Voters to see two open space preservation measures in June

Martinez voters will see not one but two ballot measures in June that would require a referendum before open space lands would be changed for higher-development use.

One, brought by public initiative, would affect any such land in Martinez, both publicly and privately owned.

That initiative will be on the ballot after its proponents, Tim Platt, Mark Thomson and Kerry Kilmer submitted a petition to the Contra Costa County Elections Office Sept. 21, 2017, with more than the 15 percent needed voters having signed in its support.

An initial analysis and subsequent report on the initiative said it had both procedural flaws, which could be considered mistakes, and substantive flaws, which could make the initiative illegal, City Attorney Jeff Walter said Wednesday during a City Council meeting.

But a court ruling earlier in the week said the initiative can proceed to voters, and the Council added the matter to Wednesday’s agenda as a special meeting in order to get the initiative submitted to the county elections office in time for the June primary vote.

At the same time, Walter presented the Council with a ballot measure of its own, which would require a referendum before open space and park land zoning or use could be intensified, but this would affect only public lands, not any that is under private ownership.

The Council approved sending both the initiative and its own measure to the county for addition to the consolidated election in three months.

But the panel got chided nonetheless from the initiative supporters.

Stuart Flashman, attorney for Platt, Thomson and Kilmer, said the Council should have accepted the initiative and put it on a December 2017 election then asked the court if the initiative was legal, instead of delaying taking action while the initiative was being analyzed.

He said the Council had no business trying first to determine if the initiative was legal.

“The court overruled you. The court said you screwed up,” he said. “You got your hands slapped here.”

Platt said the Council has spent $100,000 on attorneys who tried to prevent the initiative from being put on the ballot, and he questioned the speed at which the city’s measure was developed, noting there was little time to review the new measure.

“I hope there were no Brown Act violations,” he said.

Walter said the city had a short time itself to develop its measure, which was completed shortly before Wednesday’s meeting.

“Your ‘initiative’ is designed to confuse voters,” Thomson said, although the city’s submission is considered a “measure,” something that had to be corrected in the body of that document.

Rolf Lindenhayn criticized Perkins Coie, the San Francisco legal firm that analyzed the initiative, then became co-council in the city’s related litigation.

He pointed the firm’s ties to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and Fusion GPS, a research firm that provided information that led to a dossier that claimed ties between then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian contacts.

Elias is the person who hired Fusion GPS, the Washington Post report said. He has said he didn’t get a copy of the dossier, but was briefed on some of its contents.

That dossier, Lindenhayn said, “was totally bogus.” He questioned the Council’s wisdom in hiring that firm.

Lindenhayn said it was “interesting” that the city would introduce its own measure, to distinguish public and private lands. “Pine Meadow – that’s private land,” he said, referring to a former golf course that has been sold for development.

Platt, Thomson and others formed “Friends of Pine Meadow” to block the property’s development and preserve it as open space. They contend the land has had an open space designation for decades, which was disputed by Christine Dean, its former owner, and attorneys for the developer, DeNova Homes, that has wanted to put about 98 homes there.

Martinez residents signed the initiative, Lindenhayn reminded the Council. “I’m dumbfounded,” he said, saying a group of residents worked hard to get the initiative in front of voters, yet the Council could accomplish the same by Wednesday night’s vote.

Even privately owned land can be affected by local government, he said.

But Susan Gustofson spoke against the initiative, which she said has been difficult to read and understand. She found flaws in the initiative that mirrored comments in the attorneys’ analysis.

She urged city staff to put information about both ballot items on the Martinez website, so voters wouldn’t be confused.

If both the public initiative and city measure are approved, the one getting the most votes would prevail, Walter told the Council.

In other matters, the Council approved resolutions authorizing background reports on employees, volunteers and contractors for commercial cannabis applications; the new agreement with the Martinez Community Swim Team, Martinez’s support for Proposition 69 that would require revenue from the diesel sales tax and Transportation Improvement Fee to be used for transportation-related purposes and would exempt revenue generated by Senate Bill 1 tax increases and fee schedules from the state appropriations limit; amending the city’s agreement with the Martinez Bocce Federation; and authorize a non-exclusive easement to Pacific Gas and Electric Company at the Intermodal Phase 3 parking lot.

In addition, Martinez Police Chief Manjit Sappal said his department’s third Community Police Academy has started. More than a dozen residents will spend 10 weeks getting an exclusive and intensive view of department operations.

Sappal also acknowledged a $1,000 donation from the Contra Costa County Kennel Club to the department’s K9 unit.

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