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Ojai Traffic Initiative OKd by Judge

Courts: Measure that allows residents to decide on developments that create congestion should be on fall ballot, he rules.

June 07, 2002|ANICA BUTLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A controversial traffic initiative should appear on Ojai's ballot in November, a judge ruled Thursday.

Superior Court Judge Henry J. Walsh wrote that a proposition should be kept from the ballot "only where the court has 'grave' doubts as to its validity." That wasn't the case with the traffic initiative, he said.

The initiative, if approved, would give voters--rather than the City Council--the right to approve or reject development projects that would create more traffic.

Attorneys for the city argued that the measure is confusing, would mislead voters and would tie the city's hands in its ability to provide housing for all segments of the population.

"It would act as a moratorium on affordable housing," said Katherine Stone, an attorney representing the city of Ojai. "It is very discriminatory."

Walsh said in his ruling that the ballot measure "adequately informs the electorate."

He also pointed out that it is typically the judiciary's job to examine a ballot measure after an election, rather than try to prevent it from going on the ballot in the first place.

"The decision really follows along the lines of what we argued in court," said Kate Neiswender, who represents Citizens to Preserve the Ojai, the organization that qualified the measure for the ballot. "The law is really clear--unless you show [a measure] to be patently wrong, it must go before the voters."

Neiswender also characterized the city's claims that the measure would make it impossible to build affordable housing as outrageous.

The initiative "says one thing--if you have a new project, make sure you mitigate for traffic," Neiswender said.

The growth issue is not new to Ojai.

Census data show that the city, which has a population of 7,862, grew by only 3% between 1990 and 2000. Neighboring communities with cheaper real estate grew by 13% to 16%.

Only three new housing projects, totaling 68 units, have been approved by the city since 1993.

Stone said that although she was disappointed by the ruling, it leaves open the possibility of a post-election challenge. She added that the City Council has not yet decided whether it will appeal the ruling.

Both sides have said that they expect the fight to continue if the measure is adopted by voters in November.

"If we win, I suspect we'll be back in court," Neiswender said.

Stone hopes it won't get that far.

"It's a poor measure," she said. "Voters in other jurisdictions have rejected it, and if it remains on the ballot, I hope that the voters here reject it."

In the meantime, Stone said, the city is fighting two lawsuits by Citizens to Preserve the Ojai regarding a downtown development and the city's housing guidelines. Those cases are scheduled to be heard on July 1.

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