EL MONTE — The district attorney's office, responding to allegations of election fraud, has begun investigating the petition process used to get a referendum on the city's mobile home park rent-arbitration ordinance on the June ballot.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Ed Feldman said he is investigating, among other things, an allegation that some of the petition circulators perjured themselves by saying falsely that they were residents or registered voters in El Monte, a violation of the state Election Code.
The referendum could void a city ordinance that provides a two-step system of arbitration in rent and service disputes between mobile home park owners and residents in the city's four largest parks.
The ordinance, which was passed in December but has not gone into effect pending the outcome of the vote, creates a rent review commission that would have final say if a committee of owners and residents cannot agree on rent increases.
The five-member commission would consist of two residents, two park owners and an outside mediator. The mediator would be appointed by the city if the other four commissioners could not agree.
Mobile home residents, who back the ordinance, have charged that three of the eight people who gathered signatures on the referendum petitions lied when they said they were registered to vote in El Monte.
The circulators were hired by the owners of one park, who oppose the ordinance. They gathered the signatures of more than 10% of the city's 21,147 registered voters to force the measure onto the ballot.
Roy F. Kiser and Donald E. Smith, co-chairmen of Homeowners for Yes on 2216, which opposes the referendum, said two circulators listed addresses that do not exist. They said they could not find any evidence that a third circulator lived at the address listed as her residence.
"We're going to be looking into at least one of the allegations," Feldman said last week. "However, that doesn't mean we've come to the conclusion that there has been any wrongdoing."
Feldman said he does not expect the investigation to be completed before June 7, when Proposition A goes to a vote. He said the investigation would be limited to possible criminal violations involving perjured declarations and would not affect the election.
Park residents tried unsuccessfully two weeks ago to get the City Council to pull the issue off the ballot. Kiser and Smith said the district attorney's investigation lends credence to their contention that opponents of the ordinance, primarily the owners of the 421-space Brookside Mobile Home Country Club, defrauded the public in the drive to qualify the referendum.
"Based on what we have told (the district attorney), they're convinced that there is a possibility that something is wrong," Kiser said. "Our suspicions are going to be confirmed."
But political consultant Harvey Englander of Campaign Management Inc., the Newport Beach firm hired to get the referendum on the ballot, said that all the signatures on the petitions were valid and that improprieties involving circulators should not affect their validity.
"If there was anyone who lied, they should be prosecuted," said Englander, who was hired by Brookside owners Tom Tatum and Jeffrey Kaplan to try to defeat the ordinance.
$2 per Signature
Englander said the circulators, who were recruited through newspaper advertisements, were paid $2 for each valid signature.
"You don't invalidate a signature of a person signing a petition because of a potentially accidental mistake by a circulator," he said. "The fact of the matter is, 2,135 voters signed a petition saying 'We don't want this law.'
"Just because someone may live on the border of El Monte or South El Monte doesn't change the fact that the people signed that petition."
City Clerk Kathleen Kaplan said the signatures obtained by one circulator were not counted in qualifying the referendum because the woman lives in South El Monte. But even without those 281 signatures, the referendum received 20 signatures more than the 2,115 required to force the election, she said.
That circulator is not one of the three whose petitions are being contested by the mobile home residents. Backers of the ordinance argue that the county registrar-recorder's office would have invalidated the signatures collected by those three circulators if the allegations had been raised before the signatures were certified. The registrar-recorder's office referred all questions to the El Monte city attorney.
The City Council was asked to take the referendum off the ballot at a special May 3 meeting because of the allegations of fraud. It instructed the city attorney to find out whether the council had the authority to do so.
But City Atty. David Gondek said the council did not have the power to strike the proposition from the ballot after the signatures had been verified by the county registrar-recorder.