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San Juan's Ballot May Offer Vote on Housing Tract

Election: Referendum would let residents overturn the council's OK of Whispering Hills.


The ballot in San Juan Capistrano may soon become more crowded.

Already deciding whether to sell city land to Home Depot and picking four council members, voters may also be asked this fall whether to block a large housing development.

"This is probably the most full ballot in the history of the city," City Clerk Meg Monahan said. Three weeks ago, council members agreed to ask voters to cast an advisory vote Nov. 5 on whether the city should sell 13 acres to Home Depot for $9 million.

The latest proposed referendum, which the council on Tuesday could put on the ballot, results from a petition drive that ended this week. On Monday, Monahan verified 1,833 voter signatures challenging the housing project; 1,621 were required.

The proposed referendum would overturn last month's council approval of Whispering Hills, a 175-home tract proposed for the eastern foothills. The project includes a high school that would open in September 2005; if built it would be the first public high school in town since 1963.

But a citizens group that has fought the project for four years--Citizens Against Uncontrolled San Juan Expansion--gathered signatures in an effort to ask voters to override the decision.

Opponents unsuccessfully urged city officials this year to consider a scaled-down version of the plan that would allow 103 homes. That plan would spare one of two canyons affected by Whispering Hills.

Mark Nielson, a leader of the opposition, stressed that the council could have ensured construction of the high school by approving the alternative--but did not. "I'm sure our opponents will see this referendum as opposition to the high school," Nielsen said.

At its meeting Tuesday, the council can choose to repeal the project approval or certify the petition. Monahan said the successful petition places the Whispering Hills project on hold until after the Nov. 5 election.

Councilman David M. Swerdlin, who voted for the development, isn't sure what the council will do.

"I personally think this petition is anti-community and anti-school," he said. "Frankly, I think it stems from a not-in-my-backyard attitude."

The referendums also figure to dominate the regularly scheduled council election. Ten residents have announced their intentions to enter the race.

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