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Councilwoman's involvement in growth-control initiative raises questions she calls 'political silliness'

Councilwoman's involvement in growth-control initiative raises questions she calls 'political silliness'

Two of Councilwoman Sandy Genis' colleagues on the Costa Mesa City Council have raised questions about her role in developing a proposed local growth-control initiative, though she dismissed the concerns as "political silliness."

"Why is it relevant?" she asked in an interview Tuesday. "I mean, after all, it wasn't a secret that I was on a street corner holding a sign that said 'Sign the petition' one afternoon."

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The initiative in question, pushed by the group Costa Mesa First, would make some larger development projects in Costa Mesa obtain approval from local voters, not just the City Council, to move forward.

Projects that would need voters' OK, should the initiative pass, are those requiring a general plan amendment or zoning change that also entail construction of 40 or more dwelling units or at least 10,000 square feet of commercial space or generate more than 200 average daily vehicle trips.

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Genis helped circulate a petition aiming to get the initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot and said she provided proponents "a little bit of direction early on."

The measure collected the required number of signatures, though the City Council still must vote to place it on the ballot. The council last week delayed the vote pending a report due April 5 about the measure's possible ramifications.

"It's a citizen-written initiative," Genis said, "but it's no secret that I support it."

Mayor Steve Mensinger and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer — both of whom have spoken against the initiative — questioned Genis about her involvement during last week's council meeting.

"I don't think legally there's a conflict there; you can be part of it," Righeimer said in an interview Monday. "I just think the fact that she kind of never brought up that she was involved in this was problematic."

Mensinger said the situation "raises all kinds of questions that our city attorney will have to address."

City Council members in California are not barred from participating in initiative efforts as long as they do so on their own time and don't use public money or city resources unavailable to other residents, said Patrick Whitnell, general counsel for the League of California Cities.

"As long as there's no financial interest involved and there's no public money being improperly used, it's really just a political issue," Whitnell said Tuesday.

At their April 5 meeting, council members are expected to discuss the idea of developing a competing, potentially less restrictive growth initiative to add to the ballot in November.

"If I was her (Genis), I would not be a part of the vote for the competing initiative," said Righeimer, who suggested exploring another ballot measure.

Genis said she doesn't think it would be improper for her to participate in that discussion.

"If the thought is to have something that's better than what's been circulated by the residents, then I would say it's highly appropriate for me to participate," she said. "If, on the other hand, it's a political ploy to kill the resident-circulated initiative, then I would say that's something that shouldn't even be pursued by the council and shouldn't consume any other staff time."

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