An effort to recall two Santa Ana City Council members who voted for rent control and stood in opposition to the police union might be poised to land in front of city voters.
After canvassing for signatures this year, recall proponents filed a petition against Council Member Jessie Lopez on Monday, said City Clerk Jennifer Hall in a Tuesday email.
Recall proponents have until Aug. 7 to file a petition against their other target, Council Member Thai Viet Phan.
In Lopez’s ward, the minimum number of signatures to qualify the recall question for the ballot is 5,274 – or 20% of the total 26,370 registered voters in Ward 3. After an initial review, Hall said her office counted 6,582 signatures.
Hall said her office also received 129 requests from people seeking to remove their signatures from the petition.
The OC Registrar of Voters will conduct a full signature review by 5:00 p.m. on July 26, Hall said.
A chairman for the recall campaigns, Tim Rush, declined to comment on Monday.
Driving the recall efforts is the controversial president of the city’s police union, Gerry Serrano, who did not respond to requests for comment about the recall on Tuesday.
“This recall effort has been a distraction,” said Lopez in a Tuesday phone interview. “But if it does qualify, we’re ready to go into our campaign mode.”
While a petition’s yet to be filed for Phan, she said it’s been “exhausting.”
“We have day jobs, we have to work, and I have to pay my bills and my student loan debt and my mortgage,” said Phan, who recounted plans by her office for things like community legal clinics being delayed due to the demands of fighting the recall.
“Because time is limited, you have to cut back on something somewhere, to accommodate this additional thing,” she said.
Phan called the recall “a sham” and “a waste of taxpayer dollars for the benefit of a few people who want to line their pockets on the backs of residents who are majority renters in the city.”
“It’s nothing more, in my opinion, than to show money and clout and that they’re doing it because they can.”
The recall threats come after Phan and Lopez supported a December labor contract that went against the police union’s pay-raise proposals.
It also forced Serrano, the union president, to spend half his time doing police work instead of solely working union duties.
In past remarks, Rush also cited the council members’ support in 2021 for Santa Ana’s citywide rent control policy as a motivator for the campaign.
The recall has caught the attention of a major landlord association in OC.
“We haven’t exactly taken a position yet,” said Chip Ahlswede, a spokesperson for the Apartment Association of Orange County, in a Tuesday phone interview.
He said his group is waiting to see how the recall’s initial qualification shakes out.
“We’re at least interested in this,” said Ahlswede, whose organization is currently suing the city for its 3% rent increase cap, calling it illegal and unreasonable. “We absolutely are advising our members of what our experience has been.”
Beyond their rent control votes, Ahlswede said the council members “refused to meet with us.”
Ahlswede said “there may even be more concern for us with Phan” due to her campaign statements about being against rent control, only to vote for the policy when it came around in 2021.
“And she also fell into the category of not wanting to meet with us, not wanting to talk to us, not hearing from our side at all,” Ahlswede said.
Phan doesn’t dispute changing her mind on the issue, arguing her understanding of rent control changed “because I continued to talk to residents, particularly mobile home park residents, who are seniors on fixed incomes.”
“In my opinion, the only long term solution to the housing crisis is supply. But supply is years in the making, we also have to make sure people don’t become homeless while waiting,” Phan said, also adding that she had “more than one meeting” with the California Apartment Association on the rent control issue.
Ahlswede rejected past characterizations of recall proponents as “greedy corporate landlords.”
“Are there bad actors? Of course. Of course there are. And we bash back at them. But we take umbrage with that line – ‘greedy corporate landlords’ … I have not seen our people that way at all,” Ahlswede said, adding there are a number of “mom and pop” landlords who own less than 10 units and are members of the Apartment Association of OC.
Asked about the controversy surrounding the police union, Ahlswede said, “That wouldn’t have been something we’ve even talked about.”
“We’ve worked with the Santa Ana Police Officers Association before on things. We’ve shared a lot of resources over time. I wouldn’t make any negative comment about them,” Ahlswede said. “I wouldn’t say that’s been our experience.”
The union under Serrano became one of the most active political players in citywide elections since 2016, and enjoyed a favorable council majority, getting as much as $25 million in police raises in 2019, until the election of a different council in 2020.
Without enough City Hall support to boost his public pension benefits, and making adversaries out of the city staffers who – citing state law – refused to help, Serrano in recent years filed lawsuits and claims painting City Hall impropriety, part of what officials described as a campaign to “burn the city to the ground unless he gets what he wants.”
Lopez said recall proponents are upset about her support for working-class people.
“Now you have a renter on the Santa Ana City Council in a city where we have majority tenants,” Lopez said. “So it’s not about me, it’s really about waging a war on the tenants of the city and the families of the city that are struggling to get by, and anyone that demands accountability from the police department.”
“And the message is going to be very clear: The residents’ vote will never be respected.”
Lopez said it’s a sentiment shared by some of her council colleagues.
“We’re under new leadership. And so I think the leadership in the city council – they don’t want anyone that’s going to talk about accountability and transparency.”
Requests for comment from Mayor Valerie Amezcua, who was elected last year with the police union’s endorsement, went unreturned on Tuesday.
The police union has had success with recalls before in Santa Ana.
In 2020, a recall campaign funded by the police union successfully unseated former council member Ceci Iglesias, a Republican who publicly decried $25 million in enhanced police salaries passed in 2019 by a union-backed majority.
Rush – chair of the current recall efforts – also publicly advocated for the Iglesias recall at the time.