A police union-backed effort to recall Santa Ana City Councilwoman Ceci Iglesias has been approved by county elections officials to proceed to a recall election.

The petition to unseat Iglesias held up to the county’s review on Monday by a thin margin of five signatures.

City staff say they’ll present the certified recall result to City Council members at their Feb. 18 meeting. From there, the council will have 14 days to call for a special election where voters will decide whether Iglesias should stay in office or be replaced.

The election would have to take place between 88 and 125 days after the council issues the order for an election, according to state law.

The recall team was required by law to get at least 10,865 valid signatures from registered voters in the city. Out of more than 16,000 signatures that the recall team ended up submitting, Registrar workers found 10,870 of them to be valid.

“It’s unfortunate that through lies and through deception, the police union was able to deceive the residents,” said Iglesias in a Monday phone interview after the county notified the Santa Ana City Clerk’s office that the recall had been certified.

She said her next steps will be to defend herself against the recall leading up to the election, adding that the “residents of Santa Ana elected me as their first choice over the police unionback in the 2018 election when she won out over a union-backed candidate Mirna Velasquez.

The police union accounted for a lion’s share of the money going behind the recall efforts, putting more than $300,000 into recall campaigns that also targeted Councilman Juan Villegas, according to online campaign finance filings, though those efforts targeting Villegas appear to have stalled.

Both Villegas and Iglesias have drawn the police union’s ire for publicly questioning them on $25 million in controversial police pay raises in February last year. Both council members opposed the raises, calling them “unsustainable” amid the city’s year-to-year financial concerns.

Much of the battle between the union and two council members has played out in public meetings over the last year, and the City Council could take Villegas and Iglesias off a public safety board today after the police union sent the council a memo on Jan. 21 requesting they be removed. 

In an email sent to police union members in February last year, the union criticized Villegas and Iglesias challenging 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.

The fate of Iglesias’ position will now be in the hands of voters.

If she’s ousted in the special election, it would be the first successful recall effort in Santa Ana since the 2003 recall of Nativo Lopez from the Santa Ana Unified School Board.

Staff estimate the special recall election to cost around $650,000 this year.

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

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