The legal battle

Before the Malibu Right to Vote on Development Initiative could make it onto the November 2000 ballot, it had to jump a few major political and legal hurdles. The largest of the obstacles was those pushing the initiative had to collect valid signatures from at least 15 percent of registered voters in Malibu.

There are 8,524 registered voters in Malibu, and that 15 percent requirement meant they had to collect at least 1,278 valid signatures to make the November ballot. When the L.A. County Registrar of Voters completed their check of the signatures collected, the tally was 1,741 valid signatures; therefore, they had enough signatures except for one last legal hurdle.

The last hurdle was that a California State Elections Law, presently on the books for many years, requires that the people who circulate initiatives be registered voters, and also that they be registered voters in the jurisdiction. This means that since this is purely a Malibu initiative, they would have to be voters from Malibu. Since Segel and others pushing the initiative used, in part, a professional company that circulates petitions to get the necessary signatures, and half those circulators came from outside Malibu, the City Council had a legal question. The question they asked the city attorney was: “Has the initiative met the legal requirements to get on the November ballot?”

The written answer, given by the city attorney in his opinion, was in classic lawyer language: “a probable maybe.”

It was a “probable maybe,” not because the city attorney couldn’t make up his mind, but because in 1999 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a similar but not identical case in the state of Colorado, struck down an ordinance that petition circulators must be voters and said that “the First Amendment requires strict scrutiny of any state imposed requirement on persons who seek to circulate ballot initiative petitions because such activity involves ‘core political speech.'”

The California attorney general concurred with the U.S. Supreme Court, but this is by no means an open-and-shut situation. Under the circumstances, the circumstances being the uncertainty, it was City Attorney Steven Amerikaner’s opinion that the more prudent legal course was to put the matter onto the November ballot since, generally speaking, the courts tend to find ways to sustain the peoples’ right to vote on the issue. That, of course, doesn’t mean that if it were to pass, it still might not be put under legal attack for the way the signatures were gathered.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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