Political consultant accuses anti-sprawl activists of discrimination.
Thursday, February 2, 2006
Carlos Ramos set off on a fishing expedition last week at the Board of Supervisors meeting.
Early on Jan. 24, the supervisors agreed to put Rancho San Juan on the June ballot. This surprised no one. Groups that oppose the controversial subdivision had collected more than 15,000 signatures, and in November, voters overwhelmingly shot down a larger version of the home-golf-course-commercial project.
But at last week’s meeting, Ramos, a Carmel-based political consultant, shook things up a bit. He accused Rancho San Juan opponents of violating the Voting Rights Act, and told supervisors that signature gatherers discriminated against Latino residents.
Ramos charged petition circulators with targeting white neighborhoods, and misrepresenting the referendum to Spanish-speaking voters. He said he will present a formal complaint to the County.
It doesn’t look like Ramos has any proof.
In a later phone interview with the Weekly, Ramos said he doesn’t know of any Latinos who were personally discriminated against. He said he heard about it “through the rumor mill.”
Nevertheless, he believes it. “This is the tip of the iceberg,” he said, “where we can get people to step forward.”
When asked if any Latinos had, in fact, stepped forward, Ramos said, “I’d rather not comment.”
Ramos cites a little-noticed ruling from the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Padilla v. Lever. In Padilla, the court decided that the minority language requirements of Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act must be applied to recall petitions. This means that in certain jurisdictions, recall petitions must be printed in English as well as the language of the protected minority group.
Because of its history of past discrimination, Monterey County holds the dubious honor of being one of a handful of US counties outside of the Deep South that is covered under this provision of the Voting Rights Act.
However, Padilla applied to a recall petition, not an initiative or referendum.
County Counsel Charles McKee and Monterey attorney Michael Stamp agree that this makes it unlikely that Padilla would apply to the Rancho San Juan referendum.
McKee says he hasn’t done a complete analysis, but he’s doubtful that the court’s decision would affect the June vote.
“It would be a very easy opposition,” he says. “The legal requirements for a referendum just say that you have to get a certain number of signatures from registered voters. It does not say that those signatories have to be from Salinas or Chualar or Monterey, or what languages they have to speak.”
Stamp says he believes Padilla will likely be overturned.
“But even if Padilla stands, I don’t see how it would apply to a referendum or initiative,” Stamps says. “The County has not prepared official versions of any of their documents in Spanish.
“It’s easy to make a voting rights claim, but as I
understand it, there is no basis for these claims in the first
Tony Barrera heads the Alisal Betterment Association, a Salinas community group that opposes Rancho San Juan and helped circulate petitions against it.
“I don’t know where the accusations came from, but we have proof that we made flyers in Spanish and English, we held meetings in Spanish and English,” he says. “We’re not doing this to discriminate. We’re here to inform the community.”
Julie Engell, who chairs the opposition group, calls Ramos’ accusations “scare tactics,” and says that Latinos from all parts of the county signed the petition.
“If Mr. Ramos had proof of anything, he would have presented it on Tuesday,” Engell says. “As far as I’m concerned, this is a purely politically motivated attempt to bully the people of Monterey County.”
Ramos denies that his charges are political.
“There’s no organization behind this, other than just individuals in the community who are concerned about this as it pertains to the Voting Rights Act—not is this petition right or wrong.”
But he won’t say who the other individuals are.
“I’m the point person,” Ramos says. “There’s a handful of us.” When asked a second time to name the other four or five individuals, he refuses.
Ramos says he will file a written complaint with the elections department “within a week. No more than two weeks.”
At the most recent Board of Supervisors meeting on Jan. 31, Ramos again blasted petition circulators for “disenfranchising” voters. But he still didn’t offer any specifics.