The following is an update of an article published in the April, 2002 issue of The Oracle newspaper.

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Judge hears referendum cases; ruling expected soon
Posted to Monday, April 8, 2002
By J.C. Huntington

Hon. William O'Neil, Pinal Superior Court
The question of whether or not several thousands of hours of volunteer effort spent collecting nearly 12,000 referendum signatures will put the rezoning for two massive residential developments to a public vote has come down to a couple of legal technicalities. 

Over the last month, Pinal County Superior Court Judge William OíNeil, presided over two separate lawsuits against the county that are aimed at invalidating referendums to allow Pinal Voters to vote on the rezoning for two very large developments in the Oracle Junction area. 

O'Neil said he might have a ruling on both cases as early as the first week of April.  As of press time no ruling has been made.

The two projects would sprawl over 7,100 acres of high Sonoran desert and pump groundwater from the regional aquifer to water at least four golf courses and provide for the needs of over 33,000 inhabitants. 

The aquifer lies beneath the decades-old Page-Trowbridge radioactive/toxic waste dump and is the sole source of water for Oracle and SaddleBrooke as well as feeding the aquifer that supplies water to the residents and golf courses of Catalina, Sun City Vistoso, and Oro Valley.

Alex Argueta and Oracle resident Elaine Helzer, brought the first lawsuit on behalf of the landowner, Anam Inc. The Anam/Helzer lawsuit was filed July 25, 2001, a few days after the county accepted the signatures of nearly 5,900 voters seeking a public vote on the on the rezoning for the first phase of Anam's Willow Springs project.

Argueta is a development consultant for Anam Inc. 

Helzer is an Oracle resident and the founder of Citizens for Positive Growth and Development, a group funded by Anam Inc., and Robson Communities Inc. Helzer is also the treasurer of the political action committee Pinal Voters for Planned Development, a group formed to focus on ballot measures.

The first phase of Willow Springs would consume 4,600 acres of the Sonoran desert a few miles north of Oracle Junction and house over 20,000 people.

Robson Communities, Inc filed the second lawsuit in October of 2001, three months after the Anam/Helzer lawsuit was filed and some ten months after Pinal County officials had accepted the signatures of over 5,800 voters seeking a public vote on the rezoning for Robson's SaddleBrooke Ranch project.

SaddleBrooke Ranch is a proposed 2,500-acre golf-oriented retirement community that would house over 13,000 people and be built directly adjacent to the Page-Trowbridge radioactive/toxic waste dump a few miles to the northeast of Oracle Junction.

Pinal Citizens for Sustainable Communities (PCSC), the group that spearheaded both referendums, has intervened in both lawsuits.

Both lawsuits allege that the county accepted invalid referendum petitions because the signatures were turned in too late. 

In both cases PCSC relied on Pinal Elections Director Gilbert Hoyos, to supply the due date for the signatures and in both cases, PCSC turned the signatures in on the date given by Hoyos.

In the Anam/Helzer case, Hoyos told PCSC that the due date was Monday, July 2, 2001. 

Attorneys for Anam/Helzer argued that PCSC should not have relied on a Pinal County official to give them the due date and that the signatures should have been turned over to the county by Friday, June 29. 

In the Robson case, Hoyos informed  PCSC that the due date for the signatures was December 4, 2001. 

Attorneys for Robson argued that the date Hoyos supplied was incorrect and that the latest date the petitions should have been submitted to the county was December 3, 2001. 

Both lawsuits allege that the county accepted invalid referendum petitions because the petitions circulated to collect signatures were improper.

Anam/Helzerís lawsuit alleged that a document, nearly 100 pages in length, should have been attached to each of the 400 petition forms circulated in the Willow Springs referendum, which would have required that the petitioner copy over 24,000 pages of material. 

Robsonís lawsuit alleged that there should have been two separate petition forms circulated in the SaddleBrooke ranch referendum, one for the zoning ordinance and one for the planned area development ordinance.

At the March 19 Robson trial, Judge OíNeil ruled from the bench finding a single petition was sufficient. 

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