By Brian Park

A group of residents looking to recall San Juan Capistrano City Councilman Sam Allevato may now begin collecting signatures to enact a special election after the City Clerk’s office approved their petition Thursday evening.

The recall organizers, Residents for Honest Government, now have 120 day to gather signatures from 20 percent of San Juan Capistrano’s 17,511 registered voters, or 3,503 signatures. The deadline to turn in the petition is March 7.

Allevato was served with a notice of intent to recall by San Juan Capistrano resident Clint Worthington in September. Worthington and other recall organizers cite Allevato’s ongoing support of the city’s controversial groundwater recovery plant and his February 2010 vote to increase water rates and establish a new tiered rate structure. Those rates were declared illegal by an Orange County Superior Court judge in August in a lawsuit brought on by the Capistrano Taxpayers Association. The City Council voted in early September to appeal that decision.

Allevato filed his 200-word response to the recall effort with the City Clerk’s office on September 30. In it, he defended his voting record, as well as the groundwater recovery plant and water rates.

“I proudly stand behind every vote I cast. I voted yes to keep our city financially solvent by supporting balanced budgets, lower staffing costs and strategic planning. Yes, to protect open space, promote economic vitality and keep our city safe. Yes, to protect our future water resources, control water rates and reduce dependence from Metropolitan Water District. We have no choice where we buy our water, giving us no control over water rates. Our groundwater recovery plant (built before I joined the council) will provide independent rate control and supply for our city,” Allevato wrote.

The recall effort has engendered fierce debate in the community and among council members.

During the council’s meeting on October 15, Councilman Derek Reeve accused Allevato of being behind a “push poll” phone call campaign that he said benefitted Allevato, opposed the recall effort and attacked him and others. Reeve said he had received at least five phone calls from residents complaining about the phone calls. Reeve called it a scam “designed to deceive and manipulate” residents and asked Allevato to “put a halt to these dirty tactics, condemn their use and apologize to those who are unfairly attacked.”

Allevato denied any knowledge of the phone calls.

“I had nothing to do with any polling, push poll, whatever you call it,” Allevato said. “I do have my own campaign that I am getting ready to engage in. I have my own organization. I don’t know anything about any other organization that may be working to do other issues.”

On Tuesday, the council moved to hire an independent investigator to look into Councilman Larry Kramer’s allegations of legal and ethical misconduct by Reeve and Councilman Roy Byrnes, who are both a part of a council minority that often clashes with Kramer, Allevato and Mayor John Taylor over issues such as the water plants and water rates. Hiring an investigator will cost the city up to $25,000.

This week, the San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce came out against the recall, citing its cost, as well as the negative light it would shed on the city.

“While the city has made important strides in improving its financial health, it is already faced with budget cuts due to revenue shortfalls. With the cost estimated to be $100,000, conducting a special election will cost the city money that it does not have to spend, which will result in either reduced services or increased burdens on taxpayers,” the chamber’s statement said.

The chamber also said recent election campaigns have become increasingly negative:

“Campaign signs litter our roadways, inflammatory letters to the editor are printed, City Council meetings devolve into poorly veiled campaign theatrics, etc.  We suffer through it every other year because we have to.  This time, it’s avoidable.”

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