Transit Village Referendum

Questions I emailed to Greg Rubens, our City Attorney, regarding a potential referendum to overturn a Council decision about the Transit Village.


Given interest in certain parts of the community in a referendum to overturn a Council decision on the Transit Village, I want to ensure everyone understands what’s involved with that, the scope of it, etc.

Questions that I’d like to hear answers on include:

  • What’s the process for filing a referendum?
  • What can a referendum do? For example, can a referendum ban any development, or certain types of development, on the Transit Village property? Or is it limited to blocking a specific Council action? If so, are there any time limits on a block?
  • What rights do the developer and property owner have to launch their own, competing referendum? What kinds of actions can they propose?
  • What is the range of costs the City would incur for holding an election? I say range because I know the precise amount depends on whether the referendum is the subject of a special election, what type of election (e.g., mail only) it involves, etc.
  • Can a referendum alter the zoning rules for the Transit Village property (e.g., to place a lower height and density limit on it)? If so, how would such a change play into the existing situation? For example, would new rules require the developer to re-file an application?
  • What rights does a developer and property owner have to challenge the effect of a successful referendum? For example, if a referendum blocked a project (e.g., like I believe recently happened in Palo Alto) would the developer and property owner be in a position to file a takings claim? What flexibility would the Council have to negotiate in the face of a takings claim if a referendum blocked or significantly altered a project approval?

I appreciate that answers to these questions may take time to prepare. I’m fine with staff addressing some or all of them during the Council’s public deliberations. In fact, I think that would be the preferred approach due to the significance of the subject matter.

By the way, I’ve talked to Jeff about making some of my email dialogs with staff available on my website, and possibly placed into the public record of our meetings. I’m going to do that with this exchange. I’ve been presuming all of our unprivileged email conversations are public documents, but making them public proactively may influence the tone of an exchange, so I wanted you to be aware of my plans.

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