SAN FRANCISCO — The state Supreme Court has agreed to review a far-reaching challenge to the way Los Angeles and other California cities have obtained voter approval of low-income housing projects.
The justices, acting in a Berkeley case, said on Thursday that they will decide what information public agencies must provide voters about proposed projects.
Under review will be a state Court of Appeal ruling that California municipalities need not disclose specific details about such projects and that only "general voter approval" is required for their authorization.
The appeal court decision, issued in July, cleared the way for continued construction of 75 low-income units in Berkeley under 1977 and 1981 ballot measures authorizing 500 units.
Opponents of the construction appealed to the state Supreme Court, saying the process perpetrates "fraud" on the voters by denying them adequate information about the financing, design and location of the projects and by allowing cities to "stockpile" units to be developed as they wish.
A provision of the state Constitution adopted in 1950 says that no low-rent housing project shall be constructed without approval of the voters in the municipality in which it is to be built. But there is no provision stating just how much information must be provided about proposed projects.
Cities Tell Concerns
Attorneys for the City of Los Angeles, one of a number of municipalities and housing groups supporting the City of Berkeley in the case, expressed concern Thursday that a ruling by the state high court requiring highly detailed proposals could make it much more difficult to build low-income housing.
Deputy City Atty. Dov S. Lesel said that the cost of securing land, going to the voters with an exact plan and then revising those plans if necessary might make projects prohibitively expensive.
"The big concern is that nobody really wants low-income housing in their own neighborhoods," Lesel said.
"If the court rules in favor of Berkeley in this case, there'll be no change in the current process," he said. "But if it doesn't, the results could be very bad."
Los Angeles has used voter approval of generally worded measures in recent years as authorization to build up to 30,000 low-income units.
A ballot measure approved in 1980 called for the construction of 15,000 units, specified some height limitations and apportioned some units for the elderly. A set number of units were to be scattered evenly among Los Angeles' 15 council districts, but specific locations were not identified.
The court's order agreeing to hear the case was signed by Chief Justice Malcolm M. Lucas and Justices Stanley Mosk, John A. Arguelles and David N. Eagleson, the minimum number required for review.
In another action Thursday, the justices directed a state Court of Appeal in San Francisco to hear a test of the state's "shield law" for news reporters.
The case involves the refusal of Erin Hallisy, a reporter for the Contra Costa Times, to testify and produce notes about the unpublished portion of a jail interview with the defendant in a murder case.
A provision of the state Constitution enacted in 1980 protects reporters from being held in contempt for refusing to reveal confidential news sources or unpublished information they acquire while gathering news.
However, a Superior Court judge ruled that in Hallisy's case, that protection must yield to the defendant's right to a fair trial. The defendant has asked that the reporter be ordered to testify.
A Municipal Court judge ruled that Hallisy must go to jail if she continues to refuse to testify. But the state Supreme Court blocked Hallisy's jailing pending further review of the case and Hallisy will remain free while the issue is heard by the appeal court.