The Danville Town Council reluctantly certified the validity of a petition challenging its approval of the Magee Preserve development project during their regular meeting on Tuesday evening, setting the stage for a potential showdown during the March primary election.
After approximately an hour of deliberations, the council validated the petition and concluded that they would like residents to vote on the issue for themselves, directing staff to put the issue on the ballot during the March 3, statewide primary election -- pending final confirmation at a future meeting.
Tuesday's meeting was filled with accusations leveled against both sides of the issue, with opponents of the 69-home project claiming they were harassed by aggressive tactics from “petition blockers” and council members saying petitioners lied to receive signatures.
“What's interesting is, and this is the unfortunate part of petitions, is that you can say anything you want. You don't have to tell the truth; you can lie,” said Councilman Newell Arnerich, vocalizing a thought shared by his fellow council members who claimed petitioners lied to receive signatures.
“I observed two (petitioners) that I didn’t recognize, I don’t think they were from Danville… And what I heard what those people were saying, were absolute lies. ” Arnerich continued. “It just stuns me the ability of people to win an argument, the willingness of what they will say to try to win an argument, ignoring all the facts to get somebody to sign something.”
Several petition gatherers spoke during the meeting’s public comment section, and expressed their rationale for opposing the Magee Preserve, stating they feared increased traffic resulting from the project, increased danger to cyclists along Diablo Road, as well as their opposition to the development of any open space in the area.
Petitioners further stated that many of their members were harassed by petition blockers, who yelled at and followed them while they were attempting to collect signatures.
“Danville likes to brag about its high quality of life and its high standards, but it should also pass these on to developers. During the referendum process, we've had a lot of blockers that we assume came from the developer that really harassed a lot of our signature gatherers,” said Danville resident Dr. Clelen Tanner, who added that blockers stole petitioners signs.
“I personally was harassed trying to get signatures -- talked over, yelled at,” added Maryann Cella, herself a petition gatherer. “It’s amazing that we were able to gather 5,487 signatures… that was with the incredible harassment. So that should tell you that many more people would have signed but people wanted to avoid that kind of stuff.”
The petition, delivered to town staff by a resident group dubbed Danville Open Space Committee, contained 5,487 signatures of Danville residents taken by both volunteer and paid petitioners.
Earlier in September, Contra Costa County election officials conducted a sample test of 500 randomly selected signatures on the petition, and found that 401 were valid signatures belonging to registered Danville voters, good enough for the minimum number needed to receive validation from the county.
Of the 99 signatures found to be invalid, county election officials found that 43 belonged to voters who lived outside of Danville, 36 belonged to residents who weren't registered voters, 11 belonged to residents who registered late or at the wrong address, eight belonged to voters whose signatures didn’t match county records, and one was a duplicate signature.
Submitted by Walnut Creek-based developer Davidon Homes and approved by the Town Council during its regular meeting on July 9, the Magee Preserve development project would consist of building 69 single-family homes on the south side of Diablo and Blackhawk roads, as well as a series of hiking and biking trails that would be open to the public.
Located on a 410-acre project site, the Magee Preserve would develop approximately 29 acres -- or 7% -- of the site, permanently designating the remaining 381 acres as open space with public access.
All five council members maintained steadfast support for the Magee Preserve project, stating it will prove to be a great boon to the town, both for its preservation of so much open space and the allowance of the public to access land that was previously closed off to residents.
“Unfortunately, the signature gatherers did not tell the story correctly,” Mayor Robert Storer said during Tuesday's meeting. “I can tell you at the end of the day, that the public will touch the property, will be able to walk on those trails... I think we owe it to the public that we get an answer as quickly as possible.”
While the Town Council did validate the petition and identified March 3 as the preferred date to place the issue on the ballot, the council will make the final decision on when the election will be held at a future meeting. Alternatively, council members could have identified the November 2020 general election as the preferred date for the vote to be held, but dismissed this option in favor of presenting the issue to voters as soon as possible.
If the March 3 special election date is given final approval, Danville’s city clerk Marie Sunseri says the special election is estimated to cost the town between $60,132 and $90,198 -- $2 to $3 for every registered voter. She added that placing the question on the November 2020 municipal election would cost between $37,583 and $52,616 -- $1.25 to $1.75 per registered voter.