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Cypress Suing to Block Initiative

Development: At stake is church property that officials want to sell to a retailer. Ballot measure seeks to reverse city's condemnation of land.

July 12, 2002|EVAN HALPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cypress city officials have filed suit in Superior Court to throw out a ballot initiative aimed at reversing a city decision that condemned land owned by a church so a Costco or other "big box" retailer can be built.

The city redevelopment agency voted in May to toss Cottonwood Christian Center off 18 acres at the intersection of Walker Street and Katella Avenue, where it had planned to build a "mega-church" for its 4,000 members. That prompted a group called Citizens for Property Rights to launch a petition drive to bring the matter before voters.

The group presented the city with more than 4,000 signatures, typically enough to force a public vote on a city matter.

But Cypress officials say redevelopment agency actions are exempt from such ballot initiatives and cannot be overturned by a popular vote.

"We would be denigrating the entire referendum process by putting this on the ballot," City Atty. William Wynder said. "We would just get into trouble with the courts."

Church supporters call the city's lawsuit an affront to democracy.

"It is outrageous that the city will take the opinion of thousands of voters and kick it to the curb," said Scott Aanonson, spokesman for the citizens group. "I'm not sure what the city is afraid of. They must be afraid they are going to lose this vote."

He disputes the city's claim that putting the issue on the ballot would be illegal. "The courts haven't made a decision on this kind of initiative in the past," he said. "There is no legal precedent for this."

Cottonwood bought the land in 1999 with the intention of building a 300,000-square-foot church with day-care facilities, a youth center, gymnasium, bookstore and coffee shop. But city officials say the land is in a redevelopment zone where they have long envisioned a sales tax-generating commercial center. The city has been in negotiations with Costco to sell the land to the company once it is in city hands.

In challenging the ballot measure, city officials also said the petition failed to include the complete text of the resolution the citizens group is seeking to overturn. Aanonson blamed that on the city, saying that it took days for officials to produce it and the time frame in which signatures could be collected was limited. City officials say they delivered copies of the resolution in a reasonable time.

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