Plano citizens are a step closer to winning their lawsuit compelling local officials to acknowledge a referendum petition on the city’s comprehensive development plan.
After spending nearly five years and hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars fighting their own citizens, Plano officials finally conceded defeat.
In an emergency meeting on Sunday, Plano City Council members decided 8-0 not to appeal the latest court ruling upholding citizens’ referendum rights.
Instead, city officials will comply with the law and a court order requiring the city to act on the referendum petition.
“Lisa will comply by bringing the petition to us on August 5,” Mayor Harry LaRosiliere said following Sunday’s vote, referring to City Secretary Lisa Henderson.
The referendum petition calls for city council to either repeal or put to a public vote the Plano Tomorrow Plan, adopted in October 2015 amid controversy over land-use provisions that critics said encouraged too much urban-style, high-density development. Within 30 days, over 4,000 Plano citizens signed the petition demanding repeal or a vote, following rules set out in the city’s charter.
Henderson refused to submit their petition to city council as required by the city charter, claiming comprehensive plans are not subject to referendum, so citizens representing the petition signers sued.
After years of costly legal battles that went all the way to the Texas Supreme Court, Plano citizens scored a major victory last month. A July 22 decision by the 5th Court of Appeals required the city secretary to present the petition to Plano City Council within 14 days—by August 5—and allowed the citizens to recover their legal costs.
On Wednesday, Plano City Council will hold a joint meeting with the Planning and Zoning Commission. After receiving the referendum petition and conducting a public hearing, council will consider whether to hold a referendum vote on the Plano Tomorrow Plan or repeal and replace it with the comprehensive plan in place just prior to adoption of Plano Tomorrow.
“We’ve often heard it said: you can’t fight city hall,” Plano resident Ed Acklin told council members Sunday during public comments. “Citizens of Plano have shown this is not true.”
“There are a number of you sitting on council today who weren’t there a few years ago. This meeting is proof citizens fought,” Acklin said, referring to Councilmembers Anthony Ricciardelli, Rick Smith, Lily Bao, and Shelby Williams.
As city officials dragged out the citizens’ referendum lawsuit for years, local voters elected new councilmembers who listened to their concerns and, in the process, rejected candidates bankrolled by outside real estate developers and Mayor LaRosiliere.
“It’s time for us to stop fighting this lawsuit,” Acklin added. “There’s been way too much money spent and way too much time spent.”
“Do not spend another dime of taxpayer money on appealing this decision,” said Plano citizen Colleen Aguilar Epstein. “Instead, repeal the Plano Tomorrow Plan.”
City Attorney Paige Mims said Sunday the city had spent $495,000 of taxpayers’ money on outside lawyers and legal fees to block the citizens’ referendum petition. In the end, it was taxpayer money down the drain.
The appellate court’s ruling not only ordered the Plano referendum petition to proceed but upheld the right of all Texas citizens to petition for a referendum vote on comprehensive plans—a power Plano city officials sought to deny local citizens:
“[T]he legislature did not limit the power of home-rule municipalities to adopt comprehensive plans—and certainly did not indicate with ‘unmistakable clarity’ its intent to withdraw the voters’ retained power to invoke the referendum process with respect to such plans. … That public officials may have to develop a new plan that survives voter hostility is inherent in the exercise of the power reserved to the people.”
Whether city officials decide to repeal, replace, or put to a public vote the Plano Tomorrow Plan, citizens are already working on an improved comprehensive development plan that a majority of residents can embrace, dubbed the “Plano United Plan.”
Last year, the newly balanced council formed a 16-member citizen Comprehensive Plan Review Committee, which is expected to report its recommendations to the Planning and Zoning Commission later this year.
“I moved to Plano from Dallas in large part because of the suburban quality of life,” said Rohit Joy on Sunday. “The city chose to fight a legal battle which it has now lost.”
Joy said the citizens’ review committee, which has been working on a new comprehensive plan since January, should be allowed to complete its work.
The joint Plano City Council-Planning and Zoning Commission meeting starts at 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, August 5. Links to the agenda, live-stream, and public comment information can be found on the city’s website.