Proposition W escapes from court unscathed

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North County Times

A court of appeals failed to rule that the campaign reform initiative that made it to Vista’s ballot last year is unconstitutional and instead ruled the case as moot.

A three-judge panel issued their decision last Thursday, putting an end to the legal battle between the city and the Oaks Project, the non-profit group behind the initiative dubbed Proposition W.

“The court agreed with our argument that the entire issue was moot, and we won,” said Carmen Balber, an Oaks Project Organizer. “They had the opportunity to rule that it was unconstitutional and they decided not to do that.”

While the Oaks Project sees the judgment as a victory, city officials are not as pleased. Vista city officials were hoping the Court of Appeals would uphold a former Superior Court decision that found the initiative unconstitutional, which would essentially kill the proposition in every city it was enacted in.

Vista was one of six cities in the state targeted last year by the Oaks Project, a statewide group formed by consumer advocate Ralph Nader. The group launched efforts in each of those six communities to put the campaign finance reform initiative before voters.

The initiative is now in affect in San Francisco and Santa Monica and recently won on the ballot in Pasadena and Clairemont.

A petition signed by 5,400 Vista voters successfully put the initiative on the ballot there, but the city sued the Oaks Project, saying the measure was unconstitutional because campaign contributions are a form of free speech. A Superior Court judge agreed with the city and ruled that the initiative be yanked from the ballot.

When the Oaks Project appealed that decision, an appellate judge ordered the measure back on the ballot and said the question of constitutionality would be decided later, after the election.

The initiative received support from roughly 59 percent of voters in Vista, but was eclipsed when 64 percent supported a competing campaign finance measure floated by the city.

Since the initiative lost, an Oaks Project attorney told the appellate court last month that there was nothing left to argue and asked that the case be dropped.

But the city refused to drop the case, hoping to drive a stake in the heart of the initiative by declaring it unconstitutional

“The Fourth District Court was not willing to make a determination as to whether or not Proposition W is unconstitutional, but my determination is that it is unconstitutional,” said Councilman Ed Estes Jr., who lead the council’s opposition to Proposition W.

John Ramirez, who represented the city at February’s District Court hearing, said that if a final ruling on the measure wasn’t made, it would leave lingering doubts in Vista as to the merits of the initiative and create an opportunity for the proposition to be reintroduced to the city later.

Balber said she’s not sure what the Oaks Project has planned concerning its future in Vista.

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