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Another arrest in billboard showdown

Posted: April 27, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 26, 2014 9:29 p.m.
 

A continuing battle over the Santa Clarita City Council’s decision to approve electronic billboards along local freeways resulted in another arrest this weekend and a face-to-face showdown between billboard supporters and opponents on the dusty Western streets at the 21st annual Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival on Saturday.

Friday evening, deputies from the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station detained a 57-year-old woman outside a Trader Joe’s store on Bouquet Canyon Road, after another person who was gathering signatures in support of a referendum opposing the council’s actions made a citizen’s arrest, according to law enforcement and other sources.

Four people have been arrested or cited as a result of confrontations between those gathering referendum petition signatures and those opposed to the effort aimed at rescinding the council’s approval of the billboard plan. All but one of the arrests have been citizen’s arrests, sources said.

Referendum supporters are working to beat a May 5 deadline to collect about 11,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for a ballot measure, organizers have said. But several of the petition signature gatherers and petition opponents have told The Signal that they don’t live in the city and were hired to work on behalf of or against the petition drive.

On Saturday morning, the dueling sides took advantage of the throngs of thousands of people attending the Cowboy Festival at the Melody Ranch Movie Picture Studio to get their views across. Festival attendees lining up for shuttle buses to the festival had to walk past a table manned by people collecting signatures to overturn the council’s decision, while inside the festival petition blockers had set up their own tables. Deputies, meanwhile, stood nearby watching.

Tim Middleton, 27, a paid signature gatherer from Hillsboro, Mo., said he welcomed the presence of deputies, adding that opposition to the referendum drive has been organized and intense.

“I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve never seen opposition like this,” Middleton said. “There’s some big money involved here.”

A few minutes later, a woman who declined to give her name but said she was from Hollywood and had been hired to collect signatures in support of the referendum, described the circumstances of Friday’s citizen’s arrest at the Trader Joe’s.

“This woman walked up to our petition board and wrote something in big letters on our board,” she said.
She said she’s been sent across the country to work on other petition drives and occasionally has experienced confrontations over controversial petitions.

A short time later, a young man driving his car through the festival parking lot shouted to a reporter through his open passenger window.

“Hey, are you local? Sign my petition,” he said, steering with one hand and holding out the petition on a clipboard with the other.

“I was one of the ones they (media) interviewed at the Walmart,” he said, referring to a confrontation a week ago that ended with a 45-year-old Illinois woman charged with misdemeanor battery.

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