A recall petition was filed in Irvine last week against Mayor Christina Shea and Councilmember Mike Carroll alleging they are too influenced by developers.
The petition is led by Kev Abazajian, a professor at UC Irvine and former city council candidate, and Steve Berger, a lawyer who has lived in Irvine for four decades.
Their petition is focused on two issues: the City Council’s decision to place the Irvine Veteran’s Cemetery within the Great Park and the influence of the developer, FivePoint Holdings, over city council.
“The corruption and influence of this developer has put people in place that do not represent Irvine’s values,” Abazajian said. “People are coming to see that our city officials are not representative of that and that needs to be changed.”
Shea dismissed any concerns about the recall, stating that it was a “frivolous” attempt to hurt both her and Carroll’s reputations.
“It’s about the cemetery, and it’s discriminatory because they’re not recalling the other two council members that voted for the cemetery,” Shea said.
Both Abazajian and Berger declined to state how much funding had been raised for the recall effort, or give an exact number beyond “dozens” of how many volunteers would be working towards it.
“All I can say is quite a few, I don’t think we need to give the numbers out. We’re a grassroots organization, we have people that support us, probably several dozen at least that are directly involved and many, many more who are the fringes who help us from time to time,” Berger said.
Abazajian’s reasoning in not providing a budget for the recall effort was that it is too early in the process to have an established number.
“We are just starting up. However, we are confident that we will raise whatever it takes,” Abazajian said.
To move for a recall election, the petitioners have to get signatures from 10% of the 131,000 registered voters in Irvine according to Irvine City Clerk Molly Perry.
But Shea and Carroll are up for reelection in 2020, and under state law, a recall vote cannot be called with less than six months on any official’s term.
With only a few months to gather the 13,000 signatures required for a recall vote, some experts doubt the effort will be able to get off the ground.
“It’s an enormous effort to do it. I would be very doubtful they collect 13,000 signatures without a professional firm and hundreds of volunteers,” said Fred Smoller, an associate professor of political science at Chapman University. “When they’ve collected 6,000 you can start thinking seriously about it.”
While 13,000 signatures are all that’s required for the recall vote, they have to be found valid by the registrar’s office, requiring additional signatures to ensure the effort will actually pass.
“You can get anyone to sign a signature, but the registrar will look at them and make sure the people are qualified to write that they live in Irvine, they’re 18 years of age or older, that they’ve filled out the form correctly, it’s really hard,” Smoller said. “To get 13,000 ballot signatures, you’d probably have to collect upwards of 17 or 18,000.”
Both Shea and Carroll are up for reelection in 2020, which will be Carroll’s first race for City Council, since he was appointed by the council to fill a vacancy in May 2019.
“What’s really going on is the two of us are up for reelection and Kev Abazajian and Lauren Johnson and all these folks behind us, I guess they feel that if they can diminish us by trying to recall us before a year’s election, that somehow that’ll give them a leg up to win in November. It’s just really foul play,” Shea said.
Abazajian has stated he is “not planning” on running for mayor in 2020, and that Shea’s assertions are based on rumors.
Shea also took issue with how the recall notices were delivered to her and Carroll at a Veteran’s Day event.
“They came to the Veteran’s Cemetery and accosted me twice, with envelopes with hearts on them, and said that a veteran wanted to give me a special letter, and I thought it was weird, and I said I don’t feel comfortable taking some letter with little hearts all over it,” Shea said.
She continued: “Then we’re getting our picture after the ceremony and another gentleman came up and threw two envelopes on the ground in front of Mike Carroll and myself and said, ‘You’ve been served.’”
According to Abazajian, the papers were served after the ceremony and off stage, without interrupting the photographers.
“When persons fail to cooperate and evade service, they cannot legitimately be heard about complaints when they are served at a public event, or wherever else the Process Server may find them,” Berger said in an email when asked about the papers.
FivePoint officials declined to comment on the recall, and Carroll could not be reached for comment, after multiple phone calls.