City Must Pay Costs for SOAR Challenge

Moorpark taxpayers will foot the bill for a legal challenge that delayed appearance of a growth-control measure on the local ballot.

Under an order issued by Judge David W. Long last week, the city must pay $4,409 in legal expenses incurred by the county Libertarian Party. The group sued the city over an irregularity in signature-gathering for an initiative backed by the countywide group Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources.

Because of the suit, Moorpark's original SOAR initiative was removed from the November ballot. A second petition was validated by county elections officials last month, and a special election for the initiative is scheduled Jan. 12.

If the measure passes, voters would be asked to approve new developments that expand the city's boundaries.

While city councils in Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Oxnard, Santa Paula and Camarillo bypassed Libertarian Party challenges to similar initiatives by placing those measures on the ballot independent of the signatures, Moorpark's council did not, leaving it open to the lawsuit.

Councilman Chris Evans said the council acted appropriately and that blame for the legal expense lay with SOAR proponents who did not follow the rules in preparing their petition.

But SOAR leader Richard Francis said the council has wasted taxpayer money. In addition to the legal fees, the city will have to pay about $22,000 for a special election "when it can't afford to keep its parks open," Francis said.

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