From the May 4, 2002 edition of . . . 
The Casa Grande Dispatch
Posted to Sunday, May 5, 2002

Judge backs county on Oracle vote
By ALAN LEVINE, Staff Writer
May 4, 2002

O'Neil rules 2 referendums can appear on November ballot

FLORENCE - Pinal County and an Oracle citizens group emerged as victors in the most recent skirmish of an ongoing battle between a pair of major developers and Pinal Citizens for Sustainable Communities. 

On April 12, Presiding Superior Court Judge William O'Neil rendered a decision in favor of the county in a lawsuit initiated by Anam Inc. and Robson Ranch Mountains LLC that sought to keep two separate referendums from appearing on the ballot this November. 

During the past two years, both Anam and Robson had been successful in getting their respective master-planned community projects through the county's Planning and Zoning Commission and received a final OK from the Pinal County Board of Supervisors. They were well on their way to planting a bumper crop of rooftops across 7,100 pristine acres in the Oracle Junction area, bringing in an estimated 33,000 additional people. 

However, before Anam and Robson were able to mobilize their earth-mover machines, a relative handful of concerned Oracle residents went about garnering a total of more than 12,000 signatures, bringing a halt to both projects and forcing ballot measures that would allow the citizens of Pinal County to decide whether plans for the two huge communities should continue or be torn up and assigned to the waste basket. 

The developers quickly retaliated, however, when their attorneys detected some minor, technical infractions on the part of the Pinal County Elections Department having to do with the manner in which the petitions were issued and the specification of a due date. 

Specifically, petitioners are given 30 days from the time they receive the official petition documents from the elections office to the time the materials are to be returned. As specified in his ruling, O'Neil acknowledged that Gilbert Hoyos, county elections director, had erred when he issued the petition materials to PCSC. At the time of issuance, Hoyos noticed that the 30th day fell on the weekend, so he assigned a due date for the following Monday, which fell beyond the 30-day limit. 

In the broad technical interpretation of the statutes, PCSC's petitions were invalid because Hoyos had not complied with those statutes, but in his written opinion, O'Neil said: 

"He (Hoyos) informed them (PCSC), without request from them, of the due date and inserted it upon the application and made clear, even during his testimony, that he is still of the opinion that the Monday date given was the proper date." 

"This is not a case in equity," O'Neil wrote, "but a case in law. Referendum is a Constitutional right but it is an 'extraordinary' power ... 

"When coupled with the statement of the Arizona Legislature ... of the Arizona Session Laws of 1989, which sets forth in clear language the Legislature's intent regarding the power of referendum, the county's position is persuasive." 

The statement reads: "The right of initiative and referendum shall be broadly construed ... the effective failure to comply with these requirements shall not destroy the presumption of validity of citizens' signatures, petitions or the initiated or referred measure ..." 

O'Neil based his decision mainly on the people's right to be heard. The folks at PCSC contend that by signing its petitions, more than 12,000 residents expressed their desire to have the people of Pinal County decide how much development should be allowed to take place within the county as opposed to leaving the decision in the hands of big-money interests and a relative handful of county officials. 

"Voters have the right to be engaged in decisions regarding the outcome of the largest land-use issue to date in the county," said Mary Ellen Kazda, an Oracle resident and member of PCSC. 

The developers have decided to challenge O'Neil's ruling in the Court of Appeals in Tucson. With the county out of the picture, PCSC has hired Anne Graham-Bergin, a Tucson attorney, to look after its interests during the process. 

Graham-Bergin announced the court's schedule on Wednesday: "Opening briefs by the plaintiffs are due May 10; our response briefs are due May 31, with their reply briefs due June 10. If granted by the court, oral arguments will be set later in June and a decision will be rendered late June, early July." 

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