The Oak to Ninth Referendum Committee officially withdraws their lawsuit against the City today. Throughout the process, the Referendum Committee has tried to cloud the issue, ignoring accusations that they failed to comply with the laws governing referendums (by hiring out of town signature gatherers, by failing to provide a complete or accurate version of the ordinance they were referending, and by lying to residents in order to obtain signatures), and claiming instead that the City is simply afraid of the project coming to a public vote.
Referendum Committee lawyer Stuart Flashman sent out a press release on the issue. The following text is taken from his statement:
Briefly, we would have liked to have litigated the suit on its merits, because we think it raises serious questions about how the City of Oakland (and perhaps other cities) conducts the public’s business. However, the developer involved, Oakland Harbor Partners, successfully injected other extraneous issues into the case (notably, whether the petition was circulated by non-Oakland residents [violating a state law which we believe, based on Supreme Court precedent, is unconstitutional], and whether petition circulators made “false and misleading statements” to potential signers [an issue that would not only be almost impossible to prove, but would violate the basic right of political free speech]). The trial court refused to remove these issues from the case, and the developer then used them to force many costly depositions and other discovery requests, essentially “papering” the case to death.
I’m not an attorney, so I don’t know about proving things in court, but I can say with certainty that they lied to me. I was told on one occasion by a petitioner that the project would “destroy public parkland,” which is patently false. I was told by another petitioner that the development included no parkland. Again, this is simply not true. When I told him that he was wrong, and that the Oak to Ninth development included 30 acres of parks, he told me that this was a lie being spread by the developer. I asked if he had proof, for example, a map of the proposed development to show me, since I had seen the map when I had personally reviewed the ordinance, and he said that he had no map. dto510 documented at the time that the petition drive’s flyer contained several false and misleading statements, and personally relayed to me lies that signature gatherers told him. Perhaps he would be kind enough to share these in the comments.
But whether they lied or not is not what concerns me about Flashman’s statement. I am highly disturbed by the implications of the line “an issue that would not only be almost impossible to prove, but would violate the basic right of political free speech.” I can see no other way to read that other than Flashman asserting that petitioners have a constitutionally protected right to lie about the documents they are asking people to sign. The idea is chilling. Remember that this man is speaking on behalf of Oakland’s League of Women Voters, who he represents in this action. This is a board member of the Rockridge Community Planning Council. And he’s saying that when trying to reverse decisions made by elected officials, it is not just okay, but a “basic political right” to lie about what those decisions are. Shocking!