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Davis, California

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Lawsuit filed to change misleading ballot statements written by opponents of the DiSC 2022 development project

Despite a double-sided victory, the opposing campaign said that, as a result, they’ve been put in a difficult position

By LEVI GOLDSTEIN city@theaggie.org


On March 22, City of Davis council member Dan Carson filed a lawsuit for false and misleading ballot statements written by the opponents of Measure H. 

Measure H, which Davis citizens will vote on from May through June, proposes the construction of the Davis Sustainability and Innovation Campus (DiSC) 2022. DiSC 2022 includes new retail spaces, a hotel that will create jobs in the city, 460 residential units and office and laboratory spaces for UC Davis researchers, according to the City of Davis website. The City Council originally declined the initial plan for DiSC in 2020. The developers, Ramco Enterprises and Buzz Oates, submitted another application with a revised plan in July 2021. 

Advocates for the DiSC 2022 project approve of its promise to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040 and its support for environmental scientists. In addition, the project is economically beneficial to the City of Davis, according to Carson. 

“We see it as an important economic strategy for our city to leverage that relationship with UC Davis to the benefit of our town,” Carson said. “There are companies that are partnering with UC Davis in research that would love to be able to locate in our town, but there’s insufficient space for them to do so. The property and sales taxes that we would get from this project would generate about a $4 million net gain for the City of Davis.”

Those who disapprove of the project believe that it will worsen traffic congestion on an already busy commuter street, according to Alan Pryor, the principal officer and treasurer of the opposing campaign. 

“The traffic on Mace Boulevard is horrific,” Pryor said. “The project will add 12,000 additional car trips a day. I don’t think they have nearly sufficient mitigations proposed to handle this.”

There are also concerns that the developers will not fulfill their obligations for sustainability and that the retail space will negatively affect small business owners. 

Carson filed the lawsuit on March 22 in his capacity as a voter in the City of Davis, not as a council member. California Election Code 9295 requires that an individual plaintiff file the suit, but Carson said he was representing the entire “Yes on Measure H” campaign as its honorary chair. Election Code 9295 also requires the suit to name the city, the county and the parties of interest; the suit included the names of the persons that wrote and submitted the ballot arguments. Carson said that the City of Davis and Yolo County had no objections to the changes. 

The hearing was held on March 29. Daniel Maguire, the presiding judge for the Yolo County Superior Court, ultimately ordered that two statements be amended in the voter information guide. 

Firstly, the word “only” was removed from the statement, “Their only promise is to develop a Traffic Demand Management Plan if the project is approved,” as the baseline project features include nine commitments to improve traffic in the area. 

Secondly, the opposition wrote that “DiSC is projected to produce 54 million pounds of new greenhouse gasses annually.” However, the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project listed 20,000 metric tons as the actual projected number for emissions. The “Vote No on DiSC” campaign made an error in converting metric tons to pounds, and “54 million pounds” was reverted back to the original number. 

The other three challenged statements were not altered. Despite a favorable ruling, the opposing campaign was put in a difficult position because of the lawsuit, due to its existing financial disadvantage. 

“The fact that our grassroots campaign was sued has imposed a huge financial burden on us and compromised our ability to campaign against deep-pocketed developers,” Pam Gunnell, a member of the “Vote No on DiSC campaign,” said in an article for the Davis Enterprise. 

Pryor and other opponents of DiSC 2022 expressed concern that Carson is using his position as a council member to gain public support for Measure H and the DiSC project. Pryor also said Carson was suing as a deliberate political move. The “No on Measure H” campaign had just days to acquire legal representation and had to do so at a reduced fee, according to Pryor. 

“The intentions here are clear,” Pryor said. “And that was to put the ‘No’ side in a chokehold politically and financially. This was an orchestrated effort on their part, designed to inflict the maximum possible damage.”

Opponents worry that the “Yes on H” campaign’s lack of financial struggles is symptomatic of political corruption and reveals Carson’s collaboration with corporate interests, according to the Davis Enterprise and the “Vote No on DiSC” website. The “Yes on H” campaign website clarifies that the campaign received donations from one of the DiSC developers, Ramco Enterprises. Moreover, Dan Ramos, the vice president of Ramco, said during the city council meeting on April 5 that he directly funded Carson’s lawsuit. 

On April 7, the attorneys of the defendants, who were from the Strumwasser & Woocher law firm, filed a motion in court requesting the reimbursement of over $71,000 in legal costs. 

“In my experience, it is highly unusual for a sitting public official to sue their own citizens over ballot arguments,” said Beverly Grossman Palmer of Strumwasser & Woocher in a press release. “None of the attorneys in my firm can recall a similar situation in any of our collective years of practicing election law.”

Pryor said in a press release that he “regret[s] that these actions are necessary” but that the campaign had little choice. 

Despite the contention surrounding the lawsuit, Carson believes it was a win for democracy.

“We are thankful that Judge Maguire has taken a stand in support of truth in politics at a time when the spread of political disinformation is a growing national concern,” Carson said.

The upcoming election will be largely mail-in. Voting begins on May 9 and ends on June 7. 


Written by: Levi Goldstein — city@theaggie.org



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