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Pasadena-Star News

Pasadena- The city lost its attempt last week to join a lawsuit against Measure B, the voter-approved initiative that aims to prevent city officials from taking kickbacks.

Known as the Oaks Project Initiative, Measure B was approved by about 60 percent of Pasadena voters in March. It bans City Council members, staff and other decision-makers from taking gifts, political donations or jobs from people defined as being the beneficiaries of city funds.

The City Council opposed Measure B and has refused to enforce it since it passed. Instead, it chose to join the city of Santa Monica’s lawsuit against an essentially identical initiative. But Superior Court Judge Laurence Rubin ruled Pasadena can’t join because a lawsuit by Santa Monica couldn’t affect the law here, which means the city will have to find another strategy.

“They may find themselves actually having to enforce it. They may not have any excuses here,” said attorney Fredric Woocher, who represents the Oaks Project, a political watchdog group that sponsored the initiative.

In May, the City Council instructed City Clerk Jane Rodriguez to delay filing Measure B with the Secretary of State, which is necessary for any amendment to the City Charter to become law. The measure still has not been filed, according to Deputy City Clerk Sharon Johnson.

The council agreed soon afterward in closed session to intervene in Santa Monica vs. Maria Stewart, an unusual case in which Santa Monica is suing its own city clerk for not enforcing the initiative. Stewart purportedly contends that the initiative is unconstitutional, according to Woocher.

The Santa Monica city attorney’s office didn’t return a request for comment. But Woocher said the two parties are actually on the same side of the issue, and the entire lawsuit is just a pretense to obtain a ruling on the law’s constitutionality.

“They want to find out if it’s constitutional or unconstitutional. Basically, they want to kill the law,” said Margaret Strubel, an organizer with the Oaks Project. She called on Pasadena city officials to enforce the measures. “They are behaving like renegades,” Strubel said.

Councilman Victor Gordo said he opposed the initiative, calling it so burdensomeas to discourage people such as potential city commissioners from volunteering their time with the city. “If that’s being a renegade, then I guess we’re guilty,” Gordo said.

Councilmembers say the initiative is unnecessary and will create mountains of paperwork. It would force city officials to keep lists of all the people, businesses and organizations to whom they award city contracts, major variances or tax breaks. The lists would be maintained in the City Clerk’s office and would be available to any member of the publick, to determine whether an official is violating the initiative.

Robert Wittry, a neighborhood activist who has tussled with City Hall on Northwest Pasadena issues, said he tried to obtain the information after Measure B passed. He was told Measure B hadn’t been filed with the state and wasn’t yet law. He voted against the initiative himself and said it’s badly written. But the city can’t just decide not to enforce it, he said. “The voters have said they wan’t something, and the City Council and staff have essentially said, ‘We don’t care what the voters want; we’re not going to do it,’ ” Wittry said.

City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris said the judge initially decided Pasadena – along with the city of Claremont – could intervene, but changed his mind last week. She couldn’t say whether the city will file the initiative with the state. “I don’t know exactly what our next step is,” Bagneris said. When asked whether the city would initiate a court challenge itself, she said, “I guess anything’s possible, but we don’t have any direction (from the council) like that.”

While Pasadena and Claremont were denied entry into the Santa Monica suit, the Oaks Project received permission from the judge to intervene, the group said in a press release.

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