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[whitespace] Minutiae Up the Wazootia

Campbell--The legal fray surrounding the old Winchester Drive-In site in Campbell, currently slated as a research and development campus, moved further into the realm of minutiae this week--with some large-scale consequences in the offing. The recent finagling demonstrates that in the arcane world of the courts, what looks like neurotic hair-splitting can result in decisions that impact citizens in very material ways.

On July 24, an appeals court upheld an earlier ruling which found that a petition to place the fate of the 24-acre site before voters "technically and substantively" violated the law. The petition's validity has become the fulcrum on which the future of the site teeters.

People For Open Space and others, including councilmember Matthew Dean, would like to see the lot turned into a park. They say the four-acre set-aside designed into the R&D scheme isn't enough. And now that the Appellate Court has ruled against them, they plan to up the ante.

"We're taking this to the State Supreme Court," says Dean. "We have 30-40 days to file an appeal, and probably this week we'll put out a letter informing the city and the courts that we'll appeal it."

In his defense of the petition, Dean cites the quality of life in The Orchard City.

"One of the ways to make a slum is to pack people on top of each other like sardines and then give them no space, no place to recreate," he says.

Dean also disputes the Appellate Court's decision, which rules that the omission of three words--"of four acres"--in one of two versions of the title nullifies the petition. The legal question is whether the title of a petition must merely identify an ordinance or completely describe it.

The title is all most people read just before signing a petition. Dean maintains that even if People For Open Space left three words out of one version, still the meaning was clear to the people who were considering signing it.

He acknowledges that there is a problem with "technical compliance."

"But in terms of substantial compliance--those people who made that ruling weren't thinking straight."

The judges on the appellate bench split this particular hair five ways. In the hearing they detailed five possible interpretations of the title and concluded that the title was ambiguous and could therefore mislead readers.

Whether the $7 million sale of the property by the city to WTA Technology Park LLC can now proceed remains unclear. According to city manager Bernard Strojny, the city's and the developer's attorneys now must determine whether an appeal at the state level should delay the transaction.

"The appellate court was required to hear the case, but the California Supreme Court is not required to hear the case, so the process could go on," says Strojny. "As long as there's an appeal or the potential of appeal, it raises the question of whether the city and the developer have an obligation to close. The questions is, when there is something clogging the process, does it clog it sufficiently to stop closure? That's what the attorneys will be looking at."
Traci Hukill

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