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Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido Monday stepped up his legal action against a plan to put district elections on the June ballot, with little time left for City Council members who support the measure to ask the courts to let voters decide the issue.

County election officials have asked for a final court decision by 5 p.m. Friday, so ballot materials can be prepared and printed. They need time to translate the measure into six languages besides English as well as actually printing the ballots, which have an April 21 deadline for mailing to military and overseas voters.

Superior Court Judge Glenn R. Salter April 6 ordered Pulido to sign the three resolutions the City Council voted 4-3 to adopt March 6, to put the district election issue on the June ballot. Pulido had refused to sign them before the March 9 deadline for submitting it to the county Registrar of Voters, and the registrar rejected the paperwork as incomplete.

The judge said Pulido should have filed a lawsuit if he thought the resolutions were approved illegally. And he gave Pulido until 2 p.m. Monday to have his attorney submit a report to the court explaining the steps Pulido had taken to comply with the order requiring he sign the paperwork.

On Monday, Pulido and his attorney, Mark Rosen, escalated their legal actions supporting the mayor’s position and opposing the June measure.

Pulido filed a new lawsuit seeking to block the city from taking any further action to put the measure on the June ballot, arguing the council’s March 6 action was done improperly. Rosen notified the court Monday morning the mayor plans to appeal the April 6 order requiring the mayor to sign the paperwork, which Rosen said effectively freezes the Superior Court case.

Pulido did end up signing the three resolutions. After filing a report around 1:40 p.m. Monday saying the mayor would sign them, Pulido’s attorney delivered the signed documents to Salter’s courtroom around 2:30 p.m.

However, Pulido did not submit the resolutions to the City Clerk’s office, and has not signed the city’s official resolutions, according to City Clerk Maria Huizar.

Huizar said she spoke with the mayor after 2 p.m. Monday and he did not indicate whether he would sign the city’s official resolutions that are kept at the clerk’s office.

Under the city charter, all City Council “ordinances and written resolutions shall be signed by the mayor and attested” by the city clerk. Without the mayor’s signature on the city’s official resolution, Huizar said she could not put her signature on it, which would attest to the mayor’s signature.

Friday’s court order told Pulido to sign the ballot measure “resolutions adopted by the Santa Ana City Council on March 6, 2018.” It didn’t specify if the signature had to be on the city’s official version of the resolutions.

Supporters of district elections say that system of electing city council members would be fairer to candidates who aren’t backed by the city’s police union and other groups that can spend large amounts of campaign money. Under the district system, supporters argue, candidates could reach a higher share of voters by walking door-to-door as opposed to relying on expensive citywide mass mailing campaigns. And they say it would provide better representation for Vietnamese residents on the city’s west side.

Currently, the council’s six members run “at large,” meaning candidates campaign citywide for votes.

Opponents say district elections would lead to less accountability, that council members approved the measure illegally, and that it makes more sense to have voters decide in November when more people vote, not June. Opponents also cite the costs to the city during a stressed financial time, with voting on the district issue in November costing about $30,000, versus an estimated $202,000 for the June election. The city’s regular election is in November and if the ballot measure is included, it’s would cut the overall cost.

As it stood after Friday’s ruling, the ballot measure is not on track to go onto the June ballot, because it missed the deadline and Salter found election officials did not act improperly when they rejected it.

But Salter said he only was ruling on the specific questions presented by the city, leaving a door open for a further round of arguments by the city, which is suing the mayor and the county elections office.

The city could ask for an additional court decision allowing the June measure, through a different set of legal questions about whether the mayor interfered in the election process and, if so, whether the court should rectify it.

On Monday evening – more than three days after losing the initial court decision, and with time running out – it was unclear what, if anything, the city would do to try to get the measure on to the June ballot.

As of about 6 p.m. Monday, three council members on an “ad hoc” committee about the issue were meeting to discuss next steps with an attorney for the city, according to Councilman Sal Tinajero.

About four hours later, around 10:30 p.m., two of the committee members said the city would keep trying to place the measure on the June ballot.

“The city attorney’s office is in the process of obtaining copies [of the signed resolutions] and pursuing all legal actions to ensure Santa Ana voters are able to vote on district elections on June 5th as directed by [the] City Council,” Councilman David Benavides, who supports the measure, wrote in his text message to Voice of OC.

He apparently was referring to the City Council’s March 12 vote to have outside attorneys for the city seek a court order requiring Pulido sign the paperwork and have county elections officials put the measure on the June ballot.

Benavides said the city’s next request for court action would be filed within 48 hours, or Wednesday night.

“Efforts continue to place [the] question of district elections on [the] June ballot,” said Councilman Vicente Sarmiento, who also supports the measure, in a late night text message to Voice of OC. A media advisory was also being prepared, he said.

Tuesday afternoon he wrote in a text message the city expects to file court papers Wednesday morning seeking authorization for the issue to go before Santa Ana voters in June.

The four City Council members who support the ballot measure – Benavides, Sal Tinajero, Sarmineto, and Jose Solorio – apparently had not given their attorneys direction before Friday’s ruling about what to do next.

The election officials’ April 13 deadline for a final court decision is based on the need to prepare, print, and mail ballot materials in time for state law’s April 21 deadline for mailing to military and overseas voters, and April 26 deadline to start mailing sample ballots to voters, said County Counsel Leon Page in a text message to Voice of OC.

Orange County has about 1.5 million voters, according to the registrar’s office.

Under California Elections Code, Page added, “petitioners seeking changes to ballot materials must generally demonstrate that the issuance of the writ or injunction will not ‘substantially interfere’ with the printing or distribution of official election materials as provided by law.”

“To avoid interfering with the printing or distribution of official election materials as provided by law, the Registrar has stated in his sworn declarations that, based on his experience and expertise, he ‘must assure that the voting materials are sent to the printers no later than April 16, 2018 in order to meet the mailing deadlines associated with this election.’ ” Page wrote.

“This is why he has asked courts in his declarations to issue a final decision in this matter by 5:00 p.m. on April 13, 2018 to avoid substantial interference with the printing or distribution of official election materials; otherwise, if he is required to move past that date, it will impact printing schedules, which may cause mailing delays.”

Pulido argued the 4-3 vote on March 6 vote was illegal, saying five council members’ votes were required to put the issue on the ballot and that the council was improperly financing the election. City Attorney Sonia Carvalho disagreed, saying the vote was lawful.

The four council members who support the June measure voted to have the city sue the mayor in Superior Court to force him to sign the paperwork and require county election officials put it on the ballot.

Pulido’s appeal notice Monday was one sentence telling the court he plans to appeal Friday’s ruling. The mayor had not filed the actual appeal as of Monday night and under court’s rules they’re not usually due for more than 50 days after the notice of appeal.

In his April 6 decision, Salter denied the city’s request to order Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley to put the measure on the ballot, saying Kelley had no duty to accept the documents because the city clerk hadn’t attested to the fact they had been approved by the City Council.

In the documents the city submitted to Kelley before the 5 p.m. March 9 deadline, the acting city clerk that week, Norma Mitre-Ramirez, wrote the resolutions “were approved by a majority of the City Council.” Salter questioned during Friday’s court hearing why it wasn’t attested to by the city clerk herself, and why it wasn’t under penalty of perjury.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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