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Judge Orders Halt to Santa Ana Polling on Traffic Barriers

City Council might now reject ballot idea and make decision whether to keep roadblocks.

August 02, 2003|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

The Santa Ana City Council may suspend balloting and decide on its own whether to permanently install traffic barriers in French Park following a judge's order Friday halting a neighborhood vote.

"The ruling doesn't have anything to do with the traffic plan, only [with] the balloting about it," City Atty. Joseph Fletcher said after U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney issued a preliminary injunction preventing the city from counting 347 mail-in ballots polling local opinion on the issue.

"What that means," Fletcher said, "is that we could still go forward with the actual traffic plan."

At issue is a series of traffic barriers erected by the city after a neighborhood vote in 2000. Placed on Spurgeon and French streets, the diverters prevent traffic from entering French Park from East Washington Avenue. The idea was to monitor the results, then take another vote to determine whether the barriers should remain.

Last month, however, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against city officials on behalf of two residents who said that their rights were usurped in the second election.

The problem, they said, was that only one vote was given to all of the residents of multiple-family dwellings with more than four units.

In this way, the lawsuit argued, the voting favored French Park -- a community of single-family homes on one side of the barriers -- over French Court, made up mostly of Latino apartment dwellers on the other.

On July 24, the judge issued a temporary restraining order preventing the ballots from being counted.

And on Friday he made it a preliminary injunction, which the city can challenge at one final hearing.

"We're very pleased," Peter Eliasberg, managing attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, said after Friday's ruling. "The judge correctly pointed out that the vote of someone living in a spartan apartment should count just as much as that of someone who lives in a majestic single-family home."

According to Fletcher, however, such logic shouldn't apply.

"This wasn't an election," he said, "it was an advisory balloting process so that City Council could get a sense of the neighbors' reaction."

Members of the council, he said, will meet in executive session Monday to discuss their response to Friday's ruling, which "could mean anything from suspending the balloting process, to proceeding with the hearing on the preliminary injunction."

No date for that hearing has been set.

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