Tomorrow, voting will close at 8 p.m. in the controversial recall election of Santa Ana City Councilmember Jessie Lopez.
The city’s powerful police union drove the recall effort, in a quest to unseat her, with substantial support from landlords and property owner groups who oppose Lopez over her support for the city’s historic, 2021 citywide rent control law.
It could be the second time the police union has unseated a Santa Ana lawmaker after challenging officer pay raises and the police union’s political grip since 2020.
With three police union-backed council members – and rent control opponents – currently sitting on the council, tomorrow’s outcome could tip the balance of power on rent control and public safety issues in the working-class and predominantly Latino heart of Orange County.
The replacement would only hold office for a year before the seat goes back up for grabs in next November’s 2024 Presidential Election. But it’s unclear how a replacement will be made since there’s no slate of candidates to replace her.
And the outcome won’t be final even after polls close and ballots are counted.
There are outstanding legal questions as to whether the wrong electorate is determining Lopez’s fate.
Questions which won’t be sorted out until next year.
At an emergency court hearing last week, an Orange County Superior Court Judge refused to halt the recall election, amidst 11th hour questions raised by the county’s top elections official, of whether recall petitioners got enough signatures by using the city’s current electoral map instead of the one Lopez was elected under in 2020.
It comes after City Council members last month deadlocked on whether to cancel the recall entirely, with police union-backed council members Phil Bacerra, David Penaloza and Mayor Valerie Amezcua refusing to take action.
Another court hearing on the issue is scheduled for Jan. 12.
The request for a temporary restraining order was filed by Santa Ana resident Guadalupe Ocampo, who voted for Lopez in 2020, but alleges she now stands to be cut out of the Nov. 14 recall vote since she doesn’t live in the current boundaries.
There’s nearly 1,200 people in her situation, according to OC Registrar of Voters Bob Page.
Recall organizers say the City Clerk’s office directed them to use the current map, and in court last week argued their recall was procedurally sound under the city charter.
An attorney for Ocampo argued that the only voters who can decide Lopez’s fate are the ones who elected her in 2020.
The police union has spent more than $660,000 – as of Oct. 28 – on its campaign to unseat Lopez, according to newly released campaign finance disclosures, after Lopez voted against union pay raise demands last December.
The union’s campaign has been getting significant boosts from property owner and landlord advocacy groups, most recently with a $100,000 contribution from the National Association of Realtors Fund.
Mobile home interest groups have also contributed nearly $100,000 to the recall efforts through two different political action committees.
The committee fighting Lopez’s recall has spent more than $123,000 this year as of Oct. 28, with $10,000 in independent spending support from a PAC run by the Latino organizing group Mijente, and $23,000 in spending from a PAC set up by the United Food and Commercial Workers.
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