Upland seal

By Liset Márquez, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Posted: 05/08/16 – 12:24 PM PDT |

UPLAND >> The city was ready to cut its losses.

After more than a year of costly legal battles, a Fourth District Appellate Court last month in unprecedented move ruled the city had no legal standing to deny the California Cannabis Coalition the right to hold a special election on a ballot measure that aimed to overturn Upland’s ban on medical marijuana dispensaries.

Upland has spent $45,884 on the case so far but may be on the hook for another $100,000 or so to pay for the coalition’s legal fees. And it would cost $137,000 to put on a special election.

“The council had felt it had invested too much in this case and was ready to cut its losses and accept defeat,” said Timothy Bittle, the director of legal affairs for the Howard Jarvis Association.

After the appellate court ruling, the association reached out to Upland City Attorney Richard Adams about filing an amicus, or “friend of the court,” brief to support Upland. That’s when Bittle learned city officials were about to wave the white flag. So the organization more known for challenging cities decided to represent one. For free.

“It’s unusual for us,” he acknowledged in a phone conversation from his Sacramento office.

While the battle between Upland and the coalition dates back to 2014, Bittle said the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association had paid little attention until recently.

“It was a matter of local concern, and we didn’t feel we needed to get involved,” he said.

The taxpayers’ advocacy group does, after all, only have two lawyers on staff who, at any given point, are working on half-dozen cases and 10 amicus briefs as well as monitoring any pending legislation it is sponsoring.

But Upland’s ruling from the court of appeals changed everything. Because the decision is published, meaning it can be used as precedent in future cases, it may allow for future tax increases through special elections, which often don’t attract enough voters to represent the true voice of the people.

That was enough for the Howard Jarvis Association.

“They’re worried that our case in Upland will open the floodgates to raising taxes in the state,” said attorney Roger Jon Diamond, who is representing the coalition.

In a petition filed last week, the association’s legal arm asked the state Supreme Court to review an appellate court ruling, claiming the decision has created a loophole that could circumvent the public’s right to vote on new taxes.

“Even though the California Constitution requires an election, that requirement does not apply to taxes proposed by initiatives, according to the Court of Appeal,” the association’s filing stated.

Bittle argues it’s essential for any proposed tax increases to go on a general election ballot, not only because it’s in the state Constitution, but for transparency reasons.

To read expanded article, click here.