MONTEREY PARK — Mayor Cam Briglio has survived an effort to oust him from office after more than 1,500 signatures were disqualified from recall petitions, but two other City Council members must face the voters on June 2.
The council set the election date for council members Barry L. Hatch and Patricia Reichenberger after the city clerk reported Monday that recall petitions contained more than the required 4,536 signatures, representing 20% of the registered voters.
City Clerk Pauline Lemire said there were 4,580 valid signatures on petitions to recall Reichenberger and 4,719 against Hatch, but only 3,646 against Briglio. Lemire said more than 1,500 signatures against Briglio and more than 2,000 against Hatch and Reichenberger were ruled invalid after a review by her office and the county registrar of voters.
The disqualified signatures included those that were illegible or did not match the names and addresses of registered voters on file.
Recall leader Kevin Smith said many people who claimed to be registered voters were not, some signatures were difficult to read and some residents who moved within the city neglected to re-register to vote, all contributing to a high rate of rejected signatures.
Smith said the fact that so many signatures were disallowed means that city and county officials scrutinized the petitions with great care.
But Councilman Hatch said he believes that further scrutiny would invalidate more signatures.
In the last city election in April, Hatch said, some people who registered to vote listed addresses that turned out to be empty condominiums and vacant lots. The registrar of voters does not have the manpower to verify addresses on the petitions to see if the voters really live there, Hatch said, but he and his supporters may check addresses and if enough irregularities are found, the courts could be asked to cancel the recall election.
The disqualification of just 45 signatures would take Reichenberger's name off the recall ballot.
Reichenberger said she is looking at steps that might be taken to challenge the validity of petition signatures. "I hate the thought of going through a recall," she said.
The county district attorney is already reviewing complaints that fictitious signatures and unauthorized solicitors were used in the recall petition campaign. But, backers of the recall contend that many of the complaints were manufactured by supporters of the council members to sabotage the recall effort.
Accused of Racism
The campaign began in July when Smith, former Mayor David Almada and three other residents filed recall notices accusing Briglio, Hatch and Reichenberger of voting for a "racist resolution" and blocking the construction of housing for senior citizens. The petitions also accused the three of "irresponsible participation in city planning."
The resolution that triggered the recall instructed police to cooperate with immigration authorities, urged tougher border control, and declared support for the adoption of English as the nation's official language. Opponents of the resolution said it encouraged racism. The issue aroused so much controversy that Briglio switched his vote in October in an effort, he said, to end divisiveness. The resolution was repealed over the objections of Hatch and Reichenberger, who insisted the resolution was devoid of racism and merely urged action to deal with the nation's immigration problems.
Smith said Briglio survived the recall attempt because of his popularity in the Asian community, which undercut the charge or racism. Smith said many Asian voters who signed petitions against Hatch and Reichenberger said that Briglio had represented them fairly and refused to sign petitions against him.
Briglio, who has been at odds with Hatch and Reichenberger over efforts to replan the city, said he expects to remain neutral in the recall election.
Abuse of System
Councilmen G. Monty Manibog and Chris Houseman have criticized the recall effort as an abuse of a system they say was designed to remove officeholders for misdeeds.
Hatch said the recall is unwarranted because "there has been no corruption, no crimes committed, no kickbacks, just a matter of serving the people." He said developers engineered the recall to stop the city from imposing new standards on development.
Smith, whose family has built houses, condominiums and commercial buildings in Monterey Park, said many property owners are dissatisfied with the council because of proposals to rezone land.
Hatch and Reichenberger were elected to four-year terms last April. If they are recalled, they can be replaced either by council appointees or through a special election. Voters at the recall election will decide whether to require a special election or allow the remaining council members to appoint successors.