Cudahy City Attorney Sabotaging Initiative with Biased Ballot Summary Language
Cudahy City Clerk Richard Iglesias sent American Children First the ballot title and summary prepared by Assistant City Attorney Richard Padilla via email on June 22.
Given the history of corruption and lawlessness that has taken place in the City of Cudahy for decades, we were not surprised when the city attorney's office provided us with ballot title and summary language that clearly violates the state elections code.
California Elections Code 9051(c) reads:
In providing the ballot title and summary, the Attorney General [or City Attorney] shall give a true and impartial statement of the purpose of the measure in such language that the ballot title and summary shall neither be an argument, nor be likely to create prejudice, for or against the proposed measure.
Not only does the ballot title and summary contain several errors, the language is clearly designed to create prejudice against the measure.
Here is the summary in its entirety:
Utility User Tax Repeal Measure
Proponent Adolfo Alexander Varas care of a Torrance-based organization known as American Children First seeks to repeal the City of Cudahy utility user tax (“Cudahy UUT”). The Cudahy UUT was enacted in 2004 when 76.8% of Cudahy voters approved the tax. UUT proceeds represent as much as 19% of the City’s annual budget revenues. The existing Cudahy UUT pays for broad range of essential City services, including police and emergency services, public park operations and maintenance and street and sidewalk repairs. The Cudahy UUT requires businesses to pay the City an 8% tax on telephone, electrical, gas, waste hauling and water services charges. Cudahy residents pay a lower 4% tax rate to the City and senior citizens 62 years of age or older pay no tax to the City at all. If a majority of voters vote “Yes” for the Utility User Tax Repeal Measure, the City’s UUT would be eliminated and Chapter 3.36 (Utility Users Tax) of the Cudahy Municipal code would be repealed.
Sabotage & Deceit
There are numerous problems with this ballot summary and I will list them below.
- Listing the proponent's name
I have never seen this done before and is clearly an attempt to intimidate and silence other citizens from acting as proponents on future initiatives. The proponent's name is immaterial to summarizing what the initiative says or would do.
- Identifying our organization
The city attorney is obviously trying to create prejudice against the measure by suggesting to the public that this initiative is being organized by an outside group. Our organization is not the official proponent of this initiative and is immaterial to summarizing what this measure would do.
- Listing past approval date and percentage of the vote
Once again, this information is immaterial and does not have anything to do with summarizing the text of the initiative. Instead it is designed to prejudice the voters to oppose the measure.
- Stating the tax accounts for up to 19% of the annual revenues
This is again misleading and an attempt to prejudice the voters by inflating the significance of this tax. The most recent budget estimates utility user tax revenues approximating 13.5% of the general fund budget.
- Cudahy residents pay 4% in utility user taxes
This is mostly true. However, residents pay 3.75% on telecommunication services, including cell phones. This statement is factually incorrect.
- Length of summary exceeds 100 words
California Elections Code 9051(a) states that the ballot summary must be no longer than 100 words.
So, What's Next?
We have a couple of different options.
First, we can take the city to court and sue them. We would likely win some edits. But that takes time and money.
Second, we could simply move forward with the current language and wait until after the measure qualifies for the ballot. We would then use our resources to challenge the ballot language that goes into the voters pamphlet at that time.
Another option is for the proponent to meet with the city attorney and discuss desired changes to the ballot title and summary. However, that is unlikely to get much traction.
Given the relatively few required signatures to qualify for the ballot, it would seem to make more sense to pass on engaging in a legal battle at this point and simply focus on gathering the signatures.
However, a successful legal challenge would send a message to other jurisdictions and that has some value.
Click the link to read all of our articles about our activism in Cudahy.