A judge today refused to hear a case by erstwhile North Beach developers who
Orange County Superior Court Judge Luis A. Rodriguez said in his written decision to throw the case out of court that plaintiffs Shaheen and Linda Sadeghi were using the legal system to try to get around the democratic process.
He specifically cited laws enacted against "strategic lawsuits to stifle public participation," or SLAPP, a term coined in the 1980s to describe the practice of suing a citizen, group or public agency "for alleged wrongdoing simply because that individual or group has used constitutionally protected rights to persuade the government to take a particular course of action," according to Farlex's legal dictionary.
The Sadeghis, principals in the LAB development company that had , claimed millions in damages after voters shot down their project with the in March 2011.
"Are the factual allegations contained in the complaint against the City of San Clemente protected free speech authorizing the court to apply [anti-SLAPP laws]? The answer is yes," the judge wrote.
"Yes as to any alleged facts which refer, or identify any statements, comments and communications pertaining to the Measure A referendum, whether made in council chambers, in public or in their official capacity. All of the statements clearly fall within the protected speech/petition rights," Rodriguez said.
The judge said Playa del Norte was "arguably the most controversial property development project before the City Council. Thus, plaintiff’s project was a matter of 'public interest' not a 'predominantly private business-oriented activities.' "
The suit, filed in November 2011, says the city -- through two of its council members - -engaged in a campaign to sabotage Playa Del Norte, even after the city had specifically solicited a proposal from LAB for the development.
The suit claims the city leaked closed-session negotiations to the press that led to the project's characterization as a "land grab" by opponents. The suit also suggests the city set up bureaucratic hoops, such as unnecessary environmental reviews, to delay and ultimately kill the project.
The judge wraps up his assessment by pointing out that it was a vote by residents that killed the development.
"Notwithstanding, plaintiff also ignores the elephant in the room which is that the loss of the project was due to the vote of the citizens of San Clemente, not the actions or inactions of the city," Rodriguez wrote.