From left, Arleen Hammerschmidt, Kathryn Carbone, and Patte Hughes are “real parties in interest” with two lawsuits filed by North River Farms.
AUG. 22 UPDATE
A court trial that was thought to last for weeks was terminated after only about one hour Friday August 21 when a Vista Superior Court judge issued a ruling that immediately snuffed a suit against the city of Oceanside’s City Clerk and three petition gatherers for their part in successfully getting an anti-North River Farms measure on the November ballot.
Plaintiff Barbara Hazlett’s attorney Bradley Hertz claimed that the petition collectors used fraud to collect more than 12500 signatures in December in an effort to beat back North River Farms.
That successful referendum forced the question of whether the North River Farms development should be built onto the November ballot. Judge Gregory Pollack ruled that it is certainly believable that a city of 178,000 could produce such an “army” of 125 petition gatherers to fight the 585-unit housing project planned for 214 Oceanside acres currently zoned agricultural.
Hertz alleged, among other things, that there was no way the citizens could have gotten that many signatures in less than 30 days, and therefore the referendum must have been a fraud.
Judge Pollack said he spent seven hours personally going over the petitions and said he could find none of the fraud that Hertz alleged. “I spent a lot of time on five boxes and 343 packets. Boy, I went through each packet and what I found was signatures that were not consistent with forgery…It really just smacks of a legitimate referendum process.”
Pollack ruled the suit was baseless. “Basically what we have here is a hunting dog that doesn’t hunt,” he told Hertz.
The question of whether North River Farms should be built will appear on the ballot as Measure L. If a majority votes No on L, the North River Farms project will be aborted.
“What you have alleged is contradicted by the available evidence,” Judge Pollack told Hertz. He also told Hertz the “…in camera review sorely backfired your position.” Hertz also said that the petition signature pages themselves were too neat and clean to have been used by average citizens. “There were too many oddball occurrences to think [the signature collection] was legitimate,” said Hertz.
“You have thrown mud on the wall to see what sticks,” said Pollack. In a bizarre retort, Hertz said he thought the suit and its allegations of fraud was “More like throwing water against the wall than mud.”
Judge Pollack made it clear he wanted the defendants, including retired school teacher Arleen Hammerschmidt, law student Kathryn Carbonne, single mom Patte Hughes and the City of Oceanside to be repaid for their legal costs. However, it is unclear who must pay those costs. The official plaintiff was Barbara Hazlett, the 91-year-old president of the Republican Club of Ocean Hills. Hazlett was not present in court. She was referred to as a “shill” by the defense who maintained that she was nothing but a front for the developer, Integral Communities of Newport Beach.
This means that Hazlett could be on the hook for as much as $50,000 to $60,000 in legal fees. Judge Pollock expressed doubts that Hazlett was actually the real plaintiff who was responsible for the suit. Hazlett has previously said she would have no comment on this suit.
A press release from the No on L group said the following in a press release: “This is part of the long-standing pattern of unethical behavior from the developer. They have tried to harass, bully and intimidate opponents of their project. The developer is doing everything they can to subvert the will of the people. Opponents of the North River Farms project urge a No on L vote.”
[End of update]
Original Aug. 11 story:
Newport Beach developer Integral Communities may have sensed that things weren’t going well when Oceanside locals turned in 12,500 signatures in December to force a public vote on their already approved 585-home, 214-acre development on Oceanside farmland. That created Measure L which would turn back the council vote and squash North River Farms.
A month later, a lawsuit was filed against three citizen activists who helped spearhead the signature gathering. Retired school teacher Arleen Hammerschmidt, law student Kathryn Carbonne and single mom Patte Hughes had to come up with thousands of dollars personally to defend themselves. Although that trial begins August 21, some close to the activists say things looked bad for Integral when on July 6 judge Gregory Pollack released a letter that said the signatures were valid. Forgery and fraud were key issue named in the suit.
Eleven days after that letter, Integral filed a second lawsuit, again naming the three activists, who must now scramble to cover retainer fees to defend themselves again. The question remains, why another suit?
Hammerschidt, Carbonne and Hughes would not comment. But some insiders with close ties to the lawsuit say that if the trio would simply agree to take Measure L off the ballot, then Integral would modify the North River Farms project and take them off the legal hook in both lawsuits. “They said they would knock off 60 houses, build more affordable units, put up solar panels, and make a monetary contribution of $1 million to an environmental charity,” says the insider who declined to be identified.
Oceanside City Clerk Zeb Navarro says that it is his understanding that a court order could get Measure L removed from the ballot up to the day that it goes to press which is August 28.
If the three activists agreed to take Measure L off the ballot, they were told they would no longer face mounting legal fees from the two suits.
“They told [North River Farms] to pound sand,” says the insider. “Apparently [Integral] knows they are going to lose big at the ballot box and they see this as their only way to keep North River Farms on the map. This is a last-ditch Hail Mary legal play.”
The official plaintiff of the first lawsuit was listed as Barbara Hazlett, the 91-year-old president of the Republican Club of Ocean Hills.
“She is what you would call a shill plaintiff,” says the insider about Hazlett. “The developer finds a shill and then butters them up. The last time they used a shill plaintiff like this was in Redondo Beach and it blew up in their face.”
In 2016 the Redondo Beach city council approved a 525,000-square-foot mall on the waterfront near its recreational harbor. “The project was approved by the city council against massive public objection,” says Wayne Craig, a real estate agent who beat back the project with a group called Rescue Our Waterfront. “Our slogan was ‘revitalize not supersize.’ The developer, CenterCal, gave tens of thousands of dollars to political action committees run by the Chamber of Commerce and firefighters. They in turn paid to support candidates who were in support of the mall.”
But in spite of spending more than $600,000, developer CenterCal lost to Rescue Our Waterfront with a 2017 no-on-the-mall ballot measure that passed by 14 percentage points. Pro-mall supporter Mayor Steve Aspell was voted out.
But CenterCal sued Craig and current Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand and a second councilmember. That suit has similarities to the first suit against Hammerschmidt, Carbonne, and Hughes.
Bradley Hertz, an election lawyer with the Sutton Law Firm, represented the developers with both the Redondo Beach and first Oceanside suit.
“They had two individuals set up as the plaintiffs who claimed they were paying for the legal fees,” says Craig about the Redondo Beach suit. “But the judge called up attorney Hertz himself to the stand which is highly unusual. Hertz had to admit under oath that the developer [CenterCal] was actually paying for the legal costs. The judge actually said that they were shills for a sham lawsuit. We won the case and the judge ordered the plaintiffs to pay almost $900,000 for our legal fees.” Craig says CenterCal has appealed but Craig is confident his side will prevail. “With interest and additional fees it comes up to $1.5million.”
Bill Brand, who was elected Redondo Beach mayor following his work with Rescue Our Waterfront, says, like Craig, if he had lost the court case, he would personally be out of tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.
“I got married right after that, and my wife and I had to keep our financial assets totally separate,” says Brand. “They are nasty people.”
Attorney Bradley Hertz did not respond to requests for comment. When contacted by phone on August 10 about her involvement in the case or its status, Oceanside’s Barbara Hazlett said she would have no comment.
Like CenterCal in Redondo Beach, Integral/North River Farms is greasing the wheels in Oceanside. It has given $263,520 to a PAC called “Oceansiders for Jobs, Health, and Safety. Sponsored by the North River Farms Owners.” It is administered by public relations executive Tony Manolatos.
When asked who exactly belonged to the group, Manolatos did not name specific names but said “The Yes on L coalition includes local farmers, firefighters, community and business leaders, including the Oceanside Firefighters Association, the Chamber of Commerce, and others.”
Emailed questions to North River Farms project manager Ninia Hammond were not returned.
The second lawsuit, filed by the Carlsbad firm Tatzke Dillon & Balance, mentions a new California code 66300 which limits the electorate from reducing the size of housing developments through the initiative or referendum process. It is unclear if that will have an impact since the Measure L petitions were turned in last year and the new law went into effect January 1, 2020.