Oceanside CA— In a hearing on Friday, August 21, 2020, Judge Gregory Pollack of the San Diego Superior Court ruled that a referendum repealing the approval of the North River Farms development project is valid and will be placed on the ballot for the people of Oceanside to vote on.
The lawsuit, filed in January by the attorney who represents North River Farms, alleged that the individuals who gathered signatures for the referendum petition engaged in fraud and forgery and requested the Court remove the measure from the ballot. It also alleged there was a defect in the form of the referendum petition. The lawsuit was filed against referendum proponents including two individuals who had worked on the referendum, Let Oceanside Vote and Save Our Farmland in addition to the City Clerk and the Registrar of Voters.
Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the referendum proponents filed a special motion to strike, claiming the case was a SLAPP suit, a meritless suit filed primarily to chill the defendant’s exercise of First Amendment rights. The Judge agreed, and today granted the referendum proponents’ motion in full.
The Judge will be issuing a written ruling detailing his decision, but during the hearing he noted that he saw no evidence of any forgery or fraud. Judge Pollack himself conducted an in-camera review to examine the actual referendum petition packets that were submitted to the City Clerk and certified by the Registrar of Voters.
“This case presents the exact sort of abuse of process the legislature sought to correct when it enacted the anti-SLAPP statute, namely a large development company wielding litigation as a weapon in order to silence and deter individuals from exercising their Constitutional rights,” said Everett DeLano, the attorney representing the referendum proponents. “The Court got it absolutely right in its ruling today, and community members should feel vindicated.”
“The motivation behind this lawsuit was clear – to intimidate members of the public and to punish those who spoke up in opposition to the project,” said Kathryn Carbone, one of the individuals named in the lawsuit.
“We are very pleased that the Judge saw through the empty accusations by the developer and we are looking forward now to making sure the community understands the issues involved in the upcoming ballot measure and Vote No on L,” added Arleen Hammerschmidt, the other named individual.
Patte Hughes, of Let Oceanside Vote stated, “The Court today protected the rights of voters of Oceanside. Allowing major developments such as the North River Farm project in places they do not belong has long term consequences for the community as a whole therefore Oceanside residents have a right to vote on this matter.”