Art museum sues in attempt to halt petition challenging Museum House condo tower

Art museum sues in attempt to halt petition challenging Museum House condo tower
The planned Museum House condominium tower is shown in the rear center of this rendering depicting the building in the existing Newport Center skyline. Fashion Island is in the foreground. (File illustration)

The Orange County Museum of Art has filed a lawsuit requesting that a Newport Beach activist group's petition challenging a 25-story condominium tower planned for the museum's current site in Newport Center be found invalid.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Orange County Superior Court, contends that Line in the Sand's petition calling for a public vote on the Museum House project does not comply with state elections law and should be found "deficient and voided," OCMA officials said in news release Tuesday evening.


"The democratic process only works if voters are presented with the facts and all parties follow California's mandatory election laws," OCMA Chief Executive and Director Todd Smith said in a statement. "Unfortunately, there were too many instances of non-compliance by Museum House opponents."

The petition is being reviewed by the Orange County registrar of voters office, which received it late last month.


Line in the Sand spokesman Tim Stoaks declined to comment about the lawsuit Tuesday.

OCMA officials contend the petition's problems include small font size throughout, making it "virtually unreadable."

In the news release, OCMA cites the expertise of Dr. Lawrence Stark, an associate professor at the Southern California College of Optometry who said the average text size was about 6.6 — less than the 8-point font required under state election law. Stark called the font "likely too small for fluent reading."

Each petition circulated contained about 1,000 pages but would have had thousands more had larger fonts been used, Line in the Sand organizers have said. The petitions contained many extra documents because of a City Council decision in late November, when the council first approved the 100-unit project.

OCMA alleges the petitions did not contain the full text of general plan amendments and omitted or visually altered required documents, namely maps that originally were in color but were changed to black-and-white.

In addition, OCMA alleges that signature-gatherers provided "objectively false information to voters," such as Museum House's location, its size and height, and permitted uses for OCMA's property.

Museum officials' concerns echo those raised in December by Museum House developer Related California.

The company hired Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, a Sacramento-based law firm that specializes in election matters, to review the referendum petition. The firm called its font too small and said it did not contain all the necessary documents.

OCMA, at 850 San Clemente Drive, is looking to move to a new site in Costa Mesa near the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. It plans to use money from Related California's planned purchase of the current site to help with the relocation.

Line in the Sand turned in 13,730 petition signatures Dec. 21 to the Newport Beach city clerk's office, which forwarded them to the registrar of voters for verification.

If the registrar verifies roughly 5,800 of the signatures, the matter will be sent to the City Council, which could put Museum House up for a citywide vote or rescind its approval of the project.

Twitter: @BradleyZint