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Two recall campaigns in two neighboring cities are on the move against elected officials this year – one in Westminster that’s guaranteed a recall election and another in Santa Ana that has gathered the signatures but won’t find out until next month from county officials whether it can move forward.

And a recall movement in Irvine to unseat Mayor Christina Shea and City Councilman Mike Carrol, over what critics see as inaction by them on a years-long Veterans Cemetery dispute, has just moved into the signature-gathering stage, which is usually the benchmark stage for knowing whether a recall will succeed or stall.

In Westminster and Santa Ana, both recall movements have either completed or moved past that stage.

The Westminster City Council is expected tomorrow to set a date for its recall election deciding the fate of the Council’s three-member majority: council members Kimberly Ho, Charlie Nguyen, and Mayor Tri Ta, who are all accused by critics of consolidating power over city politics and maintaining an image of corruption over City Hall.

From left: Westminster Mayor Tri Ta, Councilwoman Kimberly Ho and Councilman Charlie Nguyen at a March 2019 City Council meeting. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

The three have denied those claims and instead say their critics are disgruntled political opponents, having enlisted the services of two lawyers – Lan Quoc Nguyen and Van Tran — to publicly combat the recall campaigns over last summer with news conferences and Vietnamese media appearances.

The political group seeking to unseat the majority, Westminster United, began circulating the petitions over the summer.

All three petitions were submitted to the county in November with more than 11,000 signatures collected for each. By the end of December, the county found that more than around 9,000 of the signatures on each were valid and from registered Westminster voters, meeting state recall requirements.

The election won’t happen any earlier than April, meaning it will be a special election outside the March 2020 primary.

Anyone in Westminster who’s thinking about running to replace any of the majority faction council members can start pulling nomination papers on Jan. 9.

City staff have estimated the cost of a special election for the three council members to stand somewhere between $289,000 and $318,000. On top of that, the Orange County Registrar of Voters charged the city around $119,000 to verify all the signatures on the recall petitions.

Meanwhile, another recall effort one city over has moved forward against Santa Ana Councilwoman Ceci Iglesias – a conservative Republican who stood against $25 million in raises for police that got approved by the council last year, and subsequently voted to block mid-year budget adjustments to pay for them.

Councilwoman Ceci Iglesias (left) at a Council meeting on Nov. 19. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

That recall movement is still waiting for county elections officials at the Registrar of Voters to verify that more than 16,000 signatures on the petition to recall Iglesias are in fact from registered Santa Ana voters.

By Feb. 3, the county will know whether Iglesias’ recall can proceed under state law to an election, where voters will decide whether she should stay in office or be replaced.

Iglesias and Councilman Juan Villegas have decried the raises as being unsustainable for a city with skyrocketing public employee pension obligations.

The recall committee seeking to unseat her – which received more than $220,000 from the city’s police union, one of the largest political spenders in the city – also filed recall paperwork against Villegas, though movement on his recall has apparently stalled.

Iglesias and Villegas – a former Repubican now registered as a nonpartisan voter, have both been subject of police union criticism since voicing opposition to the raises last year.

Councilman Juan Villegas at the Feb. 5, 2019 city council meeting. JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

In an email to police union members in February last year, the union’s president Gerry Serrano criticized Villegas and Iglesias and refuted their argument that there was no money in the city budget to pay for the raises, citing a then-recently approved sales tax measure that was estimated to bring in $60 million in additional revenue annually.

Voters passed that tax increase measure, known as Measure X, in the November 2018 election. Three months later, the Council approved the $25 million in police pay raises.

Most recently, after Villegas during a Dec. 3 council meeting publicly alleged that one of the key people behind the city’s controversial apartments project at 2525 N. Main St. admitted to him they were involved in hundreds of thousands of dollars in dark money being spent in the 2018 elections, Iglesias argued that the police union was the actually responsible for the dark money.

Serrano later called Iglesias a “liar” and her comments “slanderous.” He maintained that all of the police union’s political spending is documented. The police union later filed a letter criticizing Iglesias’ remarks with the city.

When Iglesias countered Villegas during the council meeting, he reminded her publicly of what they apparently talked about “many times” — that the people involved in the dark money and the police union were “working together.”

The police union and a committee run by Ogulnick’s lobbyist’s employee gave major contributions on the same day in October to a committee backing City Council candidate Jennifer Oliva during the special Ward 4 election, which she lost. They were the only donors reported by the committee for the entire month.

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.

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