Santa Barbara- S County

Judge Dismisses Petition Challenge from Santa Maria Group

SANTA MARIA, Calif. - A group of Santa Maria residents wanted  to change how city council members are selected asking for redistricting instead of at large elections.

Their petitions were turned down by the city  because of an error.

This morning the advocacy group CAUSE, its supporters were in the courtroom with the city of Santa Maria.

CAUSE and is supporters say they're not being represented fairly.

Hazel Davalos, CAUSE Santa Maria organizer, said "It's constantly feeling the city council doesn't understand the needs of the community."

Davalos said simple things like street lights and cross walks aren't being taken care of. Davalos said, "Those would  be likely to be taken care of if we had a city council member who lived in that district."

Davalos said  the city's support of  the ICE  building was the tipping point.

"That  ICE  vote made it very clear the city council wasn't responsive to the largest group ever opposing anything in the city of Santa Maria," Davalos said.

Gilbert Trujillo, city attorney, said "We believe the court was correct for denying the petition and reaffirming the city clerks position to reject the petition as insufficient."

The judge said the petitions are fine but said the group missed a requirement that proves the signature collector was over the age of 18.

Trujillo said "There is no way to tell based on the declaration because the declaration doesn't state that they're 18 or older and in California you can be 17 years of age and register to vote."

Below is a statement from the City of Santa Maria:

Today, Superior Court Judge James Rigali dismissed petition for writ of mandate filed by Hazel Putney and the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) to force the City to place an initiative on the upcoming November ballot to change the Santa Maria's City Council election procedure.  Chief Deputy City Clerk Rhonda Garietz had rejected the petition for the initiative for failing to comply with the requirements of the State of California's Elections Code.

The case was Putney v. Garietz. Lead proponent Hazel Putney, a.k.a. Hazel Davalos, was represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).

"It is unfortunate that the petitioners did not receive the appropriate guidance about the Elections Code requirements before it submitted the petition for the initiative," City Attorney Gilbert Trujillo said. "By law, the City does not have the authority to accept a defective affidavit of petition circulators. If they would have complied with the Election Code, the City would have accepted their petition and processed them accordingly."

The ruling effectively voids the effort to place an initiative measure on the November 2014 General Election ballot, asking voters if they want to amend the City Charter so that voters would elect City Councilmembers to each represent a district, instead of the current system of voting for all four Councilmembers "at-large" so that they each represent the entire City.  However, the court left open a small window by refusing to address the issue whether or not the court could order the City to accept supplemental affidavits on the grounds that this issue was not a part of the administrative record before the court.  "This means that, hypothetically, the proponents of the initiative could file a new petition with the court and ask the court for such an order; however, this lawsuit would be highly unlikely to succeed," City Attorney 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 affidavits," Trujillo added.

The City rejected the petition because it did not follow the correct formatting as indicated in the Elections Code, and the header of the petition did not have the words "Initiative Measure to be Submitted Directly to the Voters," although the court ruled against the City on these grounds.  However, the court found that the affidavits of the petition circulators failed to include the required reference to the circulators being 18 years of age or older, and that this was a fatal defect. This was a new requirement enacted by the Legislature that took effect on January 1, 2014.

Questions may be directed to the City Attorney's Office 925-0951 ext. 310 or the City Manager's Office, 925-0951 ext. 372.


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