Thursday, September 21, 2006
A new ruling by a federal court could revive two slow-growth ballot measures in a special election.
On Tuesday, Sept. 19, the 9th Circuit Court decided that recall petitions do not need to be translated into minority languages in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act. The 14-1 ruling in Padilla v. Lever specifically applies to an Orange County case about the 2003 recall of a school board member.
Both the 10th and 11th Circuit previously ruled that initiative petitions were not subject to Voting Rights Act requirements—and therefore, did not need to be translated—because they were not “provided by the State.” The 9th Circuit cites these two decisions in the Padilla ruling. According to local slow-growth activists, that means County Supervisors must call a special election to let voters decide the fate of two land-use measures.
"The County can acknowledge the petitions or we’ll continue to litigate."
Monterey County Supervisors earlier this spring refused to put two anti-sprawl measures on the June ballot, the General Plan initiative and Butterfly Village referendum, citing Padilla. Both are tied up in court, pending the Padilla decision.
Frederic Woocher is an attorney for the supporters of the General Plan Initiative and the opponents of the Butterfly Village development. Woocher says there’s “no doubt” the recent decision extends to Monterey County’s two would-be ballot measures.
“When private people go out and decide to draft and circulate petitions, those are not provided by the State and those are not covered by the Voting Rights Act,” he says. “The decision could not have been clearer.
“There are two ways the County can go: Either they acknowledge that the petitions were valid, and they can call the election. Or we’ll continue to litigate, and if they continue to resist, we’ll get a court to call the election.”
It looks like the County will choose the latter route. At press time, attorneys were analyzing the ruling, which was issued shortly before the Weekly’s deadline. But Assistant County Counsel Leroy Blankenship said he believes Padilla doesn’t have immediate implications for Monterey County’s two pending court cases.
“There are distinctions and differences between recall petitions and referenda and initiatives,” he said. “Whether those distinctions matter is something that the courts will have to decide.
“I’m sure that people who agree with the decision in Padilla and want that decision extended to referenda and initiatives will make that point to the Board of Supervisors. But ultimately, these matters get resolved in court.”