citizens’ initiative, said: “I feel very strongly that, if the ballot summary is not fair, it is imperative that it be changed.”

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The report, being written by Bromfield, will recommend at least the following changes in the ballot summaries:

- That the city measure be amended to show that low-income housing and redevelopment areas are exempted from the building cap.

- That a section in the city plan on improvements in air quality, water supply, sewage treatment, trash disposal and traffic congestion be labeled “goals.” The section now refers to “regional standards.” In fact, the standards are merely targets for the city to strive for.

In the Quality of Life Initiative, home building is restricted to as few as 4,000 units a year until the city complies with standards in each of the five categories. Navarro has claimed that labeling the city’s targets “standards” is an attempt to confuse the two initiatives.

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- That the summary in the citizens’ plan be amended to explicitly list the five standards. The summary now refers to “standards as designated in the initiative.”

Because the report is a last-minute addition to the council’s Tuesday agenda, no vote on the changes can be taken until Sept. 12, the deadline for submitting amendments to the county registrar of voters. An official in that office has said that changes can be made after that date, but they will be increasingly costly and may not be included in all sample ballots if delays drag on toward Nov. 8.


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