SAN JOSE — An appeals court recently blocked the City of Morgan Hill’s attempt to halt a public referendum on a parcel of land where a developer sought to build a hotel.

On May 30, the California Sixth District Court of Appeal rejected the city’s argument that a proposed referendum to block the re-designation of a vacant lot would be inconsistent with the city’s general land use plan.

The legal fight stems from an April 2015 decision by the Morgan Hill City Council to pass an ordinance that changed the parcel’s zoning designation to “general commercial,” which would have permitted River Park Hospitality to build a hotel on the land.

The following month, the Morgan Hill Hotel Coalition, a group of local hotel owners, filed a referendum petition to block the ordinance and prevent a hotel from being developed on the property.

The city's position on the referendum, however, has evolved over time.

In July 2015, the city halted the referendum, arguing that if the referendum passed, it would create an “inconsistency” in the city’s general land use plan. 

The city then changed course in February 2016, calling for a special election in June 2016 to put the referendum in front of voters. But in March 2016, the city filed suit to remove the referendum from the ballot.

In March 2016, a superior court sided with the city, effectively blocking the referendum.

The hotel coalition appealed, arguing that the proposed zoning change in the referendum would not be inconsistent with other existing city land use regulations.

The appeals court overturned the superior court’s ruling. 

The ordinance “did not preclude the electorate from exercising its referendum power to reject [the] city’s choice of zoning district,” the court said in its decision.

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