Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said the Hollister City Council is violating state law by stalling the certification of a petition to place the 400 block of San Benito Street development before voters.
“Once they have verification from the [San Benito County Registrar of Voters], at the next regular scheduled meeting they need to announce that verification was certified,” Velazquez said by phone Monday.
On July 11, Velazquez turned in a petition to the city clerk with 2,398 signatures to force a referendum on the city council’s decision to sell the city-owned lot to the Community Foundation for San Benito County and The Del Curto Brothers Group.
According to an assessment by the county registrar and certified by Assistant County Clerk Angela Curro July 27, the petition had 1,660 valid signatures, 60 more than the 1,600 required.
“The city has to validate or certify the referendum,” continued Velazquez. “They’ve been stalling and trying to get around that. They’re violating state law.”
In an August 16 letter to the city council, the mayor’s attorney argues the city has taken more than 30 days to certify the petition and is therefore in violation of state election laws.
According to the mayor’s timeline and his attorney’s letter, the city clerk needed to certify the sufficiency of the petition at the regular meeting on August 21.
However, city officials think the mayor’s timeline is off.
City Attorney Soren Diaz said Monday the elections official actually has 60 days, excluding weekends and holidays, to certify the petition because the amount of valid signatures the mayor collected falls within 95 to 110 percent of the number required.
Deputy City Clerk Christine Black said via email that the elections official has until October 4 to certify the petition and cited Elections Code Section 9115(b).
“The election code states that if the petition is found to be sufficient, the elections official shall certify the results to the city council at the next regular board meeting. This means the 400 block petition could go before council at the regular meeting on October 16,” wrote Black.
“We pay city attorneys and election attorneys to make sure we do things appropriately,” City Manager Bill Avera said by phone Tuesday. “We’re not going to do something openly wrong for any political reason. It doesn’t matter what the issue is. If the Elections Code says 60 days, we have the ability to do 60 days.”
The time difference is important as the city continues to await a legal opinion from the California State Attorney General’s Office on the petition’s validity.
City officials have questioned whether voters could actually force the council to revisit its decision to sell the 400 block to the developers and community foundation, as there’s a difference of opinion between the mayor and the city as to whether or not the resolution was legislative or administrative.
While a legislative act can be undone by a referendum petition, administrative acts cannot, and if the state’s top attorney sides with the city, this could spell the end to the mayor’s latest efforts to scuttle the condo plan.