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Santa Ana Tower Foes Clear Hurdle

They have enough signatures to force a citywide vote on the project. Developer probably will ask that petitions be inspected.

September 15, 2004|Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writer

Santa Ana residents opposed to a proposed 37-story office tower in the city's midtown district have collected enough signatures to force a citywide vote on the project, according to county election officials.

But an attorney for the developer said Tuesday he is likely to ask for a more thorough inspection of the petitions to determine how many signatures are valid.

The move would underscore developer Michael Harrah's resolve to move forward with plans to build One Broadway Plaza, which would be Orange County's tallest building.

"I think the signatures will still hold up," said Jo Ann Ramirez, a city resident who helped lead the signature collection. "He does have the right to have each of them checked, though. Everything is on the line for him, so I guess he has to try to protect everything."

Harrah filed a lawsuit Friday alleging that the petition used by signature collectors was not accompanied by complete documentation showing changes to the midtown-area plan and the city's general plan.

In the lawsuit against Citizens for Responsible Planning, the City Council, city clerk and county registrar, Harrah is seeking an injunction to stop a referendum election. No court date has been set.

"The petition misleads and confuses voters by including only piecemeal portions," of the midtown specific plan and excluding the general plan, the lawsuit reads.

The City Council approved the $86-million project in July. Opponents collected more than 14,000 signatures, but some were tossed out after city officials determined that more than 700 of the signers didn't live in Santa Ana.

After city workers forwarded the narrowed-down collection of signatures to the Orange County registrar of voters, election officials randomly reviewed 500 signatures of 13,238 submitted and determined that 360 were valid, a letter to the city shows.

Using that ratio, the county estimated 9,531 of the signatures would be valid. Signature collectors needed 8,475 signatures to force the city to call a special election or rescind approval of the office tower.

According to state law, if signature collectors submit between 95% and 110% of the signatures required, a random inspection of the signatures is conducted. In such a case, the county registrar examines 500 signatures -- or 3% of the submitted signatures, whichever number is greater.

But Rob Thornton, an attorney representing Harrah, said he would likely demand an inspection of all the signatures.

"It's always a question when you have a sampling of a larger number," said Thornton, who contends that the random inspection showed that 28% of the signatures were invalid.

"It seems like a lot of invalid signatures," Thornton said.

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