Santa Ana voters will decide this year whether to unseat City Councilmember Jessie Lopez over her support for rent control and opposition to large police pay raises, after recall proponents – namely the police union – filed enough signatures in June to prompt an election.
Meanwhile, similar recall efforts against another council member, Thai Viet Phan, over the same issues are still up in the air.
The date of Lopez’s recall election may be decided at City Council members’ next meeting on August 1.
Recall proponents needed at least 5,274 signatures on their petition for the recall to go up for election. The total number of signatures filed was 6,617. About 1,333 of them were found “invalid,” with 395 of them being duplicates, according to the OC Registrar of Voters. Additionally, 129 signatures were withdrawn.
“The cost to verify the signatures on the petition was $22,936.40, and the initial estimated costs to conduct the election range from $230,940 to $255,272,” said City Clerk Jennifer Hall in a public report during council members’ last July 18 meeting.
On Monday, Hall had an updated amount:
The estimated cost of a special election in Ward 3 was, as of Hall’s emailed response to questions on Monday, between $607,403 and $666,990.
The recall is sponsored by the Santa Ana police union, one of the biggest spenders in citywide elections.
The union president, Gerry Serrano, has fueled a fierce department loyalty battle with the police chief and top city officials over his search for a pension boost over the last few years.
The recall also comes after Lopez voted alongside a majority of City Council members in December in support of a police labor contract that fell short of the police union’s own pay raise demands.
Council members approved a 3% pay raise for police officers and slashed the arrangement for Serrano to get a full-time release from police work while he steered the association.
Now, Serrano has to put in police work for half his time.
In a phone interview, Lopez called the recall – and now a certain special election throwing her fate into the air – a distraction that will divert people’s focus from more urgent issues in town like housing and homelessness.
“The special election is going to be a high stakes election for everybody – the economic mobility of people, thousands of residents that are on a minimum wage, that are coming to council meetings, that are emailing now saying, ‘Hey, I paid my rent, and I came home to find all of my things outside, what do I do?’” Lopez said.
A committee set up in support of Lopez has raised roughly $7,200 against the recall efforts so far, according to campaign finance disclosure statements, through donations by local activists, former and current elected officials in Costa Mesa, Anaheim and Irvine, and labor organizers.
And campaign mode is in full swing.
“We have launched our campaign. We had a canvassing event this weekend,” Lopez said.
The police union has also sponsored a recall effort against Thai Viet Phan, the City Council’s first Vietnamese American woman, who also went against the union’s pay raise demands in December.
Though papers haven’t been filed yet for Phan, and the deadline is August 7.
“But it’s not like it’s been withdrawn and the deadline hasn’t passed. We’re definitely still vigilant and continue to share our message,” Phan said.
“It’s incredibly disappointing, and just a huge waste of money,” Phan said, adding that, if there’s council disagreement on appointing someone to replace Lopez if she’s indeed recalled, “it’s possible that we end up with a special election this year, a March primary, another special election next summer, and then the November general election.”
A committee set up in support of Phan during the recall efforts has raised more than $14,000, through donations from attorneys, labor unions, and Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley.
The recall’s main spokesperson, a Santa Ana resident named Tim Rush, has also cited Phan and Lopez’s votes in support of rent control in 2021 as a reason for the campaign’s efforts.
Rush declined to comment for this story.
The recall committees’ own fundraising disclosures have not been available online, though certain filings show just how much money has been spent.
The most recent disclosure from the police union’s independent expenditure committee reported spending $30,000 on Lopez’s recall on July 12.