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Publication Date: Friday, November 30, 2001

Council puts Home Depot on March Election Council puts Home Depot on March Election (November 30, 2001)

Election law loophole allows store's signatures to be valid Election law loophole allows store's signatures to be valid (November 30, 2001)

By Bill D'Agostino

The Mountain View City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to put a measure onto the March ballot that will let voters decide if Home Depot should be allowed to bring a store into Mountain View.

Numerous council members said that, while they felt manipulated by Home Depot, they approved the measure to have the voters finally decide what to do about the store and, in the words of Council member Mary Lou Zoglin, "be done with it, once and for all."

If the city's voters were to reject Home Depot's proposal during the March election, it would end _ at least for now _ the home improvement giant's attempts to move into Mountain View.

However, City Attorney Michael Martello said the store could start all over again and get on a future ballot if they did not like the voters' decision. They would, however, have to begin the process of gathering signatures to get on the ballot all over again, he said.

For more than six years, Home Depot has been trying to put a home improvement store on Mountain View's old Emporium site near Highway 85 and El Camino Real.

Last July, they submitted a proposal asking the city council to rezone the site to allow them to put their desired "big box" store there.

Despite the fact that Home Depot expects to bring in nearly a half million dollars in sales tax revenue to the city, the council was expected to block the proposal due to traffic and noise concerns.

As a result, the store withdrew its proposal the morning before the council was scheduled to vote on it.

After that turn of events _ largely seen by Home Depot opponents as a public relations debacle _ the company announced they would try to bring the issue in front of Mountain View voters through a ballot initiative.

Last week, Home Depot announced it had enough Mountain View voters' signatures to put the measure on the March ballot, but due to the lateness of the petitions, there wasn't enough time for the county registrar of voters to count the signatures in time to make the deadline for the March election.

As a result, the city council was put in an awkward position: allow Home Depot to get on the ballot in March or risk having the company call for a special election in April, which would cost the city more than $360,000 ($10 per voter).

A March election, however, would cost the city about $36,000 ($1 per voter).

The council approved the measure 6-0, with Vice Mayor Sally Lieber abstaining to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Lieber's filings with the California Fair Political Practices Commission indicate that she has investments in a trust that holds between $10,001 and $100,000 in Home Depot stock.

Some council members were initially reluctant to vote for the March election because it appears the signatures gathered by Home Depot were gathered legally only due to a gray area in election law.

At the meeting, Home Depot admitted to using non-Mountain View voters to acquire the signatures needed to get on the ballot. Before this year, doing so would have invalidated the signatures since state law had required signature gatherers to be people eligible to vote in the city where the ballot initiative was being considered.

However, according to Dana Reed, and attorney for Home Depot, a recent supreme court decision ruled that this law is unconstitutional.

Reed noted there is a new state law signed by the governor that will require signature gatherers to be citizens _ but not necessarily voters _ but that law doesn't take affect until Jan 1, 2002.

"In all honesty," Reed admitted, "if the signatures were obtained or submitted after Jan. 1, they might not be valid."

Council member Mike Kasperzak said that although he didn't like having to "take the path of least resistance," he voted for the measure so the issue could rest with the voters.

Shortly before voting for the measure, Council member Rosemary Stasek sighed and said, "I can't believe I'm going to vote for this ... we've been played like a fiddle."


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