Friday, September 15, 2006

California's Recall Election Code -- Always Bad Policy... Always

Los Osos, stop me if this sounds familiar:

A local government board is pursuing a large project in their community. The project is very controversial and has already led to the election of two candidates that oppose the project to the board.

However, the board majority still favors the project and continues to aggressively pursue it, so the community launches a recall campaign aimed at removing the remaining project proponents from office, and that campaign leads to a recall election.

Then, the officials targeted for the recall stifle the process for months, and then they set the recall election for one of the latest possible dates.

Then, in the window of time allotted by delaying the election, the board approves work on the project, and the developer begins "site preparation work, with trees cut down, and bulldozers on site," all before the recall election.

And, of course, the delay in the election date also allows more time for those targeted in the recall to receive huge sums of campaign contributions from the businesses that will benefit from the project.

Los Osos, 2005?


Rosemead, 2006.

What is currently playing out in the southern California community of Rosemead is almost the exact same situation that happened in Los Osos last year. The only difference is that instead of a sewer project, the controversial Rosemead project is a Wal-Mart Superstore, and the "site preparation work, with trees cut down, and bulldozers on site" was paid for with private funds in Rosemead. In Los Osos, that was paid for with public funds.

If there is a lesson that can be gleaned from the recall process in Los Osos last year, it's this: Officials targeted for recall in California shouldn't be setting their own recall election date.

That is just asking for problems, and the situation in Rosemead -- with its grossly un-level, campaign contributions playing field, and its unpopular project recklessly moving forward -- is just the latest example.

In Los Osos, 2005, in a 3-2 vote, the three directors that were up for recall, set their own recall election date at one of the latest possible dates. In the time they allotted themselves by delaying the election, they were able to use millions of dollars of public funds to begin work on the controversial sewer project. The recall was successful, the project was stopped, and the public funds would prove to be needlessly, and recklessly, wasted.

As it currently reads, the California Elections Code (pertinent sections reprinted below) allows the governing body that has members up for recall to schedule the recall election date anywhere from 88 days to 125 days after the election is announced.

The three members of the Los Osos Community Services District that were recall targets in 2005, voted to use almost all of the 125 days, and then started work on the sewer project just a few weeks before the election.

In a recent phone interview with San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder, Julie Rodewald, I asked her if she would have set the recall election date in Los Osos closer to the 88 days, or closer to the 125 days. She said, "I would have set it closer to the 88 days."

Which means the California Elections Code, as written, is hurting California, because if Rodewald had the authority to set the recall election date in Los Osos, instead of those facing recall, the election would have taken place weeks earlier, and the recalled board majority would have never had the opportunity to start work on the project, and millions of dollars of California taxpayer money would not have been wasted, and Los Osos would not have a huge ditch today in the place of what was once Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area.

SewerWatch is advocating a change in the elections code. The change is simple and reasonable: A governing body that is up for recall should not be setting its own recall election date. Instead, that should be done by the county elections official. In San Luis Obispo County, that would be Rodewald.

Here's the current language in the CEC for setting recall elections:

11240. Within 14 days after the meeting at which the governing body received the certificate of sufficiency as specified in Section 11227, the governing body shall issue an order stating that an election shall be held pursuant to this article to determine whether or not the officer named in the petition shall be recalled.

11241. If the governing board fails to issue the order within the time specified in Section 11240, the county elections official, within five days, shall set the date for holding the election. If the recall is to be voted on by voters in more than one county, the elections official of the county with the largest number of registered voters who will be voting in the election shall set the date for holding the election in consultation with the elections officials of the other counties.

11242. The election shall be held not less than 88, nor more than 125, days after the issuance of the order, and if a regular or special election is to be held throughout the electoral jurisdiction of the officer sought to be recalled within this time period, the recall election shall be held on the same day, and consolidated with, the regular or special election.

SewerWatch is advocating that section 11240 should be changed to read:

11240. Within 14 days after the meeting at which the governing body received the certificate of sufficiency as specified in Section 11227, the governing body shall issue an order stating that an election shall be held pursuant to this article to determine whether or not the officer named in the petition shall be recalled, and the county elections official shall set the date of the election.

Then 11241 would simply read:

11241. If the recall is to be voted on by voters in more than one county, the elections official of the county with the largest number of registered voters who will be voting in the election shall set the date for holding the election in consultation with the elections officials of the other counties.

And that's it.

If the elections code had included that language in 2005, Los Osos doesn't have a huge ditch in the middle of town, millions of dollars of California taxpayer money would not have been recklessly pounded into the ground, and there's a very good chance that the Los Osos CSD isn't bankrupt today (unless, of course, they needed the SRF money to avoid bankruptcy before the recall election. The jury is still out on that one.)

The Rosemead recall election is set for next Tuesday, September 19. To date, Wal-Mart has contributed over $200,000 to the two sitting board members' campaigns. The three candidates seeking their seats have raised less than $50,000 combined. It is the most expensive election in Rosemead's history.

The 210,000-square-foot Wal-Mart store opened last Wednesday, under massive controversy.



  • How about if we have Wal-Mart come to Los Osos and put one on the Tri-W property... what a campaign that would be.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:41 PM, September 15, 2006  

  • Ron, you missed another key part of the delay tactic the CSD board took in setting the date of the recall.

    After the petitions were submitted to the county, Julie Rodewald had a certain number of days to certify the petitions and then was required to report the results "at the next regularly scheduled meeting" of the CSD Board... according to the recall election code.

    Unfortunately, Rodewald didn't certify the petitions until the day of the next CSD meeting, too late to get onto that agenda.

    Reportedly, Rodewald was pressured to take the entire time allotted for the certification process. She didn't, but took just enough time to miss the next meeting... whether that was intentional we will never know.

    But the problem is... the CSD was only having ONE meeting per month at the time... so we had to wait AN ENTIRE MONTH for the CSD to even recieve the order to hold an election.

    So when you look at the "one week less than 125 days" that the CSD took to hold the election... you also have to count the MONTH delay before that.

    Whith that in mind... the Recall election could have actually been 60 days sooner... how much money would that have saved??

    Imagine if the recall election was on July 26, 2005??? What a difference that would have made.

    I think the code should include a provision to force the agency to have a meeting within 7 days of the petitions being certified with the recall issue as a mandatory agenda item.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:53 PM, September 15, 2006  

  • The $200,000 figure significantly understates Wal-Mart's spending in Rosemead. See my post here:

    Just like in Los Osos, our county registrar-recorder also took the full month to verify the petition signatures. If she had acted more quickly, and if the city council had not set a date quite so late in the window, we could have had our election before all the Padilla v. Lever fallout hit the fan.

    There are a number of posts that address the recall election snafus, starting near the bottom of this page:

    and contining on for several more pages (there are also a lot of posts there that do not concern the election directly, but do relate to goings on in Rosemead).

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:03 PM, September 15, 2006  

  • Those three recalled CSD Directors should have to pay for what they did to this community. But how can one set a monetary amount on the pain and suffering that they have caused the citizens of Los Osos. All three should be behind bars right now. They were and are three losers. And I have to believe that when their day of judgement arrives, they will be held accountable for what they did to this town and its inhabitants. Maybe even Hell would be too good for them.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:42 PM, September 15, 2006  

  • Keep up the great reporting, Ron. Who do we contact to let them know that we also think it is a good idea to change the Election Code?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:23 PM, September 15, 2006  

  • Thank you Ron for your excellent post. Obviously it is the old board that got all of this mess really going and your points hit the nail on the head. THEY COULD HAVE WAITED. What a bunch of losers! If they were so sure they wouldn't be recalled then why not wait? After all, the "dissent" was from a "vocal minority"!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:22 PM, September 16, 2006  

  • Just as I thought. The Los Osos conspiracy has infiltrated up to the County Recorder!!! I'm not sure what poor little Los Osos ever did to deserve this, but when the county, the regional and state water boards, the press, the state of California, the Federal government, the World Court, the EPA, the CIA, the FBI, the League of Women Voters, the NFL, the Governor, PETA, the NAACP, the NCAA, NWA, NASA, SAG, the VFW, the Red Cross, and just about every other person and every other organization in the world wake up each morning and ponder how they can screw the little town of Los Osos, well, we just don't have a chance, do we. Why, oh why!!! do we get picked on so.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:01 PM, September 17, 2006  

  • OK, this is what I want to know. What has Julie Tacker been kicked out of her house and what is the exact nature of her relationship with developer Jeff Edwards and how will this affect everything????

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:45 PM, September 17, 2006  

  • That "vocal minority" thing is exactly what they did in Rosemead, too. But if we're a minority, then why were they so afraid of an election? And when we finally did get our election, why did Wal-Mart need to dump $350,000+ in Rosemead? Their own actions show that they don't believe their propaganda.

    Now, it's all over but the balloting. That's tomorrow. I'm worried, of course, because I don't know how many votes that $350,000+ has bought. I do know they've paid big dollars for multiple, full-page ads in the "local" paper, even though most of their readership lies outside of Rosemead. Anyone who can waste that kind of money in a city council election, you need to be worried about them.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:29 PM, September 18, 2006  

  • Good stuff Ron. It certainly seems as though the recall election codes need to be revisited. Kinda makes ya wonder how they got written that way in the first place, eh? One would think the concept and nuances of recall elections have been sufficiently tried and proven over time that such abuse of elected position would have been ironed out by now. Better late than never I suppose. Hopefully this discussion will draw out additional things to be considered such as 3:53 Anon's provision to make the recall issue a mandatory agenda item and force the agency to act on it within a specified period of time. I like 7 days but 14 days seems more than fair. And far better than X number of months.

    I think Anon 3:41 is on to something too. There must be a way to leverage the desires, vast power and financial resources of Wal-Mart against the financial and sewer needs of Los Osos. I wonder whether Wal-Mart would build a sewer if they could plant a Mega-Store around or on top of it? If anybody could turn a controversial sewer into a Community Value park it would have to be Wal-Mart. They've got lots of experience in this area and more than enough financial clout. This seems like a match made in heaven. Wal-Mart would get an easily planted Mega-Store serving the central California coast and a PR campaign they could use forever. Los Osos would get a sewer, a park, a humongous tax base and a strong civic-minded business (cough, cough). If we play our cards right we might even get an amusement park! Think destination resort: The Mall of America in Los Osos!

    > Mall of America draws 40 million visitors each year; more than Disney World, Graceland and the Grand Canyon combined.

    Can you say 'Wal-Mart of the America's!' ? The best part about this? Tri-W is way too small for a Mega-Store much less all the rest of it. They would have to build all this out of town. (Or maybe they would just raze the town.) Either way, everybody's happy. Don't cha think the county would love it too? Oh man, this scratches sooooo many itches I can hardly sit down.

    By Blogger *PG-13, at 2:05 PM, September 20, 2006  

  • Anonymous said...
    OK, this is what I want to know. What has Julie Tacker been kicked out of her house and what is the exact nature of her relationship with developer Jeff Edwards and how will this affect everything????

    10:45 PM, September 17, 2006

    Julie says; Julie and Tom split on good terms in mid July (after 23, mostly good, years of marriage). Julie got a job as an environmental permit consultant for Jeff Edwards on Sept. 1.
    How does this effect anything? Julie doesn't vote on Jeff's projects brought to the LOCSD (when was the last one you saw?) nor will I participate in any offers on district property from him.
    I intend to work with Jeff to make better projects, because no one can't stop development, I only hope to shape it to be more palatable for us all.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:26 PM, September 24, 2006  

  • Julie,

    I appreciate your candor on the subject. Frankly I was a little annoyed that some felt it was acceptable to make insinuations that are simly irrelevant at best and in my opinion, compeletely out-of-line.

    I have no great knowledge about Edwards. I do know that his idea of getting a movie theater and pool and some other cool things at the Sunnyside site was sort of cool ... other than the loss of the sports fields at that site.

    I also agree that development will come and that we need to be careful about what sort of development happens. Smart choices will make our community far nicer.

    Along those lines ... this is exactly the reason I am so annoyed with your decisions, Julie, to stall and delay TriW. At the risk of boring folks to tears, once the original decision was made to put the plant at TriW, any delay essentially increased our costs, increased saltwater intrusion and increased pollution. The situation now is that we'll most certainly need to take state water because of the pollution and saltwater issues. State water means more growth. The extra cost of the sewer project means that much of our community will need to leave.

    Perhaps we simply disagree about that sort of development we want.

    Myself, I want to see our community remain small and open to those who are from all socio-economic groups, not big and open to only those who are in the wealthy category.

    Julie, your actions in CCLO and on the board have changed our town in such a way that we're now likely to have more costs, more sprawl and less folks in the middle class. It is almost as if you want to repeat here what has happened in Carlsbad and Goleta, two places that used to be really nice and are now ... um ... considerably less pleasant than they used to be and they could have had they made wiser choices about growth.

    By Blogger Shark Inlet, at 4:58 PM, September 24, 2006  

  • Shark,
    We agree on what Los Osos should be, my preference is,and has always been,without a sewer plant in its heart.
    I didn't stop the project or even slow it down until the SRF loan was revoked.
    The changes that CCLO brought to the project may have added to its cost, but most were outlined in the EIR as mitigation promises that were not going to be kept.I, and others, merely pointed them out. Because, come hell or high water, if there's gonna be a sewer in the middle of this town, it better be all it's cracked up to be and more.
    The topic of degredation of water, well, without an increase in population the pollution is the virtually the same, itrate levels have pretty much leveled off and only fluxuate with the rainfall.
    The problem with seawater intrusion continues because development is allowed to go on, the County is the land use authority, don't blame me. Recent studies have shown just how rapidly the ocean is coming into the aquifer, studies that should have been done years ago. The reality is the Tri-W sewer wasn't going to stay the intrusion, perhaps 90 acre feet, we can accomplish that with immediate conservation measures. I hope to see some conservation measures before our board pronto, I coordinated the 9/14 water night with Ron, Rob and Spencer, they have some great , low cost suggestions. Conservation is near and dear to my heart.
    If you think I'm going to take the blame for the mass exidous of low income people from Los Osos you're mistaken. The trend is already set. Solutions Group threw the County sewer out the window and then once on the board they paid to have the collection system re-designed, it was the same gravity system, now that was a waste of funds!
    I've also said this before, NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THE TRI-W SEWER WAS GOING TO COST! Remember, cost can't be measured in dollars alone. Cost is our quality of life and what kind of downtown would we have with kids on skateboards riding in front of the daily sludge hauler (open bed end dump)on their way to the Edwards/Pandora aquatic center? How about that wedding at the Catholic Church? What about the real estate values of those triplexes on LOVR? Or worse yet, the Morro Shores Mobil Home Park, after the overflow pit fills and spills (North West corner of the lot).

    Shark, you can't blame me for delaying the sewer, until the recall. Before that I was a bit player, but if you want to give me all the credit for stopping a heap of junk from being built downtown, thanks, I'll take it. But, don't blame me for its cost, that's Pandora's fault, she's the master at polishing a turd.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:11 PM, September 25, 2006  

  • Julie,

    Could you please explain what you DON'T like about the sewer plants in Montecito and Beverly Hill? They are in the "middle of town."

    Have you even been there?

    If you have never SEEN a "sewer in the middle of town," then what are you basing your criticism on? Please don't say it was too expensive. That is a different issue.

    Thank you.

    By Blogger Sewertoons, at 4:48 PM, September 25, 2006  

  • What strikes me about Julie's 1:11 post (and pretty much her entire involvement in this story, for that matter) is this: Why does a soccer mom know so much about the technical and bureaucratic ins-and-outs of a sewer system?

    That makes me laugh every time I think about it. Here she was, five years ago, just going about her mom-type stuff, like all other moms, and now she's popping out posts like that?

    What the f?

    I've interviewed lots of people on this story over the past 15 years, and I don't know anyone that comes close, including me, to the body of knowledge that Tacker posses on the LO sewer story. A freaking encyclopedia.

    She was the "1" in the 4-1 vote not to support county control of the project, because, she argued, the people in Los Osos know more about what needs to happen in the community than the county. If she's any indicator, she's right about that. What Los Ososans lacked in wastewater knowledge in 1998, they now have in volumes.

    I think it's safe to say, if the initial, 1999 CSD Board had not been a 5-0 Solution Group member board, but rather a 4-1 Solution Group member/modern-day Julie Tacker board, we aren't on this blog today.

    Memo to all government human resources managers: If you're looking for the Michael Jordan of wastewater project managers, I highly suggest you lob off a call to Tacker.

    As for her working relationship with Edwards... ehhh... that's not doing much me... kind of flat. Is there a hint of impropriety? I guess... a hint. But, keep in mind, there's a huge difference between a hint of impropriety and impropriety.

    Of course, if something weird happens, like she decides to override an entire environmental review process to needlessly retain a sewer plant on an Edwards-owned property, well, then I'm all over it.

    Shark said:

    "... Julie, to stall and delay TriW. At the risk of boring folks to tears, once the original decision was made to put the plant at TriW, any delay essentially increased our costs..."

    I see that point, in one form or another, a lot, and I think it's a weird, flawed take.

    First, stopping the destined-to-be-legally-invalid Tri-Dub project was exactly why all five of your current directors were put into office, if you remember.

    The "You didn't go against the will of the voters once you were in office" take is weak... very, very weak.

    Second, it assumes that the Tri-Dub project would have just sailed right along without a hitch.

    Here's a thought -- that project was an invalid mess, and it was going to end up in court for years to come if it was pursued.

    For one excellent example, the "park benefiting everyone in a community, but only funded by a portion of that community's taxpayers" argument was not going away anytime soon.

    And, considering a local judge ruled recently that he disagrees with that argument, that most likely would have derailed everything, or at least the treatment facility portion of the project, after millions more taxpayer dollars had been needlessly pounded into the ground.

    And that's just one example, there are many more.

    That foundationless, invalid, mess of a bait-and-switchy project had a seriously bumpy road in front of it. You think it's bad now? Imagine if Tri-Dub had moved forward.

    The '05 recall election was about the luckiest thing I've ever seen happen to a community. I've said this before, Los Osos dodged a bullet there.

    By Blogger Ron, at 6:16 PM, September 25, 2006  

  • Julie,

    It sounds like we'll have to agree that we see things differently.

    You say that before the recall you weren't involved in actions that delayed TriW. I say that when CCLO (your group) asks for a permit revocation that was denied after some additional months of review it means that the project was delayed by your actions. I can see why you would view things your way, but I'll simply say my take is different.

    On saltwater intrusion and nitrate levels ... I'll trust Tim Cleath on these matters instead of you. He's the professional and he and his group did the tests. He says (and I agree based at looking at the numbers) that the nitrate numbers are highest below the high density septics and that they've been increasing. While TriW doesn't stop intrusion completely, the aquifer recharge associated with TriW would help considerably. Furthermore, if the extra water (water not used for recharge at Broderson) was used for freshwater dams, the saltwater intrusion could be entirely stopped. You are right that conservation and study should have been done some time ago. On the other hand, not as much conservation or study in the last decade is hardly a good reason for neglecting to do something today that would be helpful.

    You point out correctly that no one knows exactly what TriW would have cost per month. However, you seem to forget that we have even less clear of an idea about the costs of any out-of-town system ... other than it is likely to be considerably more than TriW. Richard's analysis of the Ripley numbers show that Ripley's proposed plant would cost more than TriW was likely to cost. Furthermore, when you remember that the Ripley plan was undersized, wouldn't pass muster with the RWQCB ... it just seems like we would be buying (yet again) another "better, faster, cheaper" argument from yet another group who has the desire to pull the wool over our eyes to get their way.

    You can pass the buck to Pandora as much as you want but to those of us in the middle it simply looks today as if you guys screwed the pooch and can't admit you made mistakes that will cost our community.

    To Ron ... it appears that yet again you don't understand what inflation does. Let me remind you about how inflation raises costs. If the cost of fuel and concrete and labor is higher this year than last year, contractors charge more for the same project this year than last. Over time, this makes stuff more expensive. Even a "less expensive" project (read "Ripley") will cost more after enough of this inflation. Among other interesting things to be found on the Web is a documenty by Louisiana dept of highways which points out that the construction inflation rate has been about 8% for some time now and will likely stay at least this high for a while and that an implication of delaying a project by five years is a 40% higher price. Hope this helps.

    By Blogger Shark Inlet, at 10:30 PM, September 25, 2006  

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