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UPDATE: Petition battle continues

Recent arrests complicate the dynamic between signature gatherers and their blockers

Posted: April 25, 2014 10:25 p.m.
Updated: April 25, 2014 10:25 p.m.
 

At 9:10 a.m. Friday, Jeff and David met at the Walmart on Newhall Ranch Road for the first time.

Neither man was there to shop. Both men showed up to work — not for the store, but for commercial firms interested in the outcome of the ongoing debate over electronic billboards in Santa Clarita.

Petitioner David, from Florida, was collecting signatures on a petition to put electronic billboards to a vote.

Jeff said he’s worked for “both sides” in the past — as petitioner and as what he called a “petition interceder” — an advocate opposed to a specific petition.

But on Friday he sat quietly on a bench outside the store’s main doors with petitions for two state issues on a clipboard — one a proposal to have California broken into six different states, and another calling for changes in first-time petty-theft offenses. After 40 minutes at his post, Jeff was still to elicit a single signature for either petition.

For his part, David was delighted at Jeff’s apparent turn from interceder to petitioner.

“I lucked out,” he said of Jeff. “He told me, ‘I’m not going to be aggressive.’”

“He said, ‘I don’t want to be a bully or an ---hole.”

Still, David said, Jeff “said he was told, ‘Do not let them do their petition.’”

Both men are collecting $1,000 a week for doing their jobs, they said.

“They increased my pay in light of the confrontations,” said David, referring to recent disputes between the two camps.

Arrests

The ongoing conflict between supporters of the petitions to put the billboards to a vote and “petition blockers” rallying in support of the billboards has netted three arrests and spurred several confrontations at local stores, Lt.

Mark Hershey of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station said Friday.

Two men were put under citizen’s arrest Thursday, each on suspicion of interfering with public transportation.

Joshua J. Morrison, 23, of Anaheim Hills, and Timothy R. Middleton, 27, of Hillsboro, Mo., were arrested following a confrontation at the Food 4 Less store, Hershey said.

Last Saturday morning, Kimberly Shanklin, 45, of Belleville, Ill., was arrested outside a local Walmart on suspicion of battery in connection with an alleged assault.

All three face misdemeanor charges.

Deputies, meanwhile, are frequently dispatched in response to reports of confrontations at other local stores, Hershey said.

Early Friday deputies were sent to a disturbance in front of Stater Bros. in Canyon Country, Hershey said.

“All we’re trying to do is keep the peace,” he said. “It’s very frustrating.”

“Store managers are getting frustrated as well because the customers are walking into the store complaining.

They (managers) are asking us, ‘Can you make them leave?’” Hershey said.

When deputies respond to the reported incidents of confrontation, they typically tell the two groups to respect one another and for each to express views apart from the other side.

“They argue with each other, and one side always wants us to label them the victim,” he said. “We tell them, ‘You stand at one door, and you stand at the other door.’ But when we leave, they phone us to say the other person has crossed the line.”

Petition extension

Those in favor of a public vote on electronic billboards have until May 5 to collect more than 11,000 valid signatures on their petition to affect change and possibly reverse the city’s decision, organizer Patti Sulpizio said.

The goal is to collect at least 13,000 signatures, since some will be invalidated.

Ironically, blockers working to thwart their efforts may actually be benefitting petitioners, Sulpizio said.

“We may now have a legitimate reason to ask for an extension because of the obstruction of the residents’ right to sign a lawful referendum,” she told The Signal Friday.

An extension would allow petitioners more time to gather more signatures, she said.

The petition reads, in part: “We hereby protest the adoption of ordinance 1402 adopted by City Council on April 3 and attested by the city clerk on April 3rd, be reconsidered and repealed by City Council or that it be submitted to a vote by the people of Santa Clarita at the next regular election or special election called for that purpose.”

Sulpizio and her group called Citizens Against Billboard Blight are busy documenting and recording confrontations between petitioners and blockers.

Michael Oliveri said he witnessed part of the confrontation that unfolded Saturday morning at a Walmart, during which petitioner Shanklin was arrested.

Sulpizio and Oliveri say some of the tactics used by blockers include:

- purposely creating a disturbance that elicits a response by law enforcement and/or store managers and halts signature-gathering.

- provoking the arrest of petitioners as a way of halting their signature-gathering.

- offering to purchase the petitions with a going price of $3 per signature which, they fear, would ultimately be destroyed.

- getting people to sign a fake petition which would also, they fear, be destroyed.

jholt@signal.scv
661-287-5527
on Twitter
@jamesarthurholt

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