Residents’ initiative qualifies for ballot

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APPLE VALLEY — The initiative started in an attempt to allow residents to vote on public debt has qualified for the November ballot.

Proponents of the “Right to Vote on Debt Act,” which was started by Apple Valley residents Chuck and Pat Hanson in response to the town’s eminent domain action against Liberty Utilities, Apple Valley, gathered 5,348 signatures that were submitted to the town clerk May 10.

Town spokeswoman Kathie Martin told the Daily Press on Wednesday that 3,873 of those signatures were found to be valid, surpassing the required amount by 701 signatures.

“Accordingly, the town clerk has informed the proponents that their measure has sufficient signatures to qualify,” Martin said.

On June 28, the Town Council will receive the town clerk’s Certificate of Sufficiency of Initiative Petition and consider its options, according to Martin, who previously said the Council can either adopt the ordinance outright, submit it to voters in November or order an Elections Code 9212 report to assess the impact of the initiative measure.

“In line with the Elections Code,” Martin said, “town staff will recommend that the Town Council request the preparation of an impartial and informational report on the measure and its impact on the Town (before pursuing one of the other two options).”

Martin said should the Council choose to order the report, one of the first two options would still need to be decided upon after the report is completed. She added that the report will not interfere with the timeline for the November elections.

If passed by voters in November, the initiative would amend the Apple Valley municipal code to add a requirement that voters approve by a majority vote “any public debt over $10 million” that provides funds for the acquisition of an enterprise.

That public debt is in reference to bonds the town would likely use to fund its acquisition by eminent domain of the water system owned by Liberty Utilities.

Liberty financially backed the initiative, and General Manager Tony Penna applauded the initiative Wednesday.

“We have tremendous respect for our customers and want them to have a real and meaningful voice with respect to all aspects of water service, from conservation, to water quality, to investments in infrastructure and water rates,” Penna said. “We strongly support residents having the right to vote on long-term debt, and believe this important accountability measure should be passed.”

The initiative also has been endorsed by the Citizens for Government Accountability, a group that opposes the town’s acquisition attempt. A letter asking the Town Council to support the initiative was signed by Diana Carloni, Greg Raven, and Leane Lee, three members of CGA’s leadership committee.

Carloni presented the letter to the Town Council at the June 14 Council meeting, and Mayor Barb Stanton said the initiative will be discussed during the June 28 meeting.

Amid the required-signature verification, a trial-setting court date in the town’s eminent domain case against Liberty is scheduled for July 7, according to court records.

Town Attorney John Brown said Wednesday that the eminent domain action will move to trial as expected despite the qualification of the Hanson’s initiative, which could work to halt an acquisition attempt should voters pass the initiative come November.

“The initiative and the lawsuit are procedurally unrelated,” Brown said via email. “Liberty already tried unsuccessfully to get the court to stay the eminent domain proceeding pending resolution of their (California Environmental Quality Act) lawsuit. The eminent domain action should not be delayed in any way because of the initiative, and we expect the trial court to set a date for trial shortly.”

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President of Liberty Utilities California Greg Sorensen was unavailable to comment Wednesday on Brown’s statements; however, company officials committed to responding Thursday.

Source: Matthew Cabe, Daily Press