COURT DEEMS ORACLE REFERENDUMS INVALID
The referendums were in opposition to the Willow Springs Ranch and Saddle-Brooke Ranch developments, both about 30 miles north of Tucson and just a few miles away from the town of Oracle.
Robson Communities, the SaddleBrooke Ranch developers, and Anam, Inc., the owners of the Willow Springs property, had sued Pinal County, arguing that the referendums were invalid because the petitions needed to put the referendums on the November ballot were submitted past the county's mandatory 30-day deadline.
The deadline is based on when the ordinance detailing what is happening to the property is made available. In order for the petitions to be circulated, the ordinance must be attached.
to the petition applications, members of the group Pinal Citizens for Sustainable
Communities applied for the referendum petition for the SaddleBrooke Ranch
development on Nov. 7, 2001, when the group claimed the ordinance was first
made available. In a box on the application labeled "For office use only,"
the date of Dec. 4, 2000 was given as the group's deadline for submitting
Anam and Oracle resident Elaine Helzer, founder of the pro-growth group Pinal Citizens for Positive Growth and Development, sued the county on July 25, 2001. Robson sued in October. The two cases were then consolidated.
Both developers claimed that the petitions were turned in past the 30-day deadline because the ordinances were made available to the public before the dates PCSC claimed.
In an April 12 ruling, Pinal County Superior Court Judge William O' Neil said the referendums were valid and that PCSC did everything it could to obtain copies of the ordinances and that the date the ordinances were physically available was the date that mattered. He also ruled that PCSC could have obtained copies of the ordinances from either the Pinal County Clerk's Office or the Pinal County Elections Office, but did not have to go to both in order to get the information.
However, the appeals court overturned O'Neil's ruling, saying that the date the ordinances were legally available was the date that should have been established as the beginning of the 30 days.
In the SaddleBrooke Ranch case, that would have been Nov. 1, 2000. In the Willow Springs case, it would have been May 16, 2001. Both of these dates were when the Pinal County Board of Supervisors approv-ed the rezoning for the developments.
The panel also ruled that PCSC should have gone to both the clerk's office and the elections director, and that the clerk had the ordinances available on those dates.
"Ultimately, it is the applicant's obligation, not that of a county official, such as (Pinal County Director of Elections Gilbert) Hoyos, who has no statutory duties relating to maintaining, inspecting or copying ordinances, to promptly seek and obtain the necessary attachments to a referendum petition and to timely file the petition," wrote Arizona Appeals Court Judge John Pelander.
Kazda said the ruling left her doubting the Appeals Court's understanding of the situations because PCSC members had gone to Pinal County Clerk Stanley Griffis to obtain copies of the ordinances on those dates, but had been turned away and told to go to Hoyos' office in the basement of the county building.
"I think that the. . . appellate judges in Tucson lack any knowledge of politics in Pinal County. Stanley Griffis was gone to and asked for materials. His response to the person who was standing in his office was 'Get back down to the basement,'" Kazda said.
Darrell Klesch, who said he was "ordered" to go to Hoyos' office by Griffis, said he and other PCSC members have consistently had problems dealing with Griffis.
"When I went
into his office and told him what I wanted, he turned his back and said
'You people,' which could only have meant the people who wanted an application
for the referendum petition," Klesch said.
Kazda added that Griffis has often yelled at PCSC members and "slammed doors in their faces." Griffis did not return calls to the EXPLORER by press time Monday.
Kazda said PCSC is already in the process of filing an appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court, not only to try to get the referendum onto the November ballot, but to make sure the Appeals Court's ruling doesn't set a precedent.
"If this interpretation stands and is published, that will mean it will be impossible to conduct a referendum at the county level," she said. "It will not be able to be done. It would mean that a petitioner could go to the clerk of the board who had been gone to in the past, who had yelled at people, who had slammed doors in people's faces."
Kazda added that Hoyos has "always been civil and courteous."
Hoyos said he had not thoroughly gone through the Appeals Court opinion, but said he was told by Pinal County Attorney William McLean that "the referendums were not going to be on the ballot."
Andrew Federhar, Robson's attorney, said nothing will be done on the property until all avenues of appeal have been exhausted. About 5,500 homes are planned to be built on the land.
Alex Argueta, the developer for Willow Springs, said the same, but if the appeal is denied by the Supreme Court, construction on the 8,000 plus homes slated to be built on the 4,600 acres of land should begin in about three years. Future plans for the remaining 15,000 acres of Willow Springs property are currently in the works, but still need approval from the Pinal County Board of Supervisors.