Lawsuit and Alleged Intimidation Blur Museum House Petition

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Residents line up in front of the Newport Beach Public Library to sign the Line in the Sand petition against Museum House.
Residents line up in front of the Newport Beach Public Library to sign the Line in the Sand petition against Museum House.

Newport Beach City Council members at last week’s council meeting urged supporters and opponents of the petition for a referendum on the 25-story Museum House condominium tower to stop alleged intimidation and spread of misinformation.

Outgoing Councilman Keith Curry was especially disturbed by the tactics, which allegedly include contractors hired by the developer, OCMA Urban Housing LLC, standing in front of legitimate petitioners’ tables and handing out brochures warning of a “fake petition.”

“I support this project but I have to tell you the campaign that’s been run the last two weeks is the most dishonest, deceitful, denigrating campaign, denigrating many of our key citizens,” Curry said. “It is absolutely disgusting.”

Outgoing Mayor Diane Dixon said this type of campaigning has no place in Newport Beach.

“I too am disappointed that both sides of this debate are resorting to tactics not befitting a quality community that we are,” Dixon said.

She said the project’s opponents have circulated incorrect statements about its environmental impacts, that it doesn’t conform to the General Plan, the green light initiative and the building’s proposed height.

“The other side has resorted to tactics in their efforts to dissuade petition signers that I find highly distasteful,” Dixon said. “These types of campaign tactics are best left to gutter and do not serve their project or the city well.”

The comments come on the heels of a lawsuit filed by the Irvine company against the developer of the Museum House project in Orange County Superior Court last Friday, claiming supporters of the project trespassed at several of the Newport Beach shopping centers located on Irvine Company property.

Last week, volunteers for Line in the Sand PAC began collecting signatures of Newport Beach voters for a petition that would put OCMA Urban Housing LLC’s 25-story condominium tower up for a citywide vote.

According to Bill Lobdell, a spokesman for the Irvine Co., Museum House proponents have been at some of those same centers without permission, trying to disrupt signature-gathering efforts and created a hostile environment for

Residents line up in front of the Newport Beach Public Library to sign the Line in the Sand petition against Museum House.
Residents line up in front of the Newport Beach Public Library to sign the Line in the Sand petition against Museum House.

shoppers.

The Irvine Co.’s complaint against OCMA Urban Housing and its affiliate, The Related Companies of California LLC, is the latest twist in wake of the Newport Beach City Council’s Nov. 29 decision to approve the redevelopment of the Orange County Museum of Art’s property.

The lawsuit comes just days before the Dec. 29 deadline to submit a petition with more than 5,620 signatures.

Nancy Alston, a Line in the Sand volunteer, was collecting signatures last week on a patio between the CVS and Ralph’s at East Bluff Village Center when two men started standing a few feet from the petitioners’ table to dissuade people from signing.

“If an older woman came up they really tried to intimidate them,” Alston said.

At one point, six men were in the shopping center to distribute flyers produced by OCMA Urban Housing. Employees at the East Bluff Village Center asked them to leave, Alston said.

Line in the Sand has followed the shopping centers’ free speech rules and received permission from the Irvine Co. to set up tables.

Hal Morris, 75, was volunteering at a petition table on Friday at OASIS Senior Center. He said he received fake e-mails supposedly from Nicole F.  Reynolds, the woman in charge of the Line-in-the-Sand petition tables, although the emails were sent by N. H. Reynolds. The emails instructed him to not show up to his assignment, because the petitioners would not have received a 1,000 page (two sided) General Plan, which they needed to have on site should signers wish to read it.

“This is wrong,” stated Morris.

He said that there were petition “blockers” at Ralph’s and Oasis handing out flyers about Museum House “who were yelling at people, and intimidating them. There was so much confusion.”

Morris said that “if the people vote, we’ll win. If we have an election and lose, then okay, but let the residents decide.”

A flyer being handed out about Museum House (paid for by OCMA Urban Housing LLC, an affiliate of Related Companies of California—the developer behind the Museum house project) obtained by the NB Independent states, in part, that the “petition hurts our kids…an arts and cultural center dedicated to the residents of Newport Beach will be gone forever…education programs for 6,000 local school children will end if you sign this petition.”

The claims in the flyer are puzzling, as a 1.64-acre parcel of land on part of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts campus in Costa Mesa was given to the Orange County Museum of Art in 2008, and the Museum has been planning to move there once sufficient funds are raised to build a new Museum. OCMA held its annual gala in a large tent on that site earlier this year.

Organizer Nicole Reynolds told the NB Independent that they have 85 volunteers helping to man petition tables at five shopping centers owned by the Irvine Company. They have the Irvine company’s permission to be there.

“Yesterday, some of the ‘blockers’ were in the faces of shoppers at Ralph’s in Eastbluff,” said Reynolds. “They were yelling at the shoppers.”

“This is the ugliest campaign I’ve seen,” said longtime Newport Beach resident Debra Allen, who was volunteering at the OASIS petition table. “It’s real Chicago style politics.”

According to Reynolds, Line in the Sand representatives will be collecting signatures at the front entrance to the Main Library on Avocado Avenue daily through Christmas, as well as shopping centers and other locations.

For more information, visit lineinthesandpac.com.

Richard Simon and Chris Trela contributed to this article.

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