A judge handed a victory to those wanting to save the Carson City Fairgrounds from development, but left the door open for ultimate defeat.
While ordering Carson City officials Monday to place a question on the ballot that will determine the fate of the fairgrounds, District Judge Michael Griffin said victory at the ballot box is no guarantee of the initiative's legality.
While Griffin agreed the ordinance sought by Concerned Citizens for Fuji Park may not be legal because it asks that Fuji Park and the fairgrounds "be maintained and improved in not less than its present size as a park in perpetuity," he argued city leaders should contest the legality of the ordinance only after voters have a chance to weigh in on the issue.
Griffin said despite potential legal problems, the process to bring forward the initiative petition "is entitled to the highest deference" as a legal way for voters to affect change in their government.
"That strong argument won't prevail here today," Griffin said of the city's arguments. "I don't know whether (the ordinance) will pass the voters. Even if I think there are some defects, I'm required to give great deference to the will of the people."
Carson Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Forsberg argued Monday the sale of property is an administrative right granted by the state to the city and is therefore exempt from the initiative process.
Concerned Citizen attorney Julian Smith argued state law says if county leaders reject a petition, it "shall" appear on the next ballot for a public vote.
Clerk Alan Glover said there isn't enough time to meet the May 20 deadline to place the ordinance on the Sept. 3 ballot, and it will have to be voted on in the November general election. Glover said he will begin recruiting immediately a committee to draft ballot language for and against the ordinance.
As it stands, that means voters will have two questions regarding the park and fairgrounds on the November ballot.
On Jan. 3, city supervisors rejected a 3,400-signature petition supporting the proposed ordinance and instead decided to pursue an advisory vote regarding the potential sale and commercial development of the city's fairgrounds.
City leaders contend Fuji Park, adjacent to the fairgrounds off Old Clear Creek Road, is saved from commercial development. Their advisory question reads, "While retaining and improving the area known as Fuji Park, should Carson City make available for commercial development City property known as the Carson City Fairgrounds?"
The Concerned Citizens sued to compel the city to allow their petition a public vote.
"We're pretty happy," said Michael Hoffman, Concerned Citizen president. "We always told people we followed the law while writing up the petition. We told them we'd take it all the way, that we'd make their votes count."
The city can appeal Griffin's decision to the Supreme Court. Mayor Ray Masayko said Monday he plans to call a special supervisors meeting next week to seek a decision. While city leaders have the ability under state law to discuss certain legal issues in closed meetings, Masayko said the special meeting will be open to the public. Masayko said it "doesn't sound logical" to have both the city's advisory question and the Concerned Citizen's ordinance both on the ballot.
Glover said regardless of the supervisors' appeal decision, he and his staff will work to prepare the ordinance for the ballot unless a court directs him otherwise.
The future of the fairgrounds, which sits in the middle of the region's hottest commercial property, has been enveloped in controversy since the city decided to sell vacant Fuji Park land to Costco in 1999. Community members were angered last year when the city offered the fairgrounds to Wal-Mart to keep the retailer from relocating in North Douglas County.
The Concerned Citizens responded with the initiative petition, and city officials responded with the alternate ballot question, promising to abide by its outcome. Supervisors recently appointed a committee to draft ballot language for and against selling the fairgrounds.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
To serve on a Carson City ballot question committee, call the Elections Office at 887-2087. Pick up applications at 851 E. Musser St.