In a surprise turnabout, a majority of Santa Ana City Council members said Friday that they could not agree to sweeping changes in the city government that were proposed by a group threatening a recall effort, and that at least one change would be illegal.
In response, leaders of the recall group called SAMSON said they would meet today to begin organizing a petition drive to force the issues onto the ballot.
Mayor Daniel E. Griset, Vice Mayor P. Lee Johnson and Councilman Robert Luxembourger met with SAMSON members a week ago and said they would agree to place SAMSON's demands on the ballot. Those demands include:
- Elimination of the city manager's job and election of a full-time mayor who would be paid $60,000 a year.
- Election of council members by wards (areas of the city) and an increase in their salaries to $1,500 a month.
- Election, also by ward, of members of the Planning Commission and Redevelopment Agency.
Johnson said Friday that he had changed his mind. "My position is, if they want to put something on the ballot, let them go out and get the signatures," he said.
Last week, Johnson said, he had supported the idea of a ballot measure because the mayor had urged it to avoid a recall election. "After I thought about it, I couldn't figure out why we were doing it," Johnson said.
'Reneged' on Pledge
Griset, who is on vacation, could not be reached for comment.
SAMSON must gather 6,372 signatures of registered voters to force the issues on the ballot by June--fewer signatures than required for a recall. If the measures succeed, new council elections will be held in November.
SAMSON spokesman Jim Lowman said the council members had "reneged" on a pledge to commit themselves to the ballot proposals by Thursday.
Luxembourger said that although he couldn't support the proposals as submitted at last week's meeting, he would propose at Monday's City Council session that a citizens committee be appointed to rewrite them with the help of the city attorney's office. He noted that the ward election idea was rejected by residents in April, 1983, by a vote of 4,484 to 2,375.
"Anyway, some of those things are illegal," he said. Deputy City Atty. Richard Lay said state law prohibits the direct election of Redevelopment Agency members. The agency, which governs all redevelopment projects and expenditures of funds, must either be made up of City Council members or people appointed by them.
Lowman said he would suggest today that the proposal be rewritten to require the council to appoint the agency members.
"The proposals, I think, are not workable," said Councilman Wilson Hart. "It would be government by chaos."
He said the ward system of elections presents a "potential evil" because some council members might have more allegiance to their area than to the city itself. He said the Save Our Stadium group, a group opposed to plans to raze Santa Ana Stadium to make way for the proposed Westdome arena, would have the most to lose because their councilman might be their only ally.
But SAMSON member Pete Major said the ward system is the only way to make council members responsive, and that "fair representation" works on the national level. "People who make that statement are condemning Congress," he said. "I don't see why city government can't be modeled after that system."
Hart said he believes that SAMSON wants to eliminate the city manager's job because they oppose the aggressive development policies that have been under way since Robert C. Bobb took office in 1984.
"Let's not lose focus on what this guy has done for the city," he said. "We must not lose sight of that because we've had a few scraped knuckles in the battle against blight."
'Another Think Coming'
Councilman John Acosta, who said he was angry because Griset hasn't told him about the meetings with the recall group or their proposals, said he would probably oppose SAMSON's call for an "executive mayor" form of government. But he added that he might favor a directly elected mayor and a city manager, a structure now in place in Anaheim and Garden Grove. But, he said, "if they think I'm going to support something that's just been dropped in my lap, someone's got another think coming."
Council members Patricia McGuigan and Dan Young echoed Luxembourger's desire to have a committee study the measures with the city attorney.
"I'm not really in favor of (the proposals) unless there are substantial changes," McGuigan said.
Sal Mendoza, a SAMSON leader, said the council member's comments Friday exemplify the recall proponents' main complaint. "Again, I feel this is unresponsiveness in our leadership," he said. "It doesn't surprise me at all."
Some of the groups involved in SAMSON include Save Our Stadium; Concerned Residents of Santa Ana, opposed to a traffic plan that prohibits commuters from traveling through a north-central Santa Ana neighborhood; Friends and Neighbors of Centennial Park, opposed to plans to build an $11-million stadium there to replace Santa Ana Stadium, and the Firemen's Benevolent Assn., which represents non-management employees of the Fire Department, who are embroiled in a dispute over alleged heavy-handed administrative measures.