By Richard Halstead
Marin Independent Journal
Posted: 04/03/2014 05:27:49 PM PDT
A referendum campaign caused the Fairfax Town Council to drop its plans Wednesday night to reconsider its adoption of an ordinance that paves the way for an additional 124 housing units.
Fairfax's attorney, Janet Coleson, told the council it was legally precluded from making changes in the ordinance at this time because opponents of the ordinance had submitted signed petitions earlier that day seeking a ballot referendum on the issue.
Marin County Registrar of Voters Elaine Ginnold Thursday said she received petitions with 1,015 signatures. To qualify the referendum for the ballot, opponents of the ordinance had to gather the signatures of 524 registered voters living in Fairfax by Friday. Ginnold said she hopes to finish evaluating the signatures by the end of next week.
If the referendum qualifies for the ballot, the Fairfax council will have three choices: rescind the ordinance, put the referendum on the November ballot or put the referendum on the ballot in 2015, Ginnold said.
The ordinance implements the zoning changes necessary to bring the town in compliance with state housing law. Every county and municipality in California is required to design its zoning laws to encourage the creation of a certain number of housing units every seven years.
State planners are trying to ensure there is sufficient housing to accommodate California's growing population and striving to see that new housing is built closer to transportation hubs, in an effort to reduce greenhouse gases. Opponents say the zoning changes will result in unnecessary development and increased traffic.
While a discussion of the ordinance was removed from the council's agenda Wednesday night, both opponents and supporters of the rezoning ordinance took turns commenting on the zoning changes during public open time.
Shelly Hamilton, a member of the Fairfax Planning Commission, expressed her disappointment that opponents of the ordinance hadn't waited until after the council meeting to submit their signatures.
"The proponents of the referendum had been asking the Town Council to fix loopholes and address mistakes, and the council was poised to respond to what the community had asked them to do," Hamilton said, "and yet the referendum was filed the afternoon before the meeting."
She said use of the referendum constitutes an upping of the ante in the local debate over smart growth.
"I think that other municipalities should pay very close attention to what happens in Fairfax," Hamilton said, "because this is a new political tactic that may be employed elsewhere."
Fairfax Realtor Diane Hoffman, one of the referendum leaders, said she didn't realize that turning the signatures in Wednesday would prevent the council from reviewing the ordinance. Hoffman said the group was "pretty shocked" when it realized it had collected over 1,000 signatures.
"We thought, let's just turn them in," she said.
Hoffman said it doesn't worry her that residents in other municipalities might use similar referendums to kill efforts to create housing in their communities.
"That sounds like democracy to me," Hoffman said
Supporters of the ordinance say opponents have played fast and loose with the facts in an effort to inflame public opinion. One point of contention, for example, is whether or not the zoning changes affect the "Wall property," 99 wooded acres in the hills overlooking the town.
During Wednesday's meeting, Graham Irwin of Fairfax said he wished he could remove his signature from the referendum petition, after learning that the Wall property will not be affected by the zoning changes as he was told it would.
But former Fairfax Councilman Frank Egger maintains that the town's housing element, which contains the zoning changes, does show the zoning on the property increasing from 10 units per 100 acres to 25 units per 100 acres.
Fairfax Town Manager Garrett Toy said there are a couple of tables in the housing element showing what Egger is describing, but Toy says they are clerical errors.
"Typically, if you have hundreds and hundreds of pages, you're going to have little things you're going to have to adjust," Toy said.
Egger, however, said, "It was absolutely no typo."
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