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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on June 24th, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 15, Issue 16 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 15, Issue 16

CAUSE leaders say they'll continue to pursue voting changes in court

By AMY ASMAN

Everyone thinks they’re winners in the Santa Barbara County Superior Court case Putney v. Garietz, et al. based on the press releases recently sent out by the opposing sides.

On June 17, an email from the city of Santa Maria said Judge James Rigali dismissed a petition filed by Hazel Putney and the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) that would require officials to place an initiative on the November ballot proposing that City Council members be elected by districts rather than by the city as a whole.

Proponents of the petition started collecting signatures back in February of this year. Campaign organizers needed 2,700 signatures—10 percent of the registered voters in Santa Maria—by mid April to get the initiative on the ballot, which they managed to collect. However, City Clerk Rhonda Garietz rejected the petition because it allegedly failed to comply with the state elections code.

On June 18, CAUSE sent out its own email saying Rigali ruled that the city illegally denied the petition because “the formatting issues cited by the city were insufficient grounds to reject the petition.”

According to the court’s tentative ruling, Rigali found the petition’s formatting to be sufficient under election code. However, the judge decided to deny the writ of mandate because the affidavits signed by the petition’s signature collectors failed to confirm that they were at least 18 years old. CAUSE’s affidavits stated that the signature collectors were registered voters.

“[The] petitioner attempted to correct the circulator’s affidavits and re-file the initiative petition last week. The City Clerk rejected it,” the ruling said. “That rejection is not before this court.”

The city’s press release called the affidavit mistake a “fatal defect,” and said Rigali’s ruling “effectively voids” the effort to place the initiative on the November ballot.

Community organizer Hazel Davalos argued in the CAUSE press release that the affidavits can simply be amended after the fact and signed again by the volunteers.

Again, city officials have their own views on that claim. In his side’s press release, City Attorney Gil Trujillo said CAUSE could file another petition asking the court to order the city to accept the amended affidavits.

“However, this lawsuit would be highly unlikely to succeed,” Trujillo said. “There is an appellate decision that ruled that a city clerk does not have statutory authority to accept supplemental affidavits from petitions circulators to correct a defect in the original affidavit.”

In a follow-up interview with the Sun, Davalos said CAUSE’s lawyers are working on an appeal but that her group is “in a tough place” because the judge didn’t order the city to accept the amended affidavits.

“At this point, it’s likely that the city is going to win,” Davalos said. “But we’re not going to give up on this. We’re going to get it done.”

She explained that CAUSE plans to pursue the issue in a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit.

“We wanted to go about it in a democratic way and really involve the community, but unfortunately the city isn’t really letting us do that,” she said.

Trujillo and Assistant City Attorney Phil Sinco could not be reached for additional comment as of press time.




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