A Circuit Court judge has denied a challenge by Gearhart residents to the ballot title for a $13 million firehouse bond.
Jack Zimmerman and Harold Gable had claimed the ballot title and text were insufficient and vague and did not reflect the final costs for a new firehouse off Highlands Lane.
“I cannot find that the ballot title as written is insufficient, not concise or unfair,” Judge Beau Peterson ruled last Thursday. “The petitioner’s request to have the court edit the ballot title is denied.”
The city had questioned the validity of the complaint when it was filed in late August. But since the court was unable to hold a hearing and issue a ruling before the deadline to have ballot measures ready for the November election, the bond measure was pulled from the ballot.
The city hopes to put the bond measure before voters in the spring.
“I appreciate Judge Peterson’s ruling,” City Attorney Peter Watts said. “The opponents realized that they couldn’t make the false claims in a court of law, and that is why their arguments seemed so thin.”
Gearhart is working with planners to bring the 30-acre Cottages at Gearhart subdivision off Highlands Lane into the city’s urban growth boundary in a land swap for acreage in the city’s “no-build” zone near the ocean. The land would be used for a firehouse and police station to replace an aging facility on Pacific Way.
Given the 175-word limit, Peterson said the proposed ballot summary sufficiently identified the purpose of the bond.
“Any voter interested in more details will be able to find them,” the judge wrote. “The same is true for the tsunami rating, the preliminary nature of the cost estimates and the other complaints the petitioners have with the ballot title.”
Watts described the legal challenge and other obstacles as “kind of a perfect storm” that kept the bond measure off the November ballot.
“It is frustrating that voters will not be able to vote on the question in November,” he said. “I hope that bond interest rates don’t go up.”
Gearhart Mayor Paulina Cockrum said she was happy with the outcome in court and hopes the City Council will move forward with the bond measure in the spring.
Zimmerman said the legal challenge achieved their goal of providing information not included in the ballot summary.
“While Dr. Gable and I are disappointed in the court’s decision, we knew our complaint was outside the normal court guidelines in such matters,” he said. “Our goal was to develop and provide the Gearhart voter with facts which, we believe, were purposely not disclosed in the ballot language.
“Based on the Gearhart community’s response to our complaint, we achieved our primary goal. We predicted the court would probably find in favor of the city based on the laws available to the court, but we know now the Gearhart voter is better informed on the ballot language today than they would have been if the challenge had not been made.”