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Open government lawsuit forces revote by county supervisors

The county Board of Supervisors has done an about face on a controversial land development vote.

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (CBS8) - The county Board of Supervisors has done an about face on a controversial land development vote, after a lawsuit claimed the Board violated California's open meeting law.

A spokesperson confirmed to News 8 that a re-vote will now be taken on rule changes aimed at streamlining land planning and development in San Diego County.

The Sacramento-based, open-government organization, Californians Aware, filed the lawsuit last week claiming the Board of Supervisors never notified the public that it was going to vote on a laundry list of procedural changes in the San Diego County Department of Planning and Land Use.

The legal action filed in San Diego Superior court alleges, "While the information provided to the public on the Agenda for the Meeting made no indication that there would be any action... the Board decided to implement the Recommendations that it had already secretly received from staff."

The recommendations approved by unanimous vote at the Board's meeting Dec. 7 were suggested by the so-called Red Tape Reduction Task Force, formed in April by Supervisors Bill Horn and Ron Roberts.

Among other things, the Supervisors voted to create an audit committee to oversee land permitting in the county, and approved a directive to support legislative reform of the California Environmental Quality Act as it relates to development projects.

The lawsuit alleged the county violated California's open meeting Brown Act and asked a judge to order a new vote.

County Counsel Thomas Montgomery emailed the following response on Jan. 5 to Californians Aware after the group issued a demand letter to Supervisor Horn in advance of the lawsuit:

Chairman Bill Horn requested that I respond to your email and attached demand to cure alleged Brown Act violations. We have reviewed your demand and the authorities referenced therein and have determined that the Red Tape Reduction Task Force matter was properly placed on the Board of Supervisors agenda and that the actions taken by the Board of Supervisors complied with all Brown Act requirements. Therefore, there is no need for the County of San Diego Board of Supervisors to take any actions with respect to your demand letter.

After the group filed a lawsuit Thursday, the Board of Supervisors met in closed session and county spokesperson Michael Workman issued a statement Tuesday evening:

There was no Brown Act violation. However, the Board understands that members of the public felt they had not had the chance to provide input at the December 7, 2011 Board meeting. The Board believes it is not worthwhile for the County or for the public to spend time and money on litigation. Therefore, on February 7, 2012, the Board will vacate the prior action. At a subsequent public meeting on February 29, 2012, the public will be invited to provide their comments.

The Californians Aware lawsuit also seeks to recover attorneys' fees associated with the filing of its petition.

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