Museum House foes say they’re prepared to turn in petition signatures
Leaders of a petition campaign calling for a referendum on a planned 25-story luxury condominium tower in Newport Beach announced Tuesday that they have gathered enough signatures and will soon turn them in to the city clerk.
“Due to our extraordinary team effort, it looks like we’ve done remarkably well,” Susan Skinner, organizer for petition sponsor Line in the Sand, said in a statement. “We are in the process of counting the signatures we have in hand and will make a decision about the exact date and time of delivery shortly.”
Line in the Sand, the political arm of activist group Still Protecting Our Newport, needs 5,800 verified signatures from local voters to potentially bring the 100-unit Museum House project to a public vote. The group is seeking to overturn the City Council’s Nov. 29 approval of the tower, which would replace the Orange County Museum of Art at 850 San Clemente Drive in Newport Center.
The museum plans to move near the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, though that process is not finalized.
Once the petition signatures are submitted, the Orange County registrar of voters office would determine whether the required number of valid ones has been met. If so, the City Council could call for a special election, schedule the matter for the next city general election in 2018 or rescind its approval of the project.
Soon after Skinner’s statement Tuesday, an executive with Museum House developer Related California alleged that Line in the Sand’s petition effort doesn’t comply with state elections code.
Gino Canori, Related’s executive vice president of development, said his company sought the help of Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk — a Sacramento-based law firm that specializes in election matters — which reviewed the referendum petition and submitted its findings to city officials Monday for further analysis.
“Based on their findings, we believe the referendum petition should be rejected because of its failure to comply with the California elections code’s mandatory requirements,” Canori said in a statement. “We are especially concerned that most of the petition is completely illegible. How can people be asked to sign a petition that is unreadable?
“At its heart, the petition is an informational document. Our attorneys have never seen a petition that is formatted like this one — where every page is essentially scaled down to one-half or smaller of its original size. Additionally, the referendum petition does not contain the ‘full text’ of the City Council’s action that is subject of the referendum.”
Line in the Sand organizers have said that in order to comply with state law and attach all the necessary documents to their petition, they reformatted the documents to make them fit on about 1,000 pages — weighing 10 pounds — instead of having 4,000 or 5,000 pages.
But Canori said: “The rules that govern the circulation of petitions in California are there for a reason. Efficiency over compliance is not a reason to skirt the laws.”
Canori also alleged that Museum House opponents have made false statements about the project, which Related says would not significantly affect traffic in Newport Center and would contribute millions of dollars in tax revenue toward a variety of public benefits.
Tim Stoaks, a spokesman for Line in the Sand, said Tuesday afternoon that he couldn’t comment about Canori’s statements because he hadn’t yet reviewed them.
Line in the Sand has alleged that people working on behalf of Museum House have been deceptive in their tactics and combative toward people gathering signatures for the referendum petition.
The Irvine Co. sued Related California earlier this month, contending that some of its supporters were conducting Museum House-related activities on Irvine Co. properties without permission and creating a “hostile environment” for shoppers.