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SCV petition conflict escalates

County opens investigation into ‘blocking’

Posted: April 29, 2014 6:08 p.m.
Updated: April 29, 2014 6:08 p.m.
 

Attorneys for outdoor advertising interests sponsoring the Santa Clarita billboard petition drive have filed a cease-and-desist demand against the company they accuse of blocking signature gathering.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Inspector General for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is investigating allegations of “petition blocking” in the Santa Clarita Valley, officials said Tuesday.

The cease-and-desist letter, dated Friday and sent to Metro contractor Allvision from a Sacramento law firm, accuses Allvision of “improper and unlawful interference with petition circulators attempting to qualify a referendum to (Santa Clarita city) ordinance 14-02.”

Allvision, a consulting firm hired by Metro, did not respond to requests for comment Monday, but Metro officials denied any such actions.

The ordinance approved by the Santa Clarita City Council in March paved the way for a Metro proposal that would take down 62 billboard structures inside city limits along the Metro right-of-way in exchange for giving Metro the right to construct three, double-sided digital billboards on city-owned property off Highway 14 and Interstate 5.

Some outspoken opponents of the digital billboards launched the petition drive underwritten by a committee of members of the California State Outdoor Advertising Association.

That group criticized the deal between the city and Metro for bypassing the bidding process and proposing to eliminate some billboards belonging to association member Clear Channel Communications Inc. without compensation.

The committee, including Clear Channel, accuses Allvision of hiring “petition blockers” to interfere with the collection of signatures. Its cease-and-desist demand says the blockers are infringing on Santa Clarita voters’ constitutional rights.

“We are astounded and stunned at the lengths a government contractor would go to obstruct the democratic process, and intimidate voters, campaign workers and local families — all in an attempt to generate company profits,” Mark A. Kudler, president of the California State Outdoor Advertising Association, said in a statement.

A spokesman for Metro, however, says the agency would never be involved in anything so underhanded and questioned reports of blockers at petition collection sites.

“Metro is committed to a fair electoral process,” spokesman Paul Gonzales said Monday.

Asked if Metro has hired petitioners directly or through a hiring firm, he said: “No. This issue of blockers came to my attention and I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of it.

“I don’t know for a fact that there are blockers,” Gonzales said.

Four people involved in the petition-gathering scuffles outside local retail stores have been arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor offenses.

“It appears the signature-gatherers are fighting amongst themselves,” Gonzales said, noting at least some petitioners are paid per signature they collect.

The petitions call for the city to repeal its ordinance authorizing the Metro deal or put the issue to a public vote.
Supporters have until May 5 to collect approximately 11,600 valid signatures needed to move forward with the referendum.

Meanwhile, Albert MacKenzie, manager of investigations for the Office of the Inspector General at Metro, said Tuesday his office is investigating the “blocker” allegations at the request of Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich.

He also said anyone with knowledge that could help the investigation can contact him at MacKenzieA@metro.net.

“We’re interested in any evidence that the right of people to circulate the petitions in this referendum have been in some way interfered with,” he said.

 

 

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