SAN FRANCISCO -- With the November elections right around the corner, supporters of the state's water, forest and oak woodland protection initiative are seeking the help of the state's 1st District Court of Appeals to overturn the initial ruling on the project.

Environmental groups are asking the California appellate court to reject the decision that limited their chances of being part of the elections this November. In an earlier Napa County court ruling, the water, forest and oak woodland protection initiative was declared unfit to become part of the November ballot. The proponents of this initiative are Mike Hackett and Jim Wilson.

According to the disputed decision, the documents were incomplete and failed to satisfy the requirements necessary to properly inform the voters of the issue, court documents indicate. The formal appeal was submitted to the First District Court of Appeals.

An amicus brief was submitted to the appellate court, which included support from five environmental groups. In the said document, the Court of Appeals is asked to favor the rights of the public to be aware of the issue and decide on the matter. According to the proponents of the initiative, the issues linked to their case are vague and could have been misconstrued in the earlier decision. With this in mind, they urge the appellate court to rule in their favor, as most cases of this nature generally call for more leniency on the side of the people.

“[A]ll of our appellate courts have consistently held that the constitution’s initiative and referendum provisions should be liberally construed to maintain maximum power in the people and that ‘any doubts should be resolved in favor of the exercise of these rights,’” cited the proponents of the water, forest and oak woodland protection initiative , according to the Napa Valley Register.

The water, forest and oak woodland protection initiative was brought forth following the efforts of Hackett and Wilson to gather approximately 6,000 signatures to support the project. At the time, John Tuteur, the assessor-recorder-county clerk at the Napa County Registrar of Voters, verified the signatures to be authentic and valid for the initiative to qualify for the November election. However, he eventually rejected the initiative to be included in the ballot.

Tuteur’s rejection came after Minh Tran, legal counsel for Napa County, pointed out the errors in the documents submitted for the water, forest and oak woodland protection initiative. According to the Napa lawyer, Hackett and Wilson failed to include the eight-page appendix related to a former county plan. To be more specific, Tran called attention to the missing list of sustainable best management practices. This list could be found under the 2010 voluntary oak woodland management plan.

“Unfortunately, county counsel (Tran) has found the petition does not meet the requirements of state law, so as the (county’s) elections official, it is my duty to reject the petition on that ground,” said Tuteur of his decision to deny the initiative from being part of the November ballot, according to a separate Napa Valley Register report. “The proponents have the opportunity to ask a judge to overturn that rejection and that is mentioned in my message to them.”

In their defense, Wilson and Hackett pointed out that the appendix was not part of the initiative. The proponents stated that it was only mentioned to illustrate their case. However, Judge Diane Price of the Napa Superior Court agreed with Tuteur and denied the motion of the proponents.

No date for the hearing before the court of appeals has been set.

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California 1st District Court of Appeal
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