The more we learn about city plans for expanding industry to include large scale distribution centers, the more urgent it becomes to stop these projects from moving forward. We need to take a wholesale approach at limiting distribution in our city before it drastically changes our lives forever.
Morgan Hill's Planned Development process is supposed to provide oversight and restraint. We also expect city planners to care enough to make decisions that preserve our quality of life here. Morgan Hill residents deserve a better solution but this will take a sustained community effort. MHRGC is here to help guide in that effort.
As the Morgan Hill Technology Park project was exposed for what it really is, supporters asked “how can we stop this project?” and social media posters suggested “we should get signatures like the hotels did and put it on the ballot.”
When MHRGC first announced formation of a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization, enabling us to accept donations, we told the community about our initial plans for using financial contributions. For the past several months, we have been working diligently to research our options and meet with legal experts who have a proven track record in stopping local governments from enacting land use amendments that are not in the best interest of the community.
MH Responsible Growth Coalition (MHRGC) volunteers are working hard for our community:
Engaging with city leaders, including city council, planning commission, and economic development staff, through email and during planning meetings, when these projects are under review. City planners have a huge workload and we are happy to share our vast research knowledge of these issues if they don't have time to research on their own.
Contacting government agencies, news groups, and environmental groups to help with advocacy on the detrimental effects of these projects and to ensure our city planners follow established protocol when making project decisions.
Giving priority to community outreach, keeping residents informed of our findings through website subscriber services, social media platforms, neighborhood flyers, and a variety of other informal meetings.
Continually learning about the logistics industry, city zoning and processes, and relevant cases in other cities, to expand our knowledge of these issues and how they could impact our community.
Actively working on ballot initiatives with legal experts to give our community members a choice in what becomes of this city.
How MHRGC is Taking Action to Save our Community
The time for exercising our rights is NOW
We have four possible options to stop the Trammell Crow project and other massive distribution centers from taking over prime real estate here in our city of Morgan Hill.
Option 1: Convince city officials to engage in a good-faith, honest, and transparent process which involves a willingness to require significant changes or to completely reject these distribution center projects. Even though the odds of achieving meaningful changes are low, we will continue to inject ourselves into the city planning process in every way possible.
Option 2: File legal challenges based on CEQA / EIR and the Morgan Hill Planned Development processes, findings, and decisions. This is the method communities use most often to oppose misguided local land development. Challenging a city in court typically involves a significant amount of expert analysis and legal counsel, which tends to be very expensive. Securing a favorable and meaningful outcome is also subject to the mountain of legal ambiguity surrounding these issues, making the probability of success difficult to predict. However, as the Shoe Palace Distribution Center project showed us, the city is willing to use egregious arguments that have “significant omissions and flaws” which are “inadequate as a matter of law” to characterize the adverse environmental impacts a project will have on the community. Courts would almost certainly rule these practices to be unfair and harmful to citizens of Morgan Hill. MHRGC believes that if similar tactics are used by the city with the Trammell Crow project, it is likely we could find legal counsel willing to represent our citizens on a contingency basis, after an initial discovery phase is completed.
The final two options allow registered voters of Morgan Hill to ultimately control whether the General Plan and Zoning amendments are granted to allow the developer to proceed with this project. The right of citizens to use these ballot processes is enshrined in the California Constitution. This means that, even if the city continues to ignore our legitimate concerns, residents can decide if Trammell Crow will get the changes they are requesting.
Option 3: Exercise our rights to be the ultimate decision-makers through the referendum process. This process can begin only AFTER a proposed change in City Code is formally enacted by our city council. Therefore, if the Trammell Crow General Plan and Zoning amendments are approved, we would qualify a referendum to be put before the voters through submission of a petition signed by at least 10% of Morgan Hill registered voters. The petition would be very simple, basically saying “we, the voters of Morgan Hill, seek the repeal of the amendment passed by the City Council of Morgan Hill.” This relative simplicity makes the associated legal cost less than an initiative. In addition to having to wait until after the amendments are formally enacted (signatures can’t be collected now and used later), another significant disadvantage of the referendum is that all of the required signatures, approximately 2,400, must be collected within a 30-day time limit. Based on the response from our concerned supporters who have indicated they want to participate in stopping this project, MHRGC believes signature gathering could be done with an all-volunteer effort, avoiding the need for paid signature collectors, which is typically the costliest part of getting a referendum placed on the ballot. This assumption does have a risk due to the 30-day time limit, as we would need a volunteer-based signature gathering campaign organized well in advance.
Option 4: Exercise our rights to be the decision-makers through the initiative process. In contrast to a referendum which, in our case, is a challenge by voters to a zoning or general plan amendment already enacted by city council, an initiative is a proposal by the people; it is a legislative act placed on the ballot by voters, to be decided by voters. The text of the initiative would include a list of purposes and a specific amendment that, if approved, would become part of Morgan Hill code. We won’t be asking voters to reject the developer-requested amendments but instead proposing an amendment to meet our objectives. Notice of our intent to circulate a petition, accompanied by the written text of the initiative, will be filed with the Morgan Hill elections official. The elections official forwards the request to the city attorney who has 15 days to publish a ballot title and summary. Once approved, the city council could not simply repeal the voter-approved initiative or enact some other conflicting amendment. Like a referendum, an initiative is qualified to be put before the voters through submission of a petition signed by at least 10% of Morgan Hill registered voters. However, the collection of signatures can begin as soon as the initiative is ready (upon receipt of title and summary) and the time limit to get required signatures is 180 days. As compared to a referendum, both the ability to begin the process when we want, and having 180 days to collect signatures, are extremely advantageous. The initiative process is essentially an offensive tactic, allowing us to move forward without any dependency on the Environmental Impact Report, non-standard Planning Development processes, or any other questionable actions the city or developer want to engage in. With more time to collect signatures, organizing an all-volunteer effort to avoid the use of paid signature collectors also carries far less risk and keeps the required funding to a minimum.
Our plan of action
Given what is at stake, we believe it is prudent to have a plan that allows all four options to be exercised. The overall strategy and relative priority of these steps have been defined by MHRGC following input from highly experienced and successful legal experts who contributed their time and advice because they believe in our cause and foresee a high probability we will achieve our goal:
1) Continue engaging with the city and hope they listen and act on the legitimate concerns of the citizens of Morgan Hill. This continues as our number one priority but will only succeed if there is sustained community participation.
2) Bring an initiative to ballot and allow Morgan Hill residents to be the decision-makers. We are currently taking steps to begin formal engagement with legal counsel, and other experts, to perform a detailed analysis to confirm which zoning amendment is proposed in the initiative. As soon as possible thereafter, contingent on having raised funds to pay for legal counsel, we will prepare and file the initiative and get the necessary signatures required to bring it before the voters.
3) Monitor the CEQA/EIR process and Planned Development process using volunteers and pro-bono expert assistance. If there are significant omissions and flaws, which are considered inadequate as a matter of law, we will use limited funds to find and reach agreement with legal counsel willing to represent citizens of Morgan Hill on a contingency basis.
4) Prepare to put a referendum on the ballot in the unlikely case we do not achieve our goal with the initiative process.
How donations will be used to execute this plan
Donations received during our current fundraising campaign will help pay for legal costs associated with getting a measure on the ballot. We are committed to the highest level of financial transparency and accountability.
If necessary, we will plan a second fundraising campaign later, with dates dependent on when an initiative and/or referendum will be on a ballot, to promote our cause and ensure we win the majority vote. The cost of promoting our ballot measure has not yet been scoped but any remaining balance from our initial fundraising will carry forward to promote that ballot measure. This achieves our ultimate goal and we will have a head start in what we need to raise in a second phase of the process.
 Shoe Palace Comment Letter, Laborers International Union of North America, November 19, 2018