Upland Recall Derailed By Gerrymandered Voting Districts

On February 11, the Upland City Clerk approved the circulation of recall petitions by citizens intending to oust City Council Members Carol Timm, Gino Filippi and Debbie Stone. The proponents and their teams, in good faith, have been engaged in collecting signatures throughout the city.
Unbeknownst to the proponents, at the time their recall was approved, the City of Upland was already in secret negotiations with the law firm of Shenkman and Hughes to negotiate a settlement in lieu of their intended law suit to force Upland into voting districts, one having a majority of Hispanic residents. In a letter delivered in December, they claim Upland voters are racists and that too many white voters “dilute the vote” of the Hispanic residents in at-large elections. The unconstitutional concept is backed by the California Voters Rights Act of 2001.
The City Council never informed the residents for months nor did the City Clerk warn the proponents of the recall that this was taking place and would have a major impact on those coming forward to run for the possibly vacated seats. It is understandable during negotiations, public discussion of the settlement details is not advisable. But the inevitability of districts could have and should have been revealed much earlier. It appears to proponents that the decision to hide this information from the public, may have had the intended consequence of foiling the recall as the three recall targets make a majority in council decisions.
The proponents and residents at large first learned at the April 11 Upland City Council meeting that the negotiations were complete and a settlement reached to where at-large voting would be replaced by racially gerrymandered voting by districts.
As part of a recall, proponents support candidates to fill the vacated council seats. Candidates must file with the city soon after the recall petition period. Those hoping to win the vacated seats know they will only serve out the remainder of the terms to November of 2018 and plan to run for re-election. But now with gerrymandered districts coming, re-election is in question. There can be only one council member from each new district.
Because the boundaries of the new voting districts will not be decided before the end of the recall petition period, the proponents have decided to formally end this recall and begin again when the boundaries are legally approved. This could happen this November when residents will vote on the issue. If the residents reject district voting, which many feel is morally wrong and unconstitutional because the concept is based on race, the city council will put the districts in place themselves through a city ordinance very soon after the November election.
Not knowing the boundaries of the new districts before the recall election, puts the candidates at a great disadvantage. After spending a great deal of time and money to get elected as at-large council members, they could find themselves all running for re-election in the same district where only one could win.
Another complication considered is that the council seat held by Mr. Bozar, is up for election this November. The candidate that wins this seat, according to Jeannette Vagnozzi, Upland City Clerk, will serve their full four-year term as an at-large candidate. She says that it is possible that this council member may be living in a district scheduled for a 2018 council election once the boundaries are decided. Both council members would be in the same district but the at-large council member’s term would be up in 2020 and the district election would not be until 2022. If the first council member chooses to run for re-election, he or she will have to wait until the 2022 elections, now at a great disadvantage due to the two-year wait.
Proponents have considered the intended and possible unintended consequences including the looming possibility agreed to in the settlement that Shenkman and Hughes has reserved the right to sue the city if voters do not approve voting districts this November. The City of Highland voted down districts and was sued. They lost and were forced by the judge to put all council seats into districts for the next election.
Had Upland taken the path that Chino chose, that of immediately creating voting districts in time for the 2016 elections, they most likely would have avoided the $45,000 settlement plus the over $20,000 in additional costs. But all council seats would have been vacated for district representation including the three seats under recall. Mayor Musser revealed at the April 11 council meeting that he was not ready to disband this council so soon. It seems to residents that the settlement bought council members the time to serve out their terms at not only the actual cost of the settlement, but the 4 year wait to finally have this situation resolved and districts seats rightly filled.
The proponents have consulted with the California Secretary of State legal department and the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters both of which were surprised a recall was approved knowing districts were being implemented. They admitted that the change-over will have a direct effect and likely negative impact on replacement candidates.
The proponents and supporters of the recall are outraged that uncooperative staff and council members trying to save their seats through 2018 have derailed this legal recall, a right of citizens under the law.

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