Tomorrow morning, November 26, attorneys representing shipbuilders will sit side-by-side with attorneys from the City of San Diego with the goal of defeating a motion to delay the validation of a referendum that challenges the community plan update for Barrio Logan.
The restraining order and lawsuit, filed by lawyers representing the Environmental Health Coalition, is meant to buy the time needed to ensure that residents who signed the petition were not misled by statements that the Navy would leave San Diego if the community plan update was not overturned.
One interesting aspect of the case, however, is that the city's own attorneys will be sitting alongside lawyers for the shipbuilders who are fighting to overturn the city council's land-use decisions instead of supporting the council's decision and placing a hold on the referendum until the merits are validated.
It wouldn't be the first time San Diego's city attorney has had to ensure the accuracy of a petition drive before placing a referendum on the ballot.
In January of 1997, then-city attorney Casey Gwinn released a memo on the need of the city and its attorneys to ensure the "integrity of the referendum process." The memo at the time focused on an effort to overturn public financing for more than $60 million in improvements to then-Jack Murphy Stadium in exchange for guarantees from the Chargers that they would extend their lease.
"A referendary petition must accurately and fully advise the prospective signer of the nature and substance of the act to be referended, the purpose of this requirement being "to reduce confusion as to the contents of referendum petitions and to promote the full enlightenment of prospective signers of the substantive provisions of a challenged ordinance," reads the 1997 memo.
In his memo, Gwinn stated the importance of making sure residents, as well as any special-interest groups, have access to the ballot by way of referendum in order to overturn or amend legislative decisions.
"We recognize that our advice herein may result in the issuance of a notice of insufficiency as to this referendary effort, despite the fact that over 50,000 signatures appear on the petitions."
But Gwinn's memo is not the only precedent Goldsmith could use. In 1983, a Superior Court Judge (Board of Supervisors v. Superior Court, 147 Cal. App. 3d 206 -1983) ruled that signatures on a referendum should be invalidated after claims were made that parties were misled.
Yet despite the ruling and the presence of legal precedent as shown in Gwinn's memo, Goldsmith appears to be willing to fight in favor of the referendum.
Attorneys for the city will appear in court room 69 at 9:00 a.m.
The City Attorney's Office did not respond to questions about the 1997 memo or to questions regarding the accuracy of the referendum.