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Officials Draw Fire for Use of Tax Funds to Fight 187 : Government: Supporters of the controversial new law charge that the will of the people is being ignored.

November 11, 1994|RICH CONNELL and BETH SHUSTER and JAMES RAINEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

As elected officials in Los Angeles and communities up and down the state launch legal challenges to Proposition 187, an angry groundswell of criticism has arisen over use of public funds to undo what the measure's backers see as a clear mandate from the voters.

Outraged callers lit up switchboards Thursday at the Los Angeles Unified School District, Los Angeles City Hall and other agencies that had joined the effort to overturn the anti-illegal immigration measure approved Tuesday by nearly 60% of the state's voters. And the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors postponed a decision on its own legal challenge after a torrent of objections.

Just as the final months of the bitterly contested campaign drove a political wedge into the California electorate, it appeared that the struggle over implementation of the landmark law was opening deep new fissures in the political landscape.

Officials at the pro-Proposition 187 headquarters said they were inundated with calls Thursday from fired-up supporters wanting to join recall efforts or class-action lawsuits against officials involved.

"I almost hit the roof. What is this?" said Afrodite Dacoles, a Hollywood retiree and Proposition 187 supporter who was venting her furor Thursday in calls to elected officials. "This is not right. We put this issue in. It's the law and they are trying to fight it with my money."

Computer programmer Diane Shook also was on the phone and ready to sign up for any and all recall campaigns against officials using tax funds to try to block the measure. "There's no point in voting anymore," said the 41-year-old Woodland Hills resident, who became furious after listening to a discussion on a radio talk show. "My concern is: Why am I paying taxes? Why aren't they listening to us?"

Officials leading the challenges to Proposition 187 acknowledged that a strong backlash was hitting Thursday. Los Angeles school board offices were deluged with calls. Several Los Angeles City Council offices also reported dozens of protests. There were reports of school boards in various areas of the state being peppered with complaints. Even supporters of the measure--including Gov. Pete Wilson--were fielding large numbers of calls protesting the tax-dollar-backed lawsuits.

The Sacramento City Unified School District, which joined Los Angeles, San Francisco and a coalition of districts in a lawsuit to overturn parts of Proposition 187, had taken dozens of calls by Thursday afternoon. "People are (telling) us we shouldn't be spending public funds on this suit," said George Medovoy, a spokesman for the Sacramento district.

Elected leaders around California were defending their actions, saying they have an obligation to resolve legal conflicts presented by federal and state laws and the new initiative, which bars most public services to undocumented residents.

"We want to know whether we deny library cards, playing golf at a city golf course or being in a victim assistance program . . . if they are in the country illegally," said Los Angeles City Atty. James K. Hahn, who was directed by the City Council to try to clarify the measure by challenging its constitutionality. By Thursday, Hahn's office had three attorneys working on the matter, though that was expected to be cut back next week. Officials insisted that the cost would be minimal and absorbed into the city attorney's regular budget.

Several lawsuits have been filed by civil rights groups and individuals challenging the measure, but Hahn insisted that the city was compelled to mount its own challenge. "I need to know from the courts what kind of legal advice to give all my city departments," he said.

Some officials maintain that they have a moral and constitutional duty to protect the rights of all constituents, particularly children and the needy. Los Angeles Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg argued that lawmakers, in keeping with their oaths of office, had to file suit to defend the principles of the U.S. Constitution.

Los Angeles Board of Education President Mark Slavkin, a point man in the legal attack on the measure by school systems, said: "Our fundamental interest is to protect the rights of students--that's our guiding motivation. We're fighting to uphold a basic issue in the Constitution, which is the right to free public education."

Sherry Loofbourrow, the president of the California School Boards Assn., said the organization is representing 700 of the 1,000 school districts in the state in the lawsuit. Loofbourrow said individual school districts are hearing from voters and "most people are expressing their concerns" about the lawsuits.

But she added: "It's important for the districts to understand that we're in court to straighten out the conflicting legal directions that we've been given--for their sakes. Are we supposed to be educating all children or not?"

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