Appellate Court Upholds Finding Apple Valley Town Council Breached Brown Act

APPLE VALLEY–The Fourth District Court of Appeal has in essence substantiated a lower court ruling that Apple Valley’s 2013 ballot measure that passed and authorized the project processing and construction of a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Apple Valley was contrary to the law.
The decision renders inapplicable the town’s Measure D – which came to be referred to as the “Walmart Initiative Measure.” That measure was voted upon in a special election held November 19, 2013 and passed by 6,230 votes, or 58.59 percent, to 4,403 votes opposed, or 41.41 percent.
While the court invalidated the vote, it stopped short of upholding the totality of the previous ruling, which held the initiative violated the California Constitution.
In reaction, the town offered a terse statement that its officials are “not able to offer comment at this time, but will be glad to do so once we have time to fully review the ruling.”
At the heart of the matter was the town council’s violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state’s open meeting law. The Brown Act violation occurred at the town council’s August 13, 2013 meeting when it ratified a memorandum of understanding between the town and Wal-Mart. A three member panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal opined the vote was a clear violation of the rule that states such action must be clearly noticed at least 72 hours ahead of the vote and that the vote must be carried on in public.
While town officials are enthusiastic about welcoming a Wal-Mart to Apple Valley because of the boost in sales tax it would represent, many residents are not pleased with the company on a number of grounds and some feel that it is not compatible with Apple Valley’s efforts to stay a cut above other desert communities.
Leading the legal charge against the supercenter was attorney Cory Briggs, who has offices in Upland and San Diego. He has made a point of challenging Wal-Mart construction proposals on a number of grounds in nearly a dozen Southern California cities, including Hesperia and Ontario. Briggs filed the instant case on behalf of Apple Valley resident Gabriel Hernandez, who had standing to sue.
The memorandum of understanding called for the town’s acceptance of Wal-Mart’s offer to pay for the special election. The item was not placed on the agenda ahead of time. The city was up against a deadline to get the matter scheduled for an election by November at that point. Delaying it would have moved the election well into 2014.
According to a court document filed by Briggs, “In none of the documents was the ‘item of business’ that town council was going to accept a gift from Walmart in order to pay for a special election to pass the Initiative.” Briggs estimated the contribution of Wal-Mart to the city at one quarter of a million dollars.
The court held that the memorandum was a critical indicator of the Brown Act violation.

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