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Council District Bid Leaders Unaware of '88 Law : Legislation: They say the little-known signature requirement doomed their initiative drive. They support a bill to rescind the rule.

August 16, 1990|PHIL SNEIDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two leaders of an unsuccessful campaign to create City Council districts in Glendale testified in Sacramento last week for a bill that, had it been law last month, could have put their initiative on the ballot.

The bill by state Sen. Quentin Kopp of San Francisco, California's only independent legislator, would rescind an obscure 1988 law that raised the number of signatures needed to qualify a charter amendment initiative.

Art Segien and Richard Seeley, leaders of the Coalition for Electoral Reform, said they would have gathered more signatures if they had been aware of the 1988 law. The coalition collected 8,446 valid signatures on a petition calling for the election of Glendale council members from five districts, instead of according to the current at-large system.

But city officials ruled that the coalition fell almost 2,000 signatures short of the number needed to get on the ballot under the 1988 law.

The Glendale coalition leaders lobbied for Kopp's bill, even though it came too late to affect their initiative. After the public testimony, the Assembly Committee on Elections, Reapportionment and Constitutional Amendments voted 7 to 1 to send the Kopp bill to the full Assembly.

Seeley and Segien received mixed reviews regarding their impact on the legislators.

"They were referring to the recent problem in Glendale, and they had it wrong, in my view," said Deborah Seiler, a consultant to the committee. "The real problem was that they were misinformed about the rules."

But Seeley insisted that it was the committee members who were confused.

"It was scary," he said. "I think I knew more about the Elections Code than they did, and they're the ones making the law."

Seeley maintained this week that he and Segien were correct in criticizing the 1988 law because it sharply increased the number of signatures needed on a charter amendment petition. "It did have an impact," he said. "Had they not changed the base, we would have passed easily."

Segien and Seeley have said they did not gather enough signatures because they received incorrect advice from Glendale city staff members and the group's own lawyers, who were all unaware of the 1988 law.

In their Sacramento appearance, committee consultant Seiler said the Glendale men appeared to be "looking for a scapegoat." She characterized their testimony as "an unfair attack on the previous legislation."

But their efforts were praised by Ruth Holton, a California Common Cause lobbyist who also spoke in favor of Kopp's bill. "I certainly thought the gentlemen from Glendale made their case," she said.

Dan Friedlander, a legislative aide to Kopp, said the testimony from the Glendale residents and from groups such as Common Cause and Consumers Union was "very helpful and effective."

Still, he added, "There is a lot of confusion surrounding the issue. There were members of the committee who may have been confused as well."

The fate of the Kopp bill remained uncertain this week. It was diverted on Monday to the Assembly Committee on Local Government. Officials in Sacramento said the bill will die unless it gets through that committee and wins Assembly approval before the Legislature adjourns Aug. 31.

Back in Glendale, Segien and Seeley have encountered a new obstacle in their council districts initiative drive.

Last week they received a letter from Glendale City Atty. Scott H. Howard, who said the City Council has denied their latest request to put the initiative on next April's municipal election ballot.

Howard also said the city could not allow the initiative backers time to gather more names. "State law says all signatures must be turned in at the same time, and no subsequent signatures shall be accepted," the attorney said in an interview.

City Council members unanimously oppose the initiative, saying that district representation is not needed in Glendale.

At their meeting Tuesday, council members expressed continuing displeasure over the initiative as they voted to pay a $11,805 bill for verifying signatures on the petitions. The Los Angeles County registrar-recorder's office charged $1.07 for each of the 11,033 signatures it checked.

City Manager David Ramsay said the expense had not been budgeted but could be paid out of the city's contingency fund.

"We don't have the money, but we'll have to appropriate it," Mayor Larry Zarian said.

"Any group within the city has the right to propose anything they really care to within the auspices of the law, and the majority must pay for it, even though at times it may be frivolous," Councilman Carl Raggio said.

He added, "I'm not saying this was frivolous. I'm just saying . . . that people ought to be very, very careful about what they sign. Their signatures are very dear."

Seeley said he and Segien would meet soon with their own lawyer to decide whether to ask a judge to overturn the city's denial of a time extension. "We're just trying to find out what kind of a case we have against the city, if any," he said.

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