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High-Rise Petition Faces Challenge

Times Staff Writer

The developer of a controversial 37-story office tower in Santa Ana has asked an Orange County Superior Court judge to nullify signatures collected on a petition that could put the project’s future on the ballot.

Developer Mike Harrah filed the lawsuit against the city of Santa Ana, the Orange County registrar of voters and petition organizers.

Harrah said that those who signed the petition were not given enough information about the project to make an informed decision.

Petition organizers “didn’t present the truth of the project, only negative, and things that aren’t true instead of all the upside and what it will do for the future of the city,” he said. “The building will ... change the perception of the downtown Santa Ana area.”

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Orange County Superior Court Judge Steven L. Perk is expected to hear the case Friday.

The request is the latest salvo in an ongoing battle between Harrah, Santa Ana’s largest developer, and a small group of residents.

Some residents have said the One Broadway Plaza project would increase traffic congestion. Others called the project inappropriately large and out of character for the business district and the adjoining residential neighborhood.

In July, the City Council approved the $86-million office building, conceived by Harrah as a landmark to restore Santa Ana’s reputation as the county seat. The council voted 4 to 1 to approve the project and changed the city’s long-term plans for the area around the project, at Broadway and 10th Street.

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Opponents collected more than 14,000 signatures to put the project on the ballot. The Orange County registrar validated 8,475 names -- 10% of the registered voters in the city -- enough to qualify the petition for a special election.

Harrah’s attorney, John Ramirez, said signers should have been shown how the petition could affect the city’s planning. For example, voting against the tower would also be voting to plan for CenterLine, a commuter rail line, in the city’s mid-town and to keep some parcels as open space, he said.

Dan Wildish, an attorney for the opposition, said the full text of the city’s ordinance changing its plans for the area near the building site was attached to the petition, as required by law.

Paul Giles, a resident who collected signatures, said he believes “people had a plenty of information to make an informed decision. We asked people if they wanted to vote on whether this building should be built.”

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The building’s opponents are also suing the city and Harrah, alleging that the project’s environmental impact report does not adequately address traffic and other community costs.

Despite the legal battle, Harrah said he had two tenants ready to sign leases, although he would not release their names Tuesday. The two would occupy 75% of the 518,000-square-foot building, he said. The City Council has required Harrah to get commitments to occupy 50% of the building before construction.

If the judge does not nullify the petitions, the City Council on Monday will approve a date for a special election. The date is expected to be set in March.


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