Padilla relents, wants eminent domain on ballot: San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune, 2/18/06

Measure would limit what Chula Vista could condemn

By Janine Zúñiga

[Chula Vista CA] Mayor Steve Padilla announced yesterday that he would ask fellow council members on Tuesday to place an eminent domain measure on the June ballot.

If the City Council votes to place the measure on the ballot, which Padilla had initially opposed, a group that has been organizing a ballot petition will not have to scramble to add more signatures the city said were required.

After Padilla's announcement, Councilmen Steve Castaneda and Jim McCann issued a joint press release urging the City Council to “act in good faith and allow the initiative to move forward.”

A few hours later, Councilman Jerry Rindone released a memo to the City Council saying he also would propose placing the initiative on the ballot.

The measure would limit the city's eminent domain authority by requiring the city to use its powers of condemnation only for public use, such as building a school.

It also would require the city to keep eminent domain properties it acquires for at least 10 years before selling them.

Despite his own reservations about the measure, Padilla said he thought placing the measure on the ballot was the right thing to do.

“There was confusion about it and, at this point, it doesn't do the community any good to haggle about it,” Padilla said yesterday. “Thousands of people signed the petition and they want to vote on it. In keeping trust with the public, it's important to support their wishes.”

The confusion began two weeks ago when Chula Vistans for Private Property Protection submitted signatures for the measure to the city clerk but fell short by 236 registered voters. Members of the group turned in 14,195 signatures, safely more than the 10,000 they thought they needed to make a March 10 deadline to qualify for the June ballot.

But the City Clerk's Office told the group that this particular type of measure required signatures from 15 percent of registered Chula Vista voters, or 14,431 signatures. At the time, the clerk said the group could not resubmit or add more signatures. Then Wednesday, city attorneys decided to allow the group to add more signatures.

Castaneda said yesterday he was pleased the mayor was “finally seeing the light.” He said that had the group been told the correct number of required signatures in the first place, the council would have been compelled to place the measure on the ballot.

“This continues to divide the community and we need to heal it,” said Castaneda, who announced Wednesday that he was running for mayor.

McCann, who is running for re-election, and Castaneda said the group clearly has shown that residents want to see the initiative on the ballot, as demonstrated by the signatures of more than 14,000 people.

Councilwoman Patricia Chavez said yesterday she also supported placing the measure on the June ballot. She is running for a council seat in June.

Padilla, who announced in December that he would seek a second term, said he was concerned that if the measure was flawed it could be ruled invalid, leading to potential lawsuits.

Still, he said, he no longer wants to delay a vote before the council. He will bring up the issue at Tuesday's meeting.

Chula Vistans for Private Property Protection said in a statement released yesterday, likely before the mayor's news release, that it has redrafted and submitted the text of the measure as a “people's ordinance” that would “force” city officials to place the issue on the ballot with the signatures of only 10 percent of registered voters.

Steve Haskins, an attorney representing the group, did not return a call seeking comment yesterday.

City Clerk Susan Bigelow confirmed that the group filed a notice of intent Feb. 10 to circulate an initiative petition.

The group's statement also said the city clerk's recent actions regarding the handling of the petition “are only the latest in a pattern of efforts by city officials to frustrate reform efforts and block ballot access.”

Bigelow said it was her job to uphold the state Elections Code and that the initial signatures were rejected “solely because they did not comply with the number required to place a charter measure on the ballot.”

Bigelow said she was never asked by anyone from the group what was required for their particular measure and that the group followed the wrong process.

San Diego Union-Tribune: www.signonsandiego.com