SACRAMENTO - A lawsuit against the City of Sacramento in 2010 might pave the way for a possible lawsuit involving the City's proposed arena. But first residents have to wait and see if STOP's arena initiative makes it on the June 2014 ballot.
STOP, Sacramento Taxpayer's Opposed to Pork, has turned in more than 35,000 petition signatures. On top of that, more than 15,000 withdrawal forms were turned in; people requesting their names be removed from the petition.
On Friday, those petitions were turned in to Sacramento County's Registrar of Voters, along with a request from the City to verify each signature individually. The Sacramento City Clerk said that will cost the City between $90,000 and $100,000.
The petition was circulated to attempt to force a public vote on the use of $258 million public funding to build a $450 million entertainment and sports complex in Downtown Sacramento.
If there are enough signatures to put the initiative on the ballot, the City of Sacramento is likely to file a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of the initiative against the City Charter.
"It's going to court, absolutely, no question about it," said Steve Churchwall, an attorney specializing in election law.
Strong Mayor Lawsuit
Churchwall agrees with a News10 analysis that past cases will provide precedent, specifically the City's attempt to put the Strong Mayor Initiative, SMI, on a 2010 ballot.
That initiative would have given Sacramento mayors more authority. The City lost, with Judge Loren McMaster ruling the initiative was an unconstitutional effort to revise the City Charter, in part because the SMI would have made drastic changes to the charter.
The City will likely try to use that loss to its advantage this time around, saying STOP's arena initiative is a revision to the Charter, because it would take the deciding power away from the City.
"[The City] just switched sides," Churchwall said. "So they know how to make that argument, it was used against them."
STOP would likely argue their initiative is an amendment, not a revision, to the City Charter. Voter driven amendments are legal. They will also likely argue the amendment is for arena purposes only and doesn't drastically alter the charter.
While the SMI gives precedent to the City, California's Proposition 8 gives STOP favorable precedent.
Lawyers in that case argued that adding the sentence defining marriage between a man and a woman was a simple amendment without drastic changes to California's constitution. The State Supreme Court agreed (even though the U.S. Supreme Court found Prop.8 unconstitutional on different grounds).
Churchwall said what it really boils down to is qualitative versus quantitative. In other words, how much change is proposed versus the impact of the change. And more importantly, what the judge's opinion is.
By Nick Monacelli, firstname.lastname@example.org