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City Rejects Developer's Petitions to Put Dealership Conversion to Shops on Ballot

The city manager takes Theory R to task for not publishing the notice to collect signatures in the Coto de Caza News.

The former Nissan dealership in Rancho Santa Margarita. Patch photo credit: Martin Henderson.
The former Nissan dealership in Rancho Santa Margarita. Patch photo credit: Martin Henderson.

Rancho Santa Margarita city officials have rejected a developer’s efforts to put his plans to convert a former car dealership into a shopping center to a public vote.

Both the Planning Commission and the City Council have passed on the project, a proposed retail center on a 4.75-acre once occupied by a Nissan dealership.

Developer Theory R Principal Joe Daichendt turned in last week what he said were thousands of signatures from residents who wanted to put the matter on the November ballot, to change the zoning to allow for non-auto-related shops.

The issue has caused a major clash in town, with groups forming to support their positions: Save RSM (opposed to the development) and Free RSM, backed by Theory R.

City Manager Jennifer Cervantez told Patch the city clerk notified the backers that the petition was rejected because they did not publish their notice to collect signatures in “an adjudicated newspaper of general circulation in the city.”

“The proponents did not publish in that paper as required by the elections code,” Cervantez said. An obvious example would be the Coto de Caza News.

But Daichendt said the notice was published in Orange County Register, and it was at the very direction of then-City Clerk Molly McLaughlin.

He published the email chain here in which McLaughlin sends Daichendt a link to the Register, saying, “Hi Joe – here you go. They are great and very helpful.”

Now, “Essentially, [Cervantez] is saying that you can’t trust her or her staff to speak honestly, and that is lesson I have learned hard way,” Daichendt said. “I think the public will be best served if she never finds a government job again once she is kicked out of Rancho Santa Margarita.”

Cervantez, however, said the onus is on the petitioner to follow city rules.

“The proponent’s legal counsel acknowledged and agreed, prior to publishing, that it is the proponent’s responsibility to comply with the elections code, and specifically, this section.  The proponent also had requested and received, prior to publishing, copies of previous initiative submittals, both of which published in the Cota de Caza News.

“The email where the former City Clerk responded with the OCR, followed by another email indicating also the Coto de Caza News, does not negate the proponent’s responsibility to correctly comply with the Elections Code,” she said.

Daichendt said he now has two options: Force the city to accept the petitions by taking the matter to court or starting over again. Either way, he is confident the matter will go before the voters in Rancho Santa Margarita.

However, with the timing off, he’ll get blamed for causing the city to spend money on a special election.

“The opposition thinks the public will blame me for the $250,000 additional cost of a special election and, combined with the lower voter turnout, they believe they could get achieve more votes,” he said. “Even in that scenario they will still lose but will spend additional taxpayer dollars.”

Shawn Gordon June 10, 2014 at 02:12 AM
I've got one of those Coto papers sitting in my driveway right now, shows up every week I think. Since Poot lives one door away from me, I'm surprised she isn't getting it.
Mark Jordan June 10, 2014 at 02:23 AM
On the one hand we have a citizenry endeavoring to participate in the ballot initiative process. On the other, we have those who would thwart the process, armed with no other substance than a belief that the public is too stupid to understand the issues. While one enterprise exemplifies the ideals of Americanism , the other is leftist Big Brotherism. Rancho Santa Margarita residents understand the difference between freedom and paternal authoritarianism. We also trust the vote. Let’s get on with it.
Duane Gamble June 10, 2014 at 02:31 AM
Wow! These are RSM's elected "public representatives"?!? They seem to have no respect for the greater good of their constituents, it seems it's all about themselves, their agendas, their way or the highway... Thousands of RSM residents voluntarily sign a petition to have the opportunity to vote on the issue themselves and still the council majority fights to keep the issue from being put in the ballot? What are they afraid of? Do 3 council members know better than than the community as a whole what is best for the city?!? Do the "Honorable Carole Gamble, Tony Beall and Brad McGirr have no shame?!? The City Council had their say, now step aside before you cost us RSM residents hundreds of thousands and/or millions of more tax payer dollars!!! Let the RSM resident voters speak!!!
Phony Beall June 10, 2014 at 09:47 AM
Let's just move along to get along. Who cares anymore? No one. Criminals running the city? Sure. City civil war? Sure. Who will win? The side that doesn't want to be slaves anymore. Let's roll a big fat one. We are all just actors on a stage. How does the story end when the curtain drops? You decide.
JTTPW June 11, 2014 at 05:00 PM
By the way, nice coverage on the two day long Ranchofest, here, in town, by the 'so called' RSM Patch. Oh, wait, that might require the editor to spend a few minutes in the town, that she allegedly covers. NEVER MIND !

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