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Santa Ana Tower Foes File Signatures

Group seeks to overturn City Council approval of the 37-story building by putting issue to voters.

September 02, 2004|Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writer

Opponents of a proposed 37-story office tower in Santa Ana submitted 14,220 signatures Wednesday in their effort to overturn City Council approval of the downtown project.

The signatures of about 8,700 registered Santa Ana voters would compel a referendum on the $86-million green-glass office building known as One Broadway Plaza. It would be the tallest building in Orange County.

The submission of signatures, which now must be validated by the county registrar of voters, comes on the heels of a civil lawsuit filed Friday by Citizens for Responsible Planning against the city and developer Michael Harrah. The group alleges that the project's environmental impact report is inaccurate and demands that the City Council rescind its approval.

The lawsuit states that the environmental impact report "fails to adequately evaluate ... significant impacts on traffic, aesthetics and quality of life in the protected neighborhood."

City officials declined to comment on the lawsuit. Harrah could not be reached for comment.

The referendum campaign is unusual for Santa Ana, whose residents rarely mobilize to oppose City Hall. Long-time city employees say they can't remember another referendum in the last quarter century.

Few citizen groups regularly lobby council members and residents infrequently speak at City Council meetings.

The successful 2003 recall of Santa Ana Unified School District trustee Nativo Lopez, which also required a signature drive, enlightened residents about the petition process, observers say.

"People saw that they could stand up against forces," with the recall, said Art Pedroza, a resident and critic of the city government. "We're seeing that we can have a voice."

Residents can invoke a referendum -- which requires the City Council to repeal a measure or place it before voters -- if signatures from more than 10% of the city's registered voters can be collected, said City Atty. Joseph Fletcher.

The deadline to place the office tower issue on the November ballot has passed, Fletcher said.

"We wanted to take this to the citizens," said Joann Ramirez, a member of Santa Ana's historical society who argued that the tower would create more traffic and hazards for schoolchildren. "We looked at the success of referendums stopping development projects. We figured this is worth it."

Jeff Dickman, a resident who coordinated the petition drive, estimated that opponents spent more than $20,000 to collect the signatures within the required 30 days of the tower project's approval by the City Council.

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