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North County Housing Development Opponents Sued For Attorney’s Fees

A view of the Valley Center countryside where the Lilac Hills Ranch was plann...

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Above: A view of the Valley Center countryside where the Lilac Hills Ranch was planned, with 1,700 homes. The project was not consistent with San Diego County's General Plan for growth, and Measure B on the November ballot failed.

Attorneys for a San Diego developer of a proposed North County housing project are suing opponents for thousands of dollars after it was defeated at the polls in November.

Attorneys for a San Diego developer of a proposed Valley Center housing project are suing opponents for thousands of dollars after it was defeated at the polls in November.

Accretive Investments, which put Measure B — the Lilac Hills project — on the ballot, alleged before the election that the opposition’s ballot language was “false and misleading.” A judge reviewed the case and ruled in favor of toning down the opponents’ ballot language in 18 instances out of the 26 changes requested.

For example: Instead of saying the project “violated” San Diego County’s General Plan, the ballot language was changed to say the project was “inconsistent” with the General Plan.

The phrase “Measure B would force County taxpayers to pay for improvements,” was changed to, “may require” county taxpayers to pay for improvements.

The developer’s attorney, San Francisco-based Sutton Law Firm, is seeking about $90,000 in legal fees from those whose names were on the ballot statement.

San Diego attorney Dan Eaton said suits challenging ballot language are not uncommon, and legal fees can be high for the party that prevails.

“There is an interest in making sure that these ballot arguments that voters rely on in making decisions at the ballot — are accurate,” he said.

But, he said, the issue the judge is likely to focus on is how much the public benefitted from the developer’s suit.

“Whether there was really a significant benefit conferred on the general public by having these 18 corrections made to the argument against the ballot measure,” he said.

In spite of the suit and spending more than $3 million on promoting Measure B, well over 60 percent of San Diegans voted against it, and the measure failed.

Former County Supervisor Pam Slater Price was one of those who signed the ballot argument against Lilac Hills, and is named in the suit. She called the developers “sore losers,” and said their strategy is to discourage people from coming forward to oppose the project in the future.

“They’re just trying to say, ‘If we can’t come in and get our way, then we’re going to sue you,”’ she said. “I think they are basically trying to bully the public, and should be rejected by the judge.”

Opponents of Measure B raised about $150,000, a fraction of the money spent to promote the measure, but prevailed in November.

Jon Rilling, spokesman for Accretive Investments, said in an email that the group is evaluating their options and no decision has yet been made about next moves.

A judge will hold a hearing on the developer’s petition for legal fees on Feb. 24.

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