CHALLENGE TO SANTA MARIA ELECTION SYSTEM MOVES FORWARD
MALDEF Seeks Writ Ordering City Clerk to Accept and Process Initiative Petition for Placement on November Ballot
LOS ANGELES, CA - Judge James Rigali of the California Superior Court for the County of Santa Barbara has scheduled a June 17, 2014 hearing in Putney v. Garietz. Putney is a case in which MALDEF seeks to compel the Clerk of City of Santa Maria to accept a petition to place a critical voting measure on the November general election ballot. MALDEF represents Hazel Putney, the lead proponent of the initiative and a representative of Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE). The proposed measure would change Santa Maria's City Council election system from an at-large system to a single-member district system. Rhonda Garietz, Chief Deputy City Clerk of the City of Santa Maria, rejected the petition, alleging that the form of the petition deviated from the Elections Code.
"Santa Maria and its entrenched leadership have a long and regrettable history of stubbornly resisting, at great cost to the city's taxpayers, any efforts to increase democratic participation and representation in city government," stated Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel. "The City Clerk's precipitous denial of this petition is simply the latest tactic to forestall necessary, progressive change for the city's future."
The proposed ballot measure would amend the Santa Maria City Charter so that voters would vote for city council members to represent a district, rather than for all four council members city-wide. It proposes the creation of four equally-populated districts established by a seven-member districting commission of city voters. The commission would establish the districts, taking into account compliance with the Federal Voting Rights Act; geography; contiguity and compactness of territory; and communities of interest within the districts.
The proponents of the measure collected 5,311 signatures, well above the minimum required to place the measure on the ballot. The City Clerk denied the petition, citing two alleged flaws: 1) improper placement of words, and 2) the document signed by the volunteers collecting signatures declared that they were registered voters rather than stating that they are at least 18 years of age.
Hazel Putney of CAUSE stated, "The voters of Santa Maria have made it abundantly clear that they are dissatisfied with the current system. They like this proposal, and they want to be able to vote on it in November."
MALDEF argues that the petition substantially complies with the California Elections Code, and that the City Clerk's action in rejecting the petition violates her legally-established duties. The legal action seeks a writ of mandate ordering the City of Santa Maria to accept the petition as valid and enabling city voters to vote on this important public policy issue by placing the measure on the November 4, 2014 general election ballot.
Matthew Barragan, MALDEF Staff Attorney, stated, "The purpose of initiatives is to let the voters speak. The City of Santa Maria should work to protect rather than defeat the right of the people to exercise their initiative powers."
Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America" MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit: www.maldef.org.
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