Councilwoman Myrtle Cole, flanked (left) by attorney Will Moore and senator Marty Block representative Chris Ward, and (right) assemblywomen Shirley Weber and Lorena Gonzalez
Local and state legislators gathered downtown on Monday morning, September 15, to demand an investigation from county district attorney Bonnie Dumanis and/or California district attorney Kamala Harris into alleged misconduct by paid signature-gatherers seeking to qualify a ballot measure that would overturn the incremental citywide minimum-wage increase to $11.50 by 2017 passed by the city council in July.
Petitioners have been accused of approaching shoppers at strip malls with misleading information, claiming that their petitions actually seek to increase the minimum wage, or by telling voters that the increase has not yet been passed into law (it has, despite an overruled veto from mayor Kevin Faulconer).
"This almost feels like a concerted effort, with signature-gatherer after signature-gatherer ending up part of the same story," said assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. "And this isn't the first time we've seen something like this from the business community."
Indeed, a lawsuit was filed challenging alleged misconduct by petitioners seeking to overturn the Barrio Logan Community Plan Update. The document, approved by residents and the city council, was shot down after being set before voters in other parts of the city; they had been fed falsehoods — that the Navy would leave San Diego if the plan were allowed to remain in place, for example. (Navy officials were on record citing neutrality over the local planning issue.)
Superior Court judge Randa Trapp ruled in the Barrio Logan case that although the signature-gatherers were indeed guilty of lying to generate signatures, the measure could still be placed on last June's ballot, where it won handily.
Attorney Will Moore says he signed the petition after a lengthy discussion with a petitioner as to the intended outcome of the petition. He caught some of the signature gatherer's pitch on video, as have several others.
"He kept telling me these very specific lies," said Moore. "This is obviously problematic, it's illegal under California Elections Code 18600."
Councilwoman Myrtle Cole, one of the six councilmembers who voted twice in support of the minimum-wage ordinance, said that "an open and democratic process" led to the adoption of the current proposal, which was scaled down from an initial minimum-wage proposal of $13.09 by council president Todd Gloria.
"We reached a moderate compromise that will reach hundreds of thousands of San Diegans," continued Cole.
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber also spoke, calling false statements from signature-gatherers an "affront to democracy" and a "criminal act." A representative from state senator Marty Block's office read a statement decrying that "when elected representatives are subverted, and our initiative process is perverted, there are grave consequences to the citizens."
"We all know that in a good debate, the arguments stand on their own, and people are able to present their ideas for the public to hear," added Weber. "But when you're losing the debate, some resort to lies and distortion, and that's what we're seeing here."
Proponents of the wage hike are simultaneously conducting a campaign in which they ask petition-signers who may have lent their support in error to submit forms rescinding their signatures.