Museum House Tower

June 12, 2017
Our Right to Referend
Challenged in the Courts

On January 6, 2017, within two weeks of turning in nearly 14,000 Newport Beach voter signatures to Newport Beach City Clerk, Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) filed a lawsuit against the City of Newport Beach and named Line in the Sand as a Real Party in Interest.  OCMA’s suit requested that the referendum petition be found deficient and voided, and that this 25-story, 391,158 sq. ft. condo high-rise, high-density residential tower project proceed replacing the single-story OC Museum of Art in Newport Center. 

In spite of this lawsuit, and on the strength of voter feedback, City Council rescinded the Museum House project approvals on February 28 through an ordinance procedure which, if passed, would take effect in April 2017.   

In March, OCMA requested the court to grant an order preventing the Council from taking further action on the petition.  The court denied OCMA’s request, and City Council passed its Repeal Ordinance on March 14 and would take effect 30 days later.  

On April 11, OCMA filed an amended complaint asking the court to not only void the petition, but also void the Council’s repeal of its approvals.  If successful, the Museum House tower project could go forward with no further Council action — just as if there had been no petition and no repeals. 

On April 21, LITS filed an anti-SLAPP motion seeking to dismiss OCMA’s lawsuit as a meritless “strategic lawsuit against public participation.”  SLAPP lawsuits like OCMA’s are used as a strategic maneuver by corporations claiming restraint of business. They are typically brought against individuals and activist groups in order to burden them with the cost of legal defense and ultimately silence them. 

On May 25, the Superior Court judge denied LITS’ request to have OCMA’s legal challenges to the referendum petition dismissed as a “SLAPP” suit.  The judge thought compliance with the technical procedural requirements of the Elections Code (which OCMA alleges were violated by the format of the petition) was a “content neutral” issue, and not a constitutionally protected activity against which an anti-SLAPP motion could be brought.

On June 7, Line in the Sand filed an appeal of the Superior Court judge’s ruling which denied LITS’ anti-SLAPP motion.  The next hearing is set for September 11.

What’s Next? 

LITS considers the appeal of the latest court ruling denying its anti-SLAPP motion to be vitally important in terms of standing up for all residents who participated in the referendum and who believe they should have a say in matters threatening our quality of life.     

We hope you agree.  Unfortunately, that means the litigation will take many expensive months to resolve. 

Your financial support is critical to continue defending this right, and for developing new safeguards to protect us from future projects such as Museum House Tower.  Safeguards such as a height-limit initiative and other legislative protections need to move from the drawing board to enforceable rules. 

OCMA and its project developer, The Related Companies, outspent LITS by more than a 5:1 margin in its campaign to defeat our referendum petition effort in December.  Prevailing in court will take considerably more time and resources for all involved.   

We encourage you to join your friends and neighbors and support our efforts to reinforce the intent of nearly 14,000 Newport Beach voters who asked City Council to say NO to this project and future projects like it. 

Photo by Josh Barber, Contributing Photographer , Orange County Register
Photo by Josh Barber,
Contributing Photographer , Orange County Register

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