Letter to the Editor: Local Petition Prompts State Law Changes

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Jack and Nancy Skinner of Line in the Sand PAC observe Assistant City Clerk Jennifer Nelson count signatures on Dec. 21, 2016, for the Museum House referendum petition.
— Photo by Daniel Langhorne ©

In November 2016, the Newport Beach City Council, knowing that Line in the Sand planned to challenge their approval of the 25-story Museum House condo tower through a referendum, very intentionally added 3,700 pages to the referendum petition that we were required to carry.

This action was taken with the clear intent of undermining the resident’s right to petition their government and it failed spectacularly when Line in the Sand obtained the required signatures to reverse the decision.

In September 2017, I submitted a complaint to the OC Grand Jury and the OC District Attorney’s office, both of whom opened an investigation into the actions of the council and both of whom concluded that it was not against the law for them to have taken this step.

The only remedy remaining was to change the law.  In January 2019, I approached State Senator John Moorlach and Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris with a request to carry a bill in Sacramento that would prevent this abuse from occurring again.

A Newport Beach resident signs the Line in the Sand petition against Museum House at the Newport Beach Public Library in December 2016.
— NB Indy file photo ©

To his credit, John had already considered such a bill and introduced SB 359, which would allow referendum proponents to submit a 5,000-word summary in lieu of adding thousands of unnecessary pages to a petition if a future unethical city council tried to take the same action.

I was invited to address the Elections Committee as the bill started its process through the legislature and took the 10-pound Museum House petition with me to show the legislators why this was necessary. The bill sailed through both houses with no opposition and was signed into law on Tuesday.

Anyone who carried the Museum House petition in 2016 will appreciate the fact that good people of both parties still respect the underlying democratic principles of our great nation and are willing to work together to protect our rights.

Susan Skinner
Newport Beach

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