Oak to Ninth lawsuit dropped!

The Oakland City Council approved the 3100 unit Oak to Ninth development in July of last year. A month later, a coalition made up of the Oakland Heritage Alliance, the League of Women Voters, the Sierra Club, and several other groups submitted 25,000 signatures to bring the project to a vote before the entire city. On September 7th, 2006, Oakland City Attorney John Russo directed the City Clerk to invalidate their petition because the group had failed to comply with state laws governing referendums. The future of referendum has been tied up in court for the last year. Russo announced today that the referendum committee has agreed to drop their suit over his decision to invalidate the petition.

This means that the development will never come before the voters. But the project isn’t in the clear just yet. Two lawsuits dealing with the Environmental Impact Report are still pending.

Ultimately, the group was simply unable to raise the funds needed to continue fighting. Stuart Flashman, attorney for the referendum committee, told Novometro’s Alex Gronke “If we were all billionaires, we’d still be in court.”

Below, I’ve reprinted the press release sent out by Russo’s office:

After more than a year of litigation, the Oak to Ninth Referendum Committee announced Friday it will voluntarily dismiss its lawsuit against the City next week – just a few weeks before a December 4 court hearing where a judge was to determine the validity of the Committee’s case.

“This case was not about the Oak to Ninth development,” Oakland City Attorney John Russo said Friday. “The City’s defense was always about the public’s right to transparency and fairness in the democratic process.”

The case started after the City Council voted in 2006 to approve a plan to turn a stretch of formerly industrial land between Oak and Ninth streets into 30 acres of parks with public access to the Oakland waterfront, 69,000 square feet of commercial space and 3,100 condos and apartments, including some that would be affordable to families earning between $25,000 and $50,000 a year. Much of the land is now run down, blighted and heavily contaminated, with no parks or real waterfront access.

In an effort to block the development, the Oak to Ninth Referendum Committee spent more than $40,000 to collect signatures for a referendum. However, the signature drive used an incomplete and misleading version of the Council’s ordinance – one that gave incorrect information about important issues such as open space and public access to the waterfront. A committee leader admitted under oath that they knew they were using an incomplete draft of the ordinance.

Because the Referendum Committee violated state election law by giving voters the wrong documents, the City rejected its petition on the advice of City Attorney Russo.

State law also required signature gatherers to be Oakland residents. Discovery revealed that some out-of-town signature gatherers lied under oath by claiming that they lived in Oakland.

The Referendum Committee sued the City in September 2006. Since that time plaintiffs have lost nine separate motions in court (see attached history of motions in this case). Plaintiffs have now chosen to dismiss the case “with prejudice” rather than have another day in court.

“The Referendum Committee has repeatedly tried to keep the public from knowing the facts of this case,” City Attorney Russo said. “Now, just before they have a chance to argue their case in court, they announce their intention to dismiss. That says a lot about the validity of this lawsuit.”