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Petition legality examined

Erich Sommer

While both a suit and a referendum petition were just filed last Friday challenging the Town of Truckee’s approval of East West Partners’ Old Greenwood resort, the legal wrangling has already begun.

First in the legal arena is the issue of the petition forms themselves.

Organizers of the referendum petition said they had close to 1,000 signatures on their forms, but that may still be one short.

“The forms themselves may not be correct,” said Town Manager Stephen L. Wright.

“It relates to the signature of the circulator, the person who went out and gathered the signatures … The issue is whether or not their signature needs to be on each page.”

Wright, Town Clerk Patt Osborne and Town Attorney J. Dennis Crabb were all in Nevada City earlier this week to assist the county elections department in processing the referendum petition.

Wright said that after the town accepted the referendum petition last Friday, a clerk in the Nevada County Elections Department discovered the possible omission on Monday.

“That rang some bells, so then [Town Attorney] Dennis [Crabb] took another look at it,” Wright said.

Crabb has solicited arguments for and against the format of the petition from the legal teams of both East West Partners and Truckee SOS. Those arguments were requested by Thursday afternoon.

“But we may not have a conclusion to that issue by Thursday … there may be a need to get a judge involved,” Wright said.

Still, one of the organizers of Truckee SOS (Save Open Space), a grassroots citizen’s committee that is reported to have formed as a result of the resort development’s approval,

was confident that the format of the forms would ultimately be deemed legally valid.

“The legal firm that has prepared the petition, Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger, has prepared dozens of these petitions in towns and counties throughout Northern California, and none of them have ever been challenged,” said Tony Pastore of Truckee SOS.

Jim Porter, whose law firm is representing East West, declined to speculate about the outcome, saying only “We will just have to wait for the validation process to play out.”

The referendum petition asks that the council rescind or put to a vote two ordinances that are central to the project’s approval.

One ordinance approved the development agreement between the town and East West and a second ordinance rezoned more than 300 acres on the southern end of the proposed 871-acre Old Greenwood resort.

The council approved both of those ordinances and the project itself last month.

Also on Friday, the Mountain Area Preservation Foundation filed suit in Nevada County Superior Court, contesting the project’s approval by the town.

The suit challenges the adequacy of the town’s general plan and its compliance with state planning and zoning laws.

It also claims the town’s approval of Old Greenwood violates the California Environmental Quality Act.

“First, the town’s General Plan is legally inadequate in ways that implicate the project approval. Second, the project is inconsistent with the general plan that does exist. Third, the [environmental impact report] for the project is legally inadequate,” the brief states.

But Community Development Director Tony Lashbrook said that the planning department would not have recommended that the town council approve the project if it was inconsistent with the general plan.

Otherwise, “the allegations are so general that I really can’t respond. Anybody can go around and say the general plan is inadequate,” Lashbrook said.

The Truckee Town Council, with a recommendation by the planning commission, unanimously approved the project in June.

Old Greenwood, as approved, is the largest project, both in the number of units and in the physical size, to come before the town since incorporation in 1994.

Old Greenwood is proposed to be a mixed-use resort development on 870 acres with a residential subdivision for 104 single-family lots and 20 townhouse units.

The commercial portion with include 154 timeshare, or fractional ownership units, an 18-hole private golf course, a 50,000-square foot lodge (with 20 lodging units), a 17,000-square foot fitness center.

It sits on the site of the previously approved Featherstone resort.

In order to qualify as a referendum, signatures from 10 percent of registered voters are required and must be submitted to the town clerk within 30 days of the adoption of the ordinance by the council.

According to the Nevada County Elections Department, there are 7,446 active, registered voters in Truckee, so those circulating the petition will need the signatures of 745 qualified voters who live in Truckee.

In the meantime, the town has contracted with the county to continue to check that the signatures were of registered voters within Truckee, so if and when the petition forms are deemed legally adequate, the issue can be brought before the Town Council as soon as possible.


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