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By Allison Jarrell
Councilwoman Kerry Ferguson, Councilman Derek Reeve and Councilwoman Pam Patterson—the three San Juan Capistrano City Council members who were elected in 2014—have each been served with notices of intent to recall.
While all three petitions focus heavily on development-related issues, the recall petitions for Reeve and Ferguson are directly related, using the same verbiage regarding the proposed River Street project off of Los Rios Street.
On Nov. 7, the City Council voted 4-1 (Patterson opposed) to initiate work on an environmental study and traffic impact analysis for the proposed River Street open-air marketplace.
A group of residents served Councilwoman Ferguson with a “Notice of Intention to Circulate a Recall Petition” on Nov. 19 and submitted the notice along with 24 signatures to the City Clerk’s office on Nov. 21. The residents claim that Ferguson has reneged on her campaign promises to “oppose rezoning for a massive development” and to reduce traffic. Specifically, the petitioners wrote that Ferguson has failed to protect the Los Rios Specific Plan, the General Plan, and residents from the proposed River Street project, while also pointing to incoming development at the playhouse property, the Vermeulen property, and potentially the Northwest Open Space.
Ferguson filed her official response with the City Clerk on Nov. 28, stating that her “votes initiating studies haven’t violated the General Plan or the Los Rios Specific Plan.”
“Claiming I failed to protect Los Rios Street or Vermeulen is false. Voting to initiate studies on the Los Rios and Vermeulen properties is not an approval,” Ferguson replied. “Participating in thorough and transparent amendment processes with ample public input is my duty.”
The same claims against Ferguson were listed almost verbatim in the Notice of Intent to recall Councilman Reeve, which he was served with on Nov. 17. Reeve also filed his response on Nov. 28 and said the petitioners’ allegations are “100 percent blatantly false.”
“These “recallers” are bullying City Council members into voting against residents’ constitutional rights,” Reeve wrote. “I vote against certain development proposals as I have done numerous times, but I will not block San Juan Capistrano residents from a fair process.”
On Dec. 5, Reeve announced on his public Facebook page that he had retained “the top law firm in the state regarding these matters.” On Dec. 7, Reeve posted again, confirming that The Sutton Law Firm has issued a demand to the petitioners to withdraw the Notice of Intention as it contains “false, defamatory and libelous statements.”
“After spending a great deal of time evaluating the recall attempt against me, it has become abundantly clear that the recallers have with actual malice participated in this recall to defame me. While the recallers have every right to attempt to recall me, no one has the right to state knowingly false defamatory statements intended to damage a person’s reputation,” Reeve wrote on Facebook. “My attorneys and I have respectfully requested that each recaller withdrawal the Notice of Intent against me and if they wish, resubmit a new Notice of Intent without the defamatory statements. I have no objection to debating these issues, but the residents deserve an honest debate.”
On Monday, Nov. 27, Councilwoman Pam Patterson was also served with a Notice of Intent, but from a different group of residents. The 40 petitioners listed 10 specific grievances they have with Patterson, including participating in “an illegal referendum ultimately leading to a city settlement that will build to over $1 million charged to the SJC taxpayers,” “falsely accusing staff of stealing $600,000,” “delaying the Ortega Widening Project,” and supporting her “big developer friends.”
Patterson responded on Dec. 4, saying that the proponents’ recall is “clearly a retaliatory action” that’s “replete with misrepresentations.”
“There was no illegal referendum, just illegal lame duck council’s 3 a.m. approval of Urban Village hotel costing residents’ $750,000+,” Patterson replied.
City Clerk Maria Morris said Wednesday that two blank copies of the proposed recall petitions and proof of publication of the Notices of Intention are due at the City Clerk’s office on Dec. 8 for Reeve and Ferguson, and Dec. 14 for Patterson.
Once the City Clerk’s office has verified that the proposed recall petitions meet all the requirements of the California Elections Code, the proponents would have 120 days to collect the signatures of 20 percent of the city’s 19,227 registered voters—3,845 residents—for each petition.
The City Clerk’s office reported that the cost for an at-large special election would range from $95,000 to $106,000.
After accepting his new post as mayor pro tem on Tuesday, Brian Maryott said during the Council meeting that he was “really saddened” to hear of the “recall nonsense.” Maryott asked that those involved with the petitions, and those who may be asked to sign a petition, to “really think this through.”
“We are going to create potentially a tremendous amount of confusion for the residents of this city as they go to the ballots in the middle of next year to vote for other races and are faced with perhaps voting to recall people who are then going to be on the ballot in November,” Maryott said. “It’s just a terrible disservice to the residents of the city. Additionally, it’s a very costly one…Please think twice. We don’t recall people over a single issue or two. That’s not who we are, and it’s not fair to the people who put them in office.”