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By Allison Jarrell
A group of residents claim Mayor Pro Tem Sergio Farias of District 1 has reneged on his campaign promise to oppose San Diego Gas & Electric’s substation expansion in San Juan Capistrano, and on May 19 they submitted a notice of intent to recall him for it.
But Farias’ voting record over the last six months shows that he’s voted consistently to oppose the expansion, leading Farias and a fellow councilmember to question the petitioners’ true motives.
Two notices of intent to recall Farias were submitted to the city on May 19 and May 22. Both notices were rejected by the City Clerk’s office because they were “legally insufficient,” according to City Clerk Maria Morris.
The May 19 notice of intention to circulate a petition seeking the removal of Farias was received with 34 valid signatures attached, and the May 22 notice was sent to City Hall with seven additional signatures.
The City Clerk’s office responded to resident Dawn Fusco, a proponent of the recall, with two separate letters for each notice. Morris wrote that both notices were “legally insufficient” because they did not include “language required by Elections Code Section 11023,” as well as an affidavit of the time and manner by which Farias was served with the notice.
“Without such an affidavit, there is no record showing that Mayor Pro Tem Farias was served with the notice in accordance with the Elections Code,” the city’s letters state. “Therefore, your filing must be rejected by this office for failure to comply with the Elections Code.”
Farias said he was never served with either of the petitions.
Proponents of the recall claim that Farias’ statements and actions contradict his campaign pledge to fight the expansion of SDG&E’s substation in San Juan Capistrano.
“You have ignored the voices of SJC residents who voted you into office,” the notice reads. “Your actions ignore the multiple impacts to our community from the SDG&E substation expansion.”
But Farias’ voting record paints a different picture. Like the rest of the Council, he voted on Dec. 19 to maintain opposition to the expansion and to submit an application to the California Public Utilities Commission for a rehearing (the CPUC voted unanimously on Dec. 15 to approve the substation expansion).
Then on Jan. 17, Farias and three other Council members voted to allocate an additional $25,000 from the city’s General Fund Reserves to continue fighting the project by retaining special legal services from the law firm of Goodin, MacBride, Squeri & Day. Farias and the Council majority also voted to allocate an extra $240,000 for additional legal services from Best, Best & Krieger (the city’s legal representation) for California Environmental Quality Act litigation. Councilwoman Pam Patterson was the lone no vote because she felt the Council should request legal service proposals from other law firms for the CEQA litigation.
At the Council’s March 7 meeting, a group of residents voiced their renewed opposition to the expansion during public comment. The first person to speak was Kim McCarthy, a former Parks and Recreation commissioner who’s involved with publishing Community Common Sense. McCarthy asked the Council to hire attorney Michael Aguirre, who sued SDG&E in 2008 as San Diego’s city attorney and ultimately won his case against the utility.
Mayor Pro Tem Farias voiced some hesitation, saying the city had very good legal representation throughout the CPUC review process.
“I know we didn’t get the outcome we wanted,” Farias said. “I think to hold up someone and say, ‘this guy’s going to change it,’ I think that’s giving false hope.
“I just want us to see what the reality is. This doesn’t mean I’m not against it,” Farias said of the expansion. “It was a terrible decision by the CPUC, but it was a 5-0 decision. We need to understand what that means.”
On May 16, Farias and the rest of the Council voted unanimously in closed session to retain legal services from Aguirre & Severson LLP as part of the city’s continued fight against SDG&E’s substation expansion. The Council also voted unanimously to draft a complaint to the CPUC.
In response to the petition, Farias said he has “consistently voted to allocate available city resources into fighting the expansion.”
“Recall elections like this undermine our democratic process and force the city to waste tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money to run another election,” Farias said. “This is not really about the SDG&E expansion. It’s about outside interests wanting total control of our city at the expense of our residents.”
Councilman Derek Reeve took to his public Facebook page on May 21 to voice similar concerns about the recall petition.
“This falls into the category of the dumbest recall attempts in the history of recall attempts,” Reeve wrote. “His ACTIONS actually opposed the SDG&E expansion.”
Reeve went on to write that the residents of District 1 “are being manipulated and lied to,” adding that he believes the real purpose of the recall is to shift the balance on the Council in order to kill certain projects or overturn decisions made by the current Council majority.
If a valid recall notice for Farias were to be submitted to the City Clerk’s office, the petitioners would need 25 percent of the 2,356 registered voters in District 1—589 residents—to submit signatures in order for a recall election to take place. A petition with at least 589 signatures would then need to be submitted 60 days following the City Clerk’s approval of the notice to recall.
As of Tuesday afternoon, no other recall notices or signatures had been received by the City Clerk’s office.