Oaks Project Intervenes to Shine the Light on The Truth in City of Santa Monica’s Collusive Lawsuit
At a status conference yesterday, Superior Court Judge Laurence Rubin agreed to hear the Oaks Project’s plea that the lawsuit against Santa Monica’s voter-approved conflict of interest law is collusive and should be dismissed. The Oaks Project is intervening in the unusual lawsuit filed by the City of Santa Monica against its own City Clerk because it fears that the City Council’s hostility toward the law will prevent the law from receiving an adequate defense in court. The judge also threw out an attempt to intervene in the lawsuit by the cities of Claremont and Pasadena.
Encouraged by the judge’s decision to allow the Oaks Project to intervene, Margaret Strubel, organizer with the Oaks Project who sponsored the measures, declared, “The judge in this case is wise in allowing us to expose the collusive nature of this lawsuit. The City has forced our hand. We will now have to scrape together funds to defend the will of the voters in this foolish waste of taxpayer dollars. The judge is listening to our cry for justice.”
Santa Monica challenged the voter-enacted law, Proposition LL, by suing itself on June 12 with the filing of a lawsuit entitled City of Santa Monica v. Maria Stewart. The measure was adopted by Santa Monica’s voters ten months ago, in the November 2000 election.
Claremont and Pasadena tried to intervene in the case to surreptitiously kill similar laws in their cities. However, the judge found that the Santa Monica lawsuit does not directly affect the laws in those cities. Pasadena has not even followed the basic procedure of filing its law with the Secretary of State. Strubel stated, “Absolutely nothing is stopping Claremont and Pasadena from implementing this reform. Their distaste for the law is obvious; that doesn’t mean they can ignore it. They are behaving like renegades.”
The City of Santa Monica has previously gone on record as questioning the constitutionality of this voter-approved law and has refused numerous demands by city residents to implement the measure. The lack of commitment to the law on the part of the Santa Monica City Council has forced the Oaks Project to provide a defense to ensure that at least one party will, as Fredric Woocher, counsel for the Oaks Project states, “in good faith, strive to secure a fair judicial resolution of any constitutional questions raised regarding the implementation of the law.”
Grassroots Campaigns for Real Reform
The measure, Proposition LL on the November 7, 2000 Santa Monica city ballot, qualified for the ballot with the signatures of over 12,000 Santa Monica residents collected by volunteers, and was enacted by 59% of the vote. The law prevents city officials from accepting campaign contributions, gifts or employment from entities that benefit from the official’s decisions. Examples of “benefits” include city contracts, land deals and tax breaks.
The Santa Monica measure was part of an unprecedented campaign in cities across California, and was also approved by the voters of San Francisco (82%), Claremont (55%), Vista (58%) and Pasadena (60%). The signature gathering and get-out-the vote efforts for the propositions were done by volunteers, unprecedented in this age of multi-million dollar paid signature gathering operations and equally high-priced campaigns run by public relations firms. In stunning contrast, Oaks Project volunteers handed out tens of thousands of flyers, made thousands of phone calls and knocked on thousands of doors to educate voters and get out the vote.
Pasadena and Claremont officials have voted to intervene in the Santa Monica case and challenge the similar initiatives in their towns.
Oaks volunteers in San Francisco, the only city which has not attempted to challenge the measure in court, met with members of the City’s Ethics Commission to discuss facilitating enforcement of the initiative. The law went into full effect in San Francisco on July 13th, 2001.
In Irvine, where the Oaks Project missed qualifying the initiative for the ballot by just 81 signatures, volunteers have met with a city sub-committee to discuss adopting the measure as a city ordinance. An Irvine councilmember was caught taking kickbacks just weeks after the initiative failed to qualify for the ballot.
The Oaks Project
The non-profit, non-partisan Oaks Project was founded in 1997 by consumer advocates Ralph Nader and Harvey Rosenfield to train citizens to participate more effectively in California’s democracy. To become an Oak, volunteers attend monthly trainings in practical political skills and agree to spend 10-15 hours per month putting those skills to work on legislative and initiative campaigns to create a more democratic political system. Oaks volunteers also agree to raise $500 per year, and collect 1000 signatures on all Volunteer Qualified Initiatives (VQI). The Oaks Project played a decisive role in passing HMO patient protections in the California legislature in 1999 and spearheaded the 1998 drive to lower utility rates for California ratepayers by co-sponsoring Proposition 9.