With a May 5 deadline approaching for a referendum regarding a controversial partnership between Santa Clarita and Metro for electronic billboards, the activity around signature-gathering seems to have intensified.
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Santa Clarita City Council voted 3-1 back in March to OK a plan bringing three large, two-sided electronic billboards next to the freeway in exchange for taking down 118 billboard faces throughout the city on land for which Metro has a right of way.
Related article: Santa Clarita City Council OKs Metro Billboard Deal In 3-1 Vote
A group of residents opposed to the plan and a lobbying group decrying the deal and its terms, began a referendum April 3 in an effort to try and stop the proposal before Metro is planned to vote on it in May.
A referendum has 30 days to gather signatures, and because May 3 falls on a Saturday, signatures will be accepted until Monday, officials said.
“On May 5, they’re due at the City Clerk’s Office,” said Gail Morgan, city of Santa Clarita spokeswoman. “The city clerk is going to look at what is submitted and she has to determine if it’s complete — if she doesn’t determine that it’s complete she will not accept it.”
If there are 11,600 signatures, the city will work with the county to verify the names, Morgan said.
“Assuming it’s in order, the city has 30 days to verify the signatures of Santa Clarita residents who are registered voters,” she said.
Related article: Santa Clarita-Metro Billboard Deal Draws Referendum, Arguments
The referendum calls for Santa Clarita officials to either rescind their deal with Metro, repealing the ordinance approved in March, or to put the deal to voters on a ballot.
Most recently, the Metro billboard-deal referendum has drawn debate and accusations against Allvision, which was the subject of a cease-and-desist letter earlier this week.
The letter was issued shortly before three men were arrested on a trespassing charge after a store manager made a citizen’s arrest against them. A Sheriff’s Station report identifies the men as “blockers,” men and women hired to stop the referendum effort.
Such a move would be a violation of Election Code 18620, and the blocking claims were being investigated by Metro’s Office of the Inspector General, which is an independent department in Metro responsible for investigating such claims.
Representatives from Allvision did not return a call seeking comment for this story.
“We are astounded and stunned at the lengths a government contractor would go to obstruct the democratic process, and intimidate voters, campaign workers and local families – all in an attempt to generate company profits,” said Mark A. Kudler, president of the California State Outdoor Advertising Association, in a statement.
Metro officials denied any connection to the “blocking” effort Thursday, and spokesman Paul Gonzalez said he’d be “extremely surprised” if the claims were true.
Supervisor Michael Antonovich requested an investigation into the claims shortly after Metro’s Executive Committee recommended holding off on the billboard deal’s approval.
Related article: Metro Billboard Vote Gets Delayed By MTA Due To Referendum
A CSOAA official said the organization budgeted approximately $20,000-$30,000 to hire signature-gatherers, who faced strong opposition from their paid opponents.
Santa Clarita residents opposed to the billboard deal, which include Santa Clarita City Councilman TimBen Boydston, met with city officials last Friday to negotiate a spot where referendum supporters could collect signatures without being disrupted by blockers.
“We wanted sheriff’s (deputies) nearby and we got that, and nobody opposed us, and it was good,” said Patti Sulpizio, a Valencia resident who has advocated for the referendum and is a member of a Facebook group Citizens Against Billboard Blight. “But since then, it’s been nasty — what’s been going down is nasty and there’s documentation.”
One of the main contentions of the CABB group is the city made the deal and solicited public input as a formality, ignoring about three dozens residents who spoke at Santa Clarita City Hall when the deal was approved.
Santa Clarita City Councilman Bob Kellar, one of three council members who voted to support the move, said getting rid of the billboards has been the main impetus for the city’s deal.
The billboard deal is expected to be yield more than $100 million in revenue over the next 50 years, which is part of the terms of the lease agreed to by Santa Clarita officials, Metro and Allvision.
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