Both developers and Glendale officials remained optimistic this week after a judge postponed a decision on a lawsuit seeking to overthrow the city's 3-month-old building moratorium.
The developers and their attorney took heart from the judge's initial inclination to rule the moratorium invalid on technical grounds.
But the city's lawyer said the judge's decision to review the case more carefully before she makes a ruling should work in the city's favor. And the mayor said that even if the court lifts the moratorium, the City Council could reinstate it.
The building freeze was adopted unexpectedly Sept. 27 by the Glendale City Council as an emergency ordinance. City officials said the ordinance was passed to prevent an overflow of building applications while they rewrite their building and zoning codes.
A group of developers filed the lawsuit Nov. 21, claiming that the moratorium was illegal and unfair. At a Los Angeles Superior Court hearing Tuesday, the developers sought a preliminary injunction hearing that would lift the moratorium while the court battle is being fought.
Judge Miriam Vogel said she was inclined to agree with the developers who argued that the moratorium had expired. Under state law, emergency ordinances only last 45 days. She, however, pointed out that she did not plan to order the city of Glendale to issue building permits.
"The judge seemed to agree that the building projects in the pipeline are being held up illegally," said attorney Edwin Schrieber, who represents almost 20 developers with building projects stalled because of the moratorium.
"If the judge doesn't allow the building plans to go through, the city will benefit from an illegal act," he said.
Assistant City Atty. Scott Howard, on the other hand, said he expects the judge to change her mind once she reviews the case more thoroughly. "I am confident that once the judge gets into what the law stipulates, she will see that the plaintiffs' claims have no legal basis," he said.
Vogel took the case under submission for further review and will submit her ruling by mail, probably within 30 days.
Howard said the judge had not clearly under understood that in a charter city such as Glendale, provisions of the city charter take precedent over state law. "If the judge doesn't accept that the city charter preempts state law, we will definitely appeal." Howard contends that according to the city charter, Glendale is entitled to adopt emergency ordinances as it sees fit.
But Schrieber disputes this point. He said that according to the charter, the council is required to wait five days after the presentation of an ordinance before it is adopted, except in the case of a natural disasters such as earthquakes, fires or floods.
"The moratorium is void any way you look at it," Schrieber said. "It's either void upon inception, or it's void because the 45 days have expired."
About 20 developers and supporters of the Moratorium Litigation Committee, which filed the lawsuit, crowded the front rows of Vogel's court. Their faces reflected nervous optimism as they peppered Schrieber with technical questions after the hearing.
"It was very encouraging," said Razmik Grigorian, the treasurer of the Glandale Fair Growth Coalition, a developer consortium that is spearheading the opposition to the moratorium. "I wish the judge had made a final decision to lift the moratorium, but from what I heard in court, we have a good chance."
But at Glendale City Hall, nobody was ready to concede defeat. "All I know is that the judge has to do more studying before making a decision," said Councilwoman Ginger Bremberg, who added that she will support the appeal of any decision against the city.
Mayor Carl Raggio was equally as firm in his commitment to defend the moratorium with every legal recourse available. He speculated that "if the court orders us to lift the moratorium, I may very well enact another one."