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General Plan Initiative Supporters Ask Appeals Court To Revive June Election

IN a race against the clock, LandWatch Monterey County and other supporters of the community general plan filed an emergency motion for a preliminary injunction this week with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to get the initiative placed on the June ballot.

The move to the appeals court is in response to U.S. District Judge James Ware’s ruling last week that the initiative violates the Voting Rights Act and cannot be put in front of voters.

“We are appealing the district court’s order,” said Bryce Gee, attorney for Strumwasser & Woocher, the law firm representing initiative supporters. “But because the appeal process takes awhile, we are asking for an injunction to put the initiative on the ballot pending the appeal.”

Ware noted in his ruling that Monterey County, because of its large Spanish-speaking population, is subject to the Voting Rights Act, which requires that certain election materials be published in English and Spanish.

The motion for an injunction, filed Tuesday, says that courts of appeal in two other circuits have “expressly held that citizen-sponsored initiative petitions do not have to be circulated in languages other than English” under the Voting Rights Act. It goes on to say that “appellants and thousands of other local and state initiative proponents throughout the state have for years been circulating — and continue this day to circulate — initiative petitions in English.”

But Ware’s decision was based on a ruling last fall from the 9th Circuit that recall petitions had to meet the requirements of the Voting Rights Act. The opinion in that case, Padilla vs. Lever, strongly implied that initiative petitions would also be subject to the same requirement.

And Carlos Ramos, a member of the Latino Voting Rights Coalition, said there were problems with the way signatures were gathered for the initiative.

“We heard about people being profiled,” Ramos said. “There were a lot of instances of [Latino] people walking by and petitioners would turn around and talk to people more profiled as voters.”

Initiative backers have denied Spanish-speaking voters were ignored and that everyone was given fair explanation of the initiative.

Ramos also reacted sharply to county Supervisor and initiative backer Dave Potter’s comments to the Pine Cone last week that the voting rights lawsuit was merely a “tactic” to prevent the initiative from seeing a ballot.

“As community members, we were at the board of supervisors meeting in October to remind them that the Voting Rights Act was critical and crucial to Monterey County,” he said. “It's not the merits of the initiative — whether you agree or disagree with it — it’s the process. What Dave Potter is desperately trying to do is save face.”

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco must decide on the injunction by April 6 since that’s the time county Registrar Tony Anchundo said he must have a judicial decision in order to place the initiative on the June 6 ballot.

All of the ballot materials including ballots and sample ballots, must be submitted to a printer by April 21 in order for them to be mailed to voters by May 16, a requirement under state law, the injunction notes.

Apart from LandWatch, the motion filed Tuesday lists William Melendez, Ken Gray, Salinas city councilwoman Jyl Lutes and Carolyn Anderson as plaintiffs in the case.

The initiative is in response to an updated general plan county supervisors have been working on for six years.

Supervisors’ new plan, dubbed GPU4 was recently released. The general plan initiative would severely restrict development in the county and direct growth towards five, mostly Latino communities. Supporters of the initiative argue it would prevent out-of-control growth, while opponents say it would drive up housing costs and jeopardize property rights.

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