Oxnard Council recallers stalked

By George Miller

Recent street incidents between opponents of the Oxnard City Council recall and its supporters highlight a hard fought and sometimes nasty campaign unfolding.

As promised, Aaron Starr of Oxnard Recall (Facebook) initiated a recall of four City Council members who voted to raise wastewater rates: Mayor Tim Flynn, Mayor Pro-Tem Carmen Ramirez, Council Member Oscar Madrigal and Bert Perello. The petition was approved for signature collection, which is now underway at various points around the city. Bryan MacDonald later also voted to raise rates, but came up with a strange explanation which seemed to placate Starr.

Oxnard Council recall petitions are showing up at public venues around the city

Emotions have been running very high pro and con. Starr’s group thinks that there are multiple reasons that Council Members should be recalled, but this one is big and is the straw that broke the camel’s back. his supporters wish to replace Council Members with people who will be more responsive to the actual needs of the community, but haven’t said who they would run. It is probable that Starr would be one of the candidates. Any Oxnard Citizen of age could run.

Opponents do not think a recall is justified and are particularly incensed that it would be a special election and that it could cost over $200,000. Council performance has had its high and low points, but things have shown some improvement, as this “State of the City” report explains. Voters need to decide how satisfactory this is and whether alternative Council candidates would in fact be an improvement. Per Starr: “proponents counter that the city has no problem spending well over $237,000 so far trying to overturn the people’s decision on Measure M in court and that the council only seems to object to spending money that might hold them accountable.” Per Starr’s wife Alicia Percell: “the content of the flyer they are distributing, which accuses us of lying about the size of the rate increase and then has a carefully-worded suggestion that it’s only $2.25/month.  We debunk that in the FAQ page on the Oxnard Recall website: http://www.oxnardrecall.com/faqs”

 

August 26 harassment incident?

Recall opponents showed up at a campaign signature collection point at Vons at Ventura and 5th on Saturday August 26. They reportedly had words with a signature collector- some are paid contractors with no stake in the issues.  What happened after that is not totally clear, but the Oxnard Police Department says that they were contacted by store management, who thought that the signature collectors might be following their patrons to their cars, which they weren’t happy about. There was only one signature gatherer at that location and she was stationed at a table, while as many as six recall opponents were attempting to thwart her efforts. Clearly the store manager didn’t know who specifically was following customers around.

It is not clear how store management came to believe this- whether actual customers truly experienced this or whether provocateurs falsely reported it.  Store management said they have no problem with signature gathering in front of their store as long as customers are treated right. This particular signature gatherer has used this location on multiple occasions without incident prior to this.

It appears that recall opponents positioned themselves in a way that directed traffic past the table and into the store. Their verbiage was off-putting to passersby, possibly discouraging them from approaching to learn more and sign the petitions. The lone signature gatherer was reportedly shouting at them, protesting this perceived interference. This was confirmed by INCO (Inter-Neighborhood Council) executive Jack Villa and Gerard Kapuscik (Councilman Bert Perello advisor). Both are recall opponents, for different reasons, having attended the recall opposition’s organizing meeting earlier that day.

Reportedly, Oxnard Mayor Pro-Tem Carmen Ramirez, activist Barbara McCrea-Ortiz and Jack Villa were near the table (the first two are attorneys).

According to Police Chief Scott Whitney and Assistant Chief Jason Benites, Police said that they saw no evidence of crimes/violation of ordinances, so they left and no crime report was filed. Here is OPD incident report: 2017-91992 CFS

We mention all of this because there has been past alleged harassment of Starr’s signature gathering forces during the Measure M campaign, when opponents allegedly shouted, screamed and intimidated both signature gatherers and members of the public. Also, opponents of the recall claimed at council meetings that Starr forces insisted that people must sign all four recall petitions- there is no such requirement and it might even be illegal to make such a demand. Starr has denied instructing anyone to do that, but cannot say for sure what paid signature gatherers, who are independent contractors and are self-directed, do.  

The Oxnard Recall website has a series of FAQs that clearly state that signers may sign only the petitions of those council members they wish to remove from office. Starr has asked that opponents tell him which petitioners allegedly have made such statements, but the opponents could provide him with no details.

 

We received these further answers from Assistant Police Chief Jason Benites:

What was the offense/problem cited by complainant(s) and by whom?

·        A call was received at 1353 hours on Saturday, 8/26, from the manager of Vons regarding petitioners harassing customers.

·        The responding officer contacted the manager who told said that he was receiving complaints from customers who were being followed to their cars and harassed by petitioners. The customers were making statements that they didn’t want to shop at the store because of the petitioners. The manager told the officer that he had no problem with the petitioners, as long as they were not causing problems with the customers.

·        The responding officer explained to both parties that the manager had no problem with the petitioners, but they could not harass the customers. They were advised that complaints had been made by store patrons.

·        The call was cleared as “advised” as there was no crime, and no need for any further action by the police beyond speaking to the involved persons.

2.      May we get a copy of the police report and speak to the officer in charge?

·        The call was cleared as “advised.” A police report was not generated, as there was no crime, and no need for any action by the police apart from advising the involved parties.

·        Feel free to call me at your convenience.

Both parties had a right to be present, and a right to speak to passersby.  There is case law from 1979 that supports this, in what is known as the Pruneyard decision: http://law.justia.com/cases/california/supreme-court/3d/23/899.html

Another related, more recent case (2007) involving the Fashion Valley Mall also supports the right to assemble on private property such as a shopping center to exercise free speech.  More can be read about this one at:

https://ballotpedia.org/Fashion_Valley_Mall_v._National_Labor_Relations_Board

Jason Benites

Assistant Police Chief

Oxnard Police Department

(805) 385-7624

 

August 26 signature collection

Starr’s group also had another signature gathering table, very coincidentally right near the Marisol Tax Center, which just happens to be a gathering place for anti-recall people, we were told. See video:

 

Most recent incident

Last weekend, something happened again:

Anti-recall forces, including Roy Prince (Mayor Pro Tem Ramirez’s spouse) had an encounter with recall petitioners that resulted in the police being called. Starr promises to provide video of the incident at a later date. In the incident recorded above, recall opponent Lauraine Effress was recorded getting hostile and forcibly grabbing a recall flier from a member of the public, which Starr’s side says constitutes “battery.”

But, again, police did not think it rose to the level of an arrestable, or even a citable offense. So, there is no police report, only this incident report: OPD 2017-98102 CFS

If you think this little granny in tennis shoes doesn’t seem intimidating, then you’ve probably never heard her at a city council meeting.

 

This Facebook posting by anti-recall activist and former INCO Chair Jack Villa depicts anti-recall fliers being handed out at a local Von’s By Barbara Macri-Ortiz and Venturan and County employee Gerard Kapuscik.

 

Statement by recall organizer Aaron Starr

“It’s not surprising that the Oxnard City Council and their supporters choose to engage in intimidation tactics intended to thwart the democratic process. They have already demonstrated that with how they are discarding the people’s vote for Measure M. There is a culture of intimidation and retaliation that emanates from this group. Of course, we don’t cave in to these bullying tactics and look forward to the day when the voters will get to exercise their Constitutional power to recall, a right we have enjoyed for over 100 years.”

 

Analysis

So, both sides are passionate and tempers sometimes get high. The police can find no citable offenses. It remains to be seen whether lawyers can find civil or criminal grounds or whether this would ever even get to that point.

The questions are:

  • Is it right to attempt to impede the democratic process thusly?
  • Is the recall effort just?
  • Will the signature interdiction efforts be viewed as bullying and impedance of the recall effort and the associated democratic process?
  • Are the anti-recall people and officials subject to recall THAT fearful that they would resort to such behavior instead of merely promoting their virtues and responding to the accusations?

 

Other info:

Oxnard City Council recall threatened | Citizens Journal | Citizens …

2017 Recall Campaign Disclosures

Facing Oxnard recall, four make their case to stay – Ventura County Star

OXNARD CITY COUNCIL HITS NERVE | Four officials being recalled …

Oxnard Council Recall? | Citizens Journal |

Oxnard City Council recall threatened | Citizens Journal |


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