THOUSAND OAKS — Foes of Councilwoman Elois Zeanah have succeeded in their drive to put the emotional issue of her ouster before voters, and she will face a recall election in November, City Clerk Nancy Dillon said Friday.
Capping a 7-month-old signature campaign that polarized residents in this politically conscious city, county elections officials have determined that the group Yes! Remove Elois Zeanah has gathered barely enough signatures to force a recall election.
Of the 13,981 signatures the group submitted to oust Zeanah last month, 10,382 were from registered city voters--just above the 10,169 needed to qualify for the ballot. Voters will now decide whether to recall Zeanah, and if so, who should replace her. Candidates have until Aug. 26 to file papers for her post.
Jill Lederer, a Domino's Pizza entrepreneur who has bankrolled the brunt of the recall campaign, was breathless with excitement upon hearing the news Friday afternoon.
"We're valid! I'm so happy right now," Lederer said. "I think the people have spoken. The idea of a recall was a difficult one, but when you have someone as unethical and antagonistic as Elois Zeanah, you have to do it.
"As tired as this town is of recalls, we got a strong response--more than 2,000 signatures in the last week of signature gathering," she added. "I think this shows that the people can see where the problem is in Thousand Oaks."
Zeanah was out of town on vacation and unavailable for comment. But her strongest political ally, Councilwoman Linda Parks, characterized the news that Zeanah will face a recall election this fall as a dark period in Thousand Oaks' history.
According to Parks, the signatures are not a symbol that Zeanah's popularity is waning, but a testament to the fact that big money can influence city politics. She argued that many of the names on the petition, which were gathered in large part by paid signature collectors, were obtained through deceit.
"More than anything, the fact that you can illegally get signatures and buy an election is the worst part of this," Parks said. "There is something terribly wrong about having someone pay people to lie to people and gather signatures and buy an election.
"This is big money, and it's despicable, and it's not the intent of the referendum process," she added. "This is disgraceful."
The signatures actually represented the second such effort this year for Yes! Remove Elois Zeanah. The group gathered nearly 16,000 signatures this spring to oust the second-term councilwoman, known for her outspoken views on development and her willingness to accuse city officials of wrongdoing.
But those signatures were effectively frozen by Zeanah's lawyers in a Simi Valley courtroom this spring, and the group had to start over.
Raleigh H. Levine and Frederic Woocher of Strumwasser & Woocher, a high-profile Santa Monica firm, convinced Superior Court Judge Joe Hadden that the format used to gather the signatures should not have been approved by Dillon because it did not comply with state election law. As a result, they argued, some voters might not have understood what they were signing.
The two sides are still involved in a dispute over the more than $30,000 in legal fees Zeanah's lawyers incurred, with Levine arguing that Thousand Oaks should pay, and City Atty. Mark Sellers arguing it would be unjust for taxpayers to cover such costs.
Peter J. Turpel, spokesman for Yes! Remove Elois Zeanah, said the signatures are a validation that the group represents a growing number of Thousand Oaks residents who are fed up with Zeanah.
"To assume that this happened because of developers' money--and this is not developers' money; most of the money came from Jill--is an insult to our residents," Turpel said. "They're not stupid. They know what they were signing.
"We gathered enough signatures twice, so I don't see how anyone can doubt this now," he added. "She's not out of office yet, I know, but it's a big statement to get these signatures."
Kitty Radler, one of the leaders of Residents to Recall Fox and Lazar, a group hoping to oust Councilman Andy Fox and Mayor Judy Lazar, said she was saddened but not surprised that Zeanah will face a recall election.
The group, which believes it must recall Fox and Lazar to "even the playing field" and retaliate for the Zeanah recall, is still gathering signatures and has no plans to give up, Radler said.
"This [Zeanah] recall has been bought and paid for by developers and Jill Lederer," Radler said. "Our recall is still collecting its signatures by resident volunteers . . . We're still collecting. We've somewhat taken a bit of a break, but we're not going to drop it. We're just doing a little regrouping."