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Proponents of Ballot Measure to Amend GS Threaten to Sue City


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By Jorge Casuso

May 10, 2024 -- An attorney for former Mayor Pam O'Connor on Wednesday threatened to sue the City if it doesn't forward the signatures gathered to amend Measure GS to the County Registrar by May 15.

The letter sent to City Attorney Doug Sloan claims the City "has wrongly decided" the measure sponsored by O'Connor "must meet a higher signature threshold" than the 4,156 signatures she submitted to the City Clerk on Monday ("O'Connor Submits Signatures to Amend Transfer Tax Hike," May 7, 2024).

The City Clerk has 30 days to verify the signatures in order to qualify the proposed ballot measure exempting the sale of multi-family housing from Santa Monica's transfer tax hike.

"It is apparent that the City is doubling-down on its intent to deprive Ms. O’Connor -- and the four thousand other Santa Monica voters who join her -- of the right to have the initiative placed on the November 2024 ballot," wrote attorney Matthew Alvarez.

"If we do not hear from the City by 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, May 15, 2024 that the City will forward the signatures to the County Registrar of Voters for signature verification, we will file suit against the City on the morning of Thursday, May 16, 2024."

Alvarez, an attorney with Rutan & Tucker, LLP., contends the City's decision "is entirely bereft of legal merit" because it argues "the municipal code provisions that Ms. O’Connor seeks to repeal via initiative do not involve a 'tax.'"

Instead, the City claims the provisions are "a creature of initiative, and therefore other regulations apply," wrote Alvarez, adding that the City has "repeatedly, publicly, and even statutorily, conceded" the section O'Connor seeks to repeal involves a tax.

The City's arguments "ignore controlling law and the plain text of the California Constitution," Alvarez wrote.

According to the California Constitution, the "initiative power shall not be prohibited or otherwise limited in matters of reducing or repealing any local tax, assessment, fee or charge.

"The power of initiative to affect local taxes, assessments, fees and charges shall be applicable to all local governments and neither the Legislature nor any local government charter shall impose a signature requirement higher than that applicable to statewide statutory initiatives."

Those statutory initiative, proponents say, require O'Connor to submit "the valid signatures equal to 5 percent of the number of voters who voted in the last Gubernatorial election," or 1,978 valid signatures.

In a May 2 letter to Alvarez, Deputy City Attorney Katie Doerr, wrote that "Courts have long recognized that the term 'tax' has no fixed meaning, and may be construed narrowly or broadly depending on its particular context and the purpose for which the definition is to be used."

Doerr contends that under the article of the Constitution cited by Alvarez, “'local government' means any "local or regional governmental entity," which "does not include the voting electorate."

"The portion of Measure GS sought to be partially repealed was imposed by the electorate via initiative, not by the local government" and, as a result "is not a tax" for the purpose of the article of the Constitution, Doerr wrote.

In his letter to the City Wednesday, Alvarez said that "if the City chooses to continue violating the law," he will ask the court to "advance the hearing schedule on the writ and complaint, resulting in a highly compressed briefing schedule and hearing date."

"If successful," Alvarez added, "we will move for recovery of all of Ms. O’Connor’s attorneys’ fees and related litigation costs and expenses."

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