The 4th District Court of Appeal on Friday rejected a request to block a $104-million developer fee program in Irvine that will help pay for the construction of three freeways, raising the possibility that opponents of the program will launch a referendum campaign.
Without comment, the court denied a petition from the Committee of Seven Thousand to delay the fee program pending full appellate review of an initiative circulated by the committee. That initiative would require that all new major road fee programs be placed on the ballot for a citywide vote.
The initiative, known as the Citizens Right to Vote ordinance, was ruled invalid by a Superior Court judge in August on a challenge by a coalition of business and development industry groups. The court supported the coalition's claim that individual cities should not be allowed to block funding programs for freeways, which are state highways of regional importance.
Irvine's participation is critical to the developer fee program, which would raise about half the money needed to build the San Joaquin Hills, Foothill and Eastern freeways because about a fourth of all the fees collected would come from Irvine. The Irvine City Council adopted the fee program early Wednesday, but its action will not become official until the ordinance is passed on second reading Oct. 22.
The Committee of Seven Thousand, which collected signatures from 22% of Irvine's registered voters for its "right-to-vote" initiative, had argued that the city should not be allowed to impose the fees until the appellate court has a chance to fully review the committee's appeal. That could take several months.
Irvine Councilman Larry Agran, who co-drafted the initiative and voted against the fee program this week, said he was "not at all surprised" by the court's refusal to grant the stay, which, he said, was a "highly unusual" legal maneuver.
He said committee members will decide over the weekend whether to launch a referendum campaign to allow voters to decide directly on the fee program adopted by the council this week.
To qualify for the ballot, signatures from 10% of the city's registered voters--or about 4,700 valid signatures--would have to be gathered within a 30-day period.
"I'm sure it's do-able," Agran said. "The question is whether it would have impact on the litigation, what kind of impact it might have, and whether considering the burden of gathering the signatures, it would be worth it."
Spokesmen for the City Council majority could not be reached for comment late Friday.