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Martinez voters will face two proposals on open space use

MARTINEZ — Voters will now see two battling proposals on the June ballot in regards to city decisions about permitted uses of newly opened areas of open space and parks.
A recent last-minute court decision forced the City Council to place the Martinez Open Space and Park Preservation Initiative on the June 2018 ballot. The Initiative would require a public vote to approve City Council decisions that would change permitted uses of existing open space and parks to other uses. If it passes, it could also not be changed, except by another ballot initiative.
Remarking on the City Council’s legal efforts to keep the Initiative from going to a vote, City Attorney Jeffrey Walters of Walter & Pistole said, “A certain battle may have been lost, but the war has not yet been enjoined. We may not have to turn that page.”
At the March 7 meeting, Walter recommended the council approve another competing measure for the same ballot, and if it passes with the most votes, no further legal maneuvers will be needed.
The city’s measure, which resembles the Open Space and Park Preservation Initiative, would allow a public vote, but it only applies to publicly owned property and could be changed later by a vote of the council. If the city’s measure passes, there would be no public vote on the controversial 98-home development planned for the former Pine Meadow Golf Course, designated as open space/recreational permanent use for the past 40 years.
While neither the city’s measureor nore the voters’ initiative is focused directly on the 98-home DeNova Homes, Martinez Civic LLC development at 451 Vine Hill Way, that project was a catalyst for serious public opposition to a series similar past council approvals.
When the voter Initiative, with more than enough qualified signatures, was given to city officials in 2017. The city refused to put it on the ballot, on grounds that the Initiative was “fatally flawed.” Then Initiative supporters sued the city of Martinez to make the city do it.
The city countered with a suit requesting a judge to review the Initiative document and determine if it was suitable for a ballot. The city lost, and Walter explained why.
Procedural matters are considered before balloting and substantive ones are considered later. The city’s complaint claimed both types of defects, but the judge declined to make a determination on the latter, according to Walter.
With the Contra Costa County Elections Department deadline looming, city attorneys hastily prepared the city measure for a council for a vote last week. Councilwoman Lara Delaney said she had not seen the document until that night, and Walter responded, “It was completed only one hour before the meeting.”
Council approval of the city measure allows the mayor to write arguments for and against each proposed ordinance, and if both pass, the one with the most votes will prevail.
Councilman Mark Ross wanted assurances that the Initiative and the Measure be printed completely — they would not be summarized — in the voting materials.
Councilwoman Debbie McKillop wondered how many private properties could be impacted by the Initiative. Walter reported an estimate of possibly 600 parcels.
According to Councilwoman Noralea Gipner who spoke later, city attorneys told the council that any property touching an open space or park user-designated property could be impacted,.
“We all want to protect public property, but we don’t want private property touched,” Gipner said. “We are just trying to do the right thing.”
During public comment, some said that the ownership of property was technically a “bundle of rights” to use the property for certain purposes according to the deed and local laws.
Meanwhile, city legal costs are rising. The total for city attorney and consultant fees is unknown, but the council approved up to $100,000 for the internationally known law firm of Perkins and Coie, and election costs will be about $98,000, according to Walter. Only DeLaney had opposed spending city money on the legal fight, even if the Initiative contained defects.
In a related legal case, DeNova Homes, developer, and former golf course landowner Christine Dean (for Coward-Dean family), recently lost a court appeal, following a lawsuit against Friends of Pine Meadow group leaders. Those decisions called it a “SLAP” suit, intended to interfere with free speech, according to Tim Platt, one of the defendants.
Contact Dana Guzzetti at dguzzetti10@gmail.com or call 925-202-9292.

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