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Just what does 'No' mean? - Sides differ on interpretation of election results

Despite apparent voter confusion about opposing measures regarding the general plan update in Tuesday's election, county officials appear poised to proceed with the plan anyway. Citing an analysis of the election results by the County Counsel's Office, all five supervisors have indicated they plan to move ahead with the supervisor-approved update known as GPU4. The supervisors plan to review the election results in closed session during their next meeting on Tuesday.

But their plans could be waylaid by an all-but-certain legal challenge from LandWatch Monterey County, which is citing its own legal analysis of the election - a claim backed up by an election law expert.

In Tuesday's election, Measures B and C failed. Measure B, which asked voters if they wanted to repeal GPU4, garnered 24,944 "no" votes (52 percent) to 22,782 "yes" votes (48 percent), while Measure C, which asked voters if they wanted to approve GPU4, received 26,657 "no" votes (56 percent) and 20,934 "yes" votes (44 percent).

Measure A, the general plan initiative, and Measure D, the Rancho San Juan-area Butterfly Village project, were also defeated by wide margins.

According to Assistant County Counsel Lee Blankenship, the county's legal position is that GPU4 was adopted by the supervisors, then stayed by the referendum which appeared on the ballot in the form of Measure C. The supervisors chose to place the repeal measure, Measure B, on the ballot before the referendum qualified.

Blankenship said since a "no" vote on Measure B represents an "affirmative" vote, GPU4 is not repealed and remains in effect. He said Measure C is irrelevant because voters rejected it.

"We're going to look at things but that's what we expect," Blankenship said.

Repeal meaningless

Attorney Fred Woocher, who has represented LandWatch Monterey County, called the analysis "ridiculous" because he argued that the referendum precluded GPU4 from being enacted in the first place. Since the voters rejected GPU4 through the referendum, it is void. The repeal, he said, is meaningless.

"I'm confident the constitutional referendum right guarantees that GPU4 was not effective," Woocher said, adding that the failure of the referendum also prohibits the supervisors from enacting a similar general plan update for a year.

Daniel Lowenstein, a law professor at UCLA and expert on California's initiative process, said the convoluted ballot and outcome of Tuesday's election puts it very much in doubt whether either general plan proposal came out a winner.

Though he tempered his opinion by saying he didn't have all the particulars, Lowenstein said the defeat of the referendum would trump the defeat of the repeal.

Lowenstein said the Measure C vote should be the controlling factor. Since a majority of voters said, by voting no on Measure C, that they didn't favor the supervisors' general plan update, that would nullify the supervisors' update. And that would make the Measure B vote a non-factor, he said.

"That means the entire measure is nullified, including the vote on repeal (Measure B)," Lowenstein said. "There is nothing to repeal or not to repeal."

He said he would reach the same conclusion by looking at the percentages of no votes each measure received.

"On general principles, you have no ordinance at all," Lowenstein said.

County on shaky ground

The county would be on shaky ground if it maintains the combination of no votes on Measures A, B and C means the supervisors' general plan update remains in effect, he said.

"If there is (a challenge), I think the county will have a hard time sustaining that position," he said.

Lowenstein criticized the fact that Measures B and C were on the same ballot at all. By allowing that to happen, the county performed a disservice to the public, he said.

"It's an unusual situation," he said, "but the same
situation is not likely to arise again."

All five supervisors, including Dave Potter, who voted against GPU4 and supported the initiative, said they will follow county counsel's advice and move forward with the update, including enacting supporting ordinances. The caveat, they said, is providing the final vote count doesn't change the election results.

Linda Tulett, the county's new registrar of voters, said the final official election results should be available by June 26. Tulett said there are an estimated 16,000 absentee and provisional ballots still to be counted.

Voter turnout in Tuesday's election was estimated at about 45 percent, with 45,000 absentee ballots received and 18,000 votes cast at polling places. There are about 143,000 registered voters in Monterey County.

"You put (the measures) on the ballot and let the chips fall where they may," Supervisor Lou Calcagno said. "I trust Lee Blankenship and if that's what he
said, I agree. If someone wants to challenge it, let them."

Moving forward

Supervisors Fernando Armenta, Simon Salinas and Jerry Smith also said they will support moving forward with GPU4.

Armenta and Salinas said the voters expressed their disdain for so-called ballot-box planning by voting no on everything, essentially affirming the supervisors' role in determining land-use policy.

Armenta pointed out that GPU4 was the result of "an open and inclusive process" and "compromise."

The supervisors said they expect a legal challenge from GPU4 opponents led by LandWatch.

"All I can say is (moving ahead with GPU4) would be wrong," LandWatch executive director Chris Fitz said. "It's wrong from the perspective of the people and wrong from the perspective of the law. People were very confused. The No on A groups were really focused on confusing people."

Fitz said the failure of GPU4 at the ballot box through the referendum means the county's 1982 general plan should remain in effect.

Meanwhile, members of the Plan for the People organization, which led the campaign against Measure A, held a news conference Wednesday to laud the failure of the initiative and issue a request for everyone to get involved in the process of moving forward with a comprehensive land-use plan.

Monterey County Farm Bureau executive director Bob Perkins, who was joined by county planning commissioner and Latino rights activist Carlos Ramos, acknowledged there was plenty of confusion over the repeal and the referendum, but blamed it on LandWatch's effort to place Measure B on the ballot. He called the move a "deliberate attempt to confuse voters," though he didn't explain how the result benefited LandWatch.

The trio also admitted they were far more focused on defeating the initiative than supporting GPU4, but predicted the update would prevail.

Potter said he wasn't surprised by the apparent confusion caused by a ballot full of complex issues, but that he is now also ready to move on.

"I don't want to go to GPU5," he said. "We should have stopped at GPU3 when we had a true compromise. The real question is whether we can move ahead into the future in Monterey County without all the backbiting and name-calling."

Herald staff writer Larry Parsons contributed to this report.

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