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IRVINE : Protesters Picket Over Building Suit

January 22, 1992|TOM McQUEENEY

Seven members of an anti-development group picketed City Hall on Tuesday to protest what they consider an improper attempt to thwart their challenge of a recently approved 2,885-home development.

The small group of protesters marched briefly at the entrance to City Hall as City Council members arrived for a budget meeting.

Members of Irvine Citizens Against Overdevelopment picketed to show their anger at the City Council's decision last week to file a lawsuit that could stop a referendum vote on the Irvine Co.'s residential building plan, said Fred Schwartz, co-founder of the group. The group turned in a petition last month with 7,637 signatures of people opposed to the developer's Northwood 5 community, which the council approved in November.

"In the state of California, we have a right to petition our government when we feel our leaders have done something incorrect," Schwartz said. "It seems like our rights are being abridged."

The council voted unanimously last week to sue the group over the petition rather than schedule an election that would have asked voters to decide the fate of the Northwood 5 plan. The lawsuit will ask a judge to decide whether the council's approval of Northwood 5 can legally be challenged by a petition, City Manager Paul O. Brady Jr. said.

As of Tuesday, the city had not filed the suit, Brady said.

The problem with the anti-Northwood 5 petition is that it seeks to overturn the zoning law that allows the development, but it leaves intact the underlying provisions of the city growth blueprint, called the General Plan, according to City Atty. John L. Fellows III.

In 1985, the state Supreme Court determined that a petition filed in Norco to overturn a housing development was invalid for the same reason. The Norco petition, like the one filed in Irvine, sought to overturn the change to the city's zoning code without also changing the General Plan.

To have avoided the legal question, the Irvine group also should have attacked the General Plan, Fellows said.

Irvine will spend about $15,000 in legal fees questioning the petition, Brady said.

The city should not be spending that money in a time of tight budgets, Schwartz argued, who added that the city's suit also will force his group to raise money to hire its own attorney.

Council members, in approving the lawsuit last week, said legal action over the issue was almost inevitable.

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