Today City Attorney John Russo’s office issued a press release stating that it had “issued an opinion directing the City Clerk to uphold state election law and to invalidate the Oak-to-Ninth Referendum Committee’s petition to place the Oak-to-Ninth project on the ballot for voter approval.”

For their part, the Oak-to-Ninth Referendum Committee — who organized the referendum petition drive, turning in 25,068 signatures to the City Clerk on August 17 — responded with their own press release, expressing “indignation” that

… attorneys for Mike Ghielmetti and Signature Properties [the developer of the Oak-to-Ninth project approved by city council on July 18] have persuaded City Attorney John Russo to stop the counting of petitions filed by the referendum committee on August 17.

City Attorney Russo’s five-page opinion acknowledges receiving a 17-page letter, cum legal brief, from attorneys representing Oakland Harbor Partners (which includes Signature Properties as its major component). The opinion “addresses the arguments raised” by it.

The Referendum Committee remained “confident the petitions are in conformance with state law governing referendums” and noting that “our attorney advises us that the referendum will likely stand up to the developer’s challenge.” The Committee plans to challenge the City’s action “halting the signature count” in court:

The committee strongly believes that once the court has reviewed the facts, the petition will be found to be fully legal, and the complaint declared to be groundless. The committee continues taking all actions needed to ensure that the petition count goes forward.

A centerpiece of the city attorney’s opinion is his allegation that the “wrong draft of the ordinance was attached” to the petitions — “a draft, but not the final adopted, version of the Ordinance.”

The Referendum Committee counters that claim, saying

Ironically, it was the City Clerk’s office that put the ordinance up on the City’s website and directed the referendum committee to download it from the website.”

Although the City Attorney explicitly considered, and paraphrased, the brief of Signature Properties’ attorneys, there is no indication in the City Attorney’s press release or opinion that the Referendum Committee was given an opportunity to rebut the legal interpretations of Signature’s attorneys, or that any such rebuttal was considered, before the City Attorney issued his opinion.

The City Attorney closed his opinion by summarizing his rationale:

The City Clerk’s rejection of the referendum Petition is based entirely on the public’s right to know fully, fairly and with precision what City Council action is being challenged. This Petition does not meet that standard of transparency and under the mandate of California law cannot be allowed to proceed.

The Referendum Committee instead “views the action of the City Attorney as caving in to pressure from the developer.”

The Referendum Committee characterized the city attorney’s action as having “blocked” the citizen petition. The city attorney’s own press release says that “state election law invalidates Oak to Ninth petition” and that the office directed the City Clerk to “invalidate… the petition.”

The actual direction given to the City Clerk appears to be technically narrower than those interpretations. Rather, it asserts that “some, if not all” of the petitions attached the wrong version of the challenged ordinance and that “the City Clerk cannot certify to the City Council any count that includes signatures from a Petition that does not attach the adopted version of Ordinance No. 12760 or is missing the exhibits” to that ordinance.