Santa Ana councilwoman seems to survive recall attempt

Santa Ana Councilmember Jessie Lopez rides in the 42nd Annual Orange County Black History Parade on February 05, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Daniel Knighton/Getty Images)

Santa Ana City Councilwoman Jessie Lopez appeared to survive a recall attempt led by the police union Wednesday, leading with a little over 55% of the vote in the latest election day results.

Lopez, whose term representing the Third Ward runs through December 2024, had received 3,254 "no" votes to the recall question in Tuesday's election, with 2,628 people voting yes, according to figures released by the Orange County Registrar of Voters on Tuesday night.

Voter turnout was 22%.

Orange County Registrar of Voters Bob Page said that at 5 p.m. Wednesday his office would release updates results reflecting ballots postmarked as of Tuesday and ballots put into drop boxes after the morning pick-up.

Ballots dropped into the mail remain eligible as long as they arrive at the Registrar's office by Nov. 21. It is unclear how many votes are remaining or if there were enough for recall supporters to overcome Lopez's lead.

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Ada Briceno, the chairwoman of the Orange County Democratic Party, which backed Lopez, said she felt good about the results so far.

"I'm feeling pretty optimistic about the night," Briceno told City News Service. "If we continue on this path it shows her tenacity and the fact that Santa Ana is with Jessie Lopez, which is just such great news because she's a fantastic leader. I think we're in great shape."

Briceno praised Lopez's "extraordinary ground game," and added, "no money can beat that."

Lopez, who was selected by her council colleagues for the mainly ceremonial position of mayor pro tem, has said the Santa Ana Police Officers Association was seeking her ouster because she questioned a requested increase in the police department's budget at a time when other city departments were asked to cut back on spending.

Before the vote count was released, Lopez said, "We're full of hope and confident that voters will decisively reject this unscrupulous recall and blatant power-seeking maneuver by the police association. Voters have to remind themselves why I'm facing a recall to begin with — because I asked for oversight of taxpayer money and the association did not want that to happen."

The association has not responded to requests for comment, but its ballot statement said Lopez "brought embarrassment onto the city and displayed disregard for private property rights when she refused to vacate a rental property after being evicted for nonpayment of rent, as reported widely in the media."

Recall supporters also knocked Lopez for opposing efforts to crack down on illegal street racing.

Lopez said the recall was "initiated by Gerry Serrano and the police officers association after I stood up for a full financial audit to make sure our retired police officers were not having their medical savings used for Gerry's political campaigns."

Serrano was president of the union until earlier this year.

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A Lopez supporter failed last week in her attempt to persuade an Orange County Superior Court judge to issue a temporary restraining order to block the election, claiming the wrong map was used to determine who was eligible to sign the recall petitions and vote.

Judge Craig Griffin invited the attorneys opposing the recall to file an amended complaint after the election to attempt to have the voting results tossed out.

With the recall apparently defeated, a further court challenge would likely be unnecessary.

Meanwhile, Page raised the issue that recall supporters used the current Third Ward map to collect petition signatures instead of the map that existed prior to redistricting. Page said the voters who put Lopez in office are the ones who should decide whether to recall her, but supporters of the recall argued otherwise.

The litigation seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction was filed by Guadalupe Ocampo, who resides in the ward that put Lopez in office in 2020, but no longer lives in her ward since redistricting in 2022.

She questioned whether enough signatures were filed to put the recall on the ballot because signature gatherers used the current ward boundaries and not the prior one.

The lawsuit alleges that 1,186 eligible voters would not receive ballots for the recall election, but 362 ineligible voters will be allowed to cast ballots.

When the City Council met to discuss the issue on Oct. 30, it split 3- 3, with Lopez recusing herself. One proposal was to cancel the recall election and the other was to take no action. Page told CNS that the deadlock meant he had no choice but to go through with the election because he received no direction from the city as he requested.

The recall backers said they "did everything they were told to do to qualify the recall for the ballot. ... It is unheard of to cancel an election one week in advance. Case law is adamant that a court should not take the drastic step of cancelling an election this close to election day. Both sides have spent money on campaigns. Ballot pamphlets were printed and mailed, and ballots went out. People have begun voting. Polling places have been set up."