City Council could weigh own ballot initiative and reject Fagan referendum

March 03, 2006
Santa Paula City Council

Rick Bianchi, Centex Homes, talks to the media and supporters about their new plan for a Fagan Canyon vote. Photo by Don Johnson

By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula TimesWhat was intended to be the Fagan Canyon Neighborhood Information Center just could become the East Main Street campaign headquarters of the ballot measure deciding the future of the development. But it will not be the measure crafted by Fagan Canyon development opponents We CARE if the City Council responds to requests to forego the disputed referendum and place their own measure on the ballot, a move that would still allow voters to decide the issue.In December, the City Council approved the Fagan Canyon development plan of 2,147 dwelling units, two elementary schools, a Future Farmers of America facility, 60 acres of parks, 900 acres of open space and 25,000 square feet of retail space in the canyon that hugs the city’s northern border. The plan resulted from about three years of meetings between Centex Homes and the community – including a seven-day planning charrette - as well as Planning Commission and Council hearings.We CARE was formally organized about one-year ago, based primarily on concerns over traffic impacts and the affordable housing that would be included in the development. Last year, We CARE was able to collect enough signatures for a land-use measure that would have put major residential and commercial development over 80-contiguous acres each five year period to the test of voters. City Clerk Josie Herrera rejected the measure due to omission of content, a decision upheld by the courts.We CARE decided instead to concentrate on the development itself, and earlier this year was successful in garnering enough signatures to place the referendum on the ballot. Although Herrera certified the petition, she notified We CARE that it had several serious flaws, the basis of a lawsuit filed by Centex against the City Clerk and We CARE.Just Monday, Judge Frederick Bysshe said that, although the referendum was imperfect, he was inclined to side with WE CARE and allow the referendum to appear on the June ballot. Bysshe said he would issue a written ruling this week, not released as of press deadline Thursday.
Fagan Canyon development supporters will overcome their objections to ballot box planning and be asking the City Council at the March 6 meeting to forego the We CARE referendum and instead place their own development initiative on the June ballot. “People will be able to say yes or no; in both cases the people decide,” said Centex Project Manager Rick Bianchi. In addition, a Council initiative would probably diffuse the divisiveness that has surrounded the issue, noted Bianchi.Although Bianchi believes that the flaws in the referendum warranted the petition’s court rejection, “We have to abide by the judge’s decision…. We could file an appeal, but we’d rather see the Council do this initiative on their own terms, not on We CARE’s terms.”John Billig of We CARE, the lone signer of the submittal of the petition that was the focus of the Centex referendum lawsuit, could not be reached for comment by press deadline.

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