The battle over Santa Ana district elections could be headed to court, with another emergency City Council meeting scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Monday.
Council members are scheduled to try getting the district elections on the June 5 ballot, despite it being rejected by the county Registrar of Voters after Mayor Miguel Pulido refused to sign the paperwork before last Friday's deadline.
The current dispute is the latest in a series of twists and turns over the district elections issue, which seemed to die in early 2017. It was suddenly revived last week, with a 4-3 council vote to place the measure on the June ballot. But Pulido, who opposes the districting effort, claimed the vote was illegal and refused to sign the paperwork before Friday’s 5 p.m. deadline.
The pro-districting council members then scheduled an emergency meeting for early Friday afternoon to seek a court order forcing the mayor to sign the paperwork.
But in planning the meeting, a majority of the council apparently held an illegal, behind-the-scenes strategy session via group text messages that didn’t include the mayor, prompting an attorney to allege the public meeting couldn't take place. Council members ended up abandoning the public meeting.
Despite not having the mayor’s signature, city officials still turned in the paperwork to the county elections office, which rejected it as being incomplete.
But, as Voice of OC reported Friday night, the effort to put the measure on the June ballot still is alive.
On Sunday, a new emergency meeting was scheduled for Monday afternoon to try to move the measure forward.
The agenda calls for council members to go into closed session to talk about potential legal action, and then emerge in open session to “CONSIDER OPTIONS TO CURE” the rejection of the ballot measure paperwork by the county Registrar of Voters.
The meeting is scheduled for 1:30 p.m., and there will be an opportunity for members of the public to speak to council members during public comments.
The idea is to have the city ask a judge to allow the ballot measure to proceed, according to a person close to the situation.
Supporters of the ballot measure say the mayor is required by the city charter to sign the paperwork, and that his decision not to sign it should not block the measure from going before voters in June.
"Some politicians [in] Santa Ana are shamelessly stomping upon the rights of people[,] which will neither be forgotten nor forgiven,” said Shakeel Syed, who leads the pro-districting advocacy group Orange County Communities for Responsible Development, in a statement.
“District elections shall prevail in Santa Ana eventually. Time is up for the Mayor & his Minions.”
Pulido, meanwhile, said he didn’t sign the ballot measure paperwork because he believed it was illegally approved by the council last week. At that March 6 meeting, the mayor questioned if the council’s decision violated the state’s open meetings law, the Ralph M. Brown Act, and said he believed it needed support from a fifth council member to proceed, rather than the four who voted for it. City Attorney Sonia Carvalho disagreed with Pulido’s interpretation.
On Sunday, Pulido confirmed via text message that he believes his duty to uphold California law means he cannot sign the resolutions, and supersedes what the city charter says about the mayor having to sign the ballot measure paperwork.
Supporters of district elections in Santa Ana argued that creating six city council districts would reduce the influence of groups that can give lots of campaign money, like the city police officers’ association, by offering grassroots candidates a less expensive way to campaign, including walking door-to-door in one of the districts, as opposed to spending money on mailers to reach all of the city’s 98,000 voters.
And they said it would increase the voting power of Vietnamese residents on the city’s west side, whose influence currently is diluted in a city that’s majority Latino.
Opponents have argued district elections would take away the ability of voters to hold the entire council accountable, and risk lessening Latino representation on the currently all-Latino council. And they said the districting process was being rushed by its proponents, who didn’t seek public input on the type of district system to pursue.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at email@example.com.