Perhaps you've seen them around town during the past week or so — a group of Alameda residents collecting signatures on a petition to recall Alameda City Council member and Vice Mayor Rob Bonta.
Even if they collect the required 8,374 signatures (20 percent of the city's registered voters), their efforts could be moot. Bonta was the top vote-getter in the , with over 36 percent of the vote. He faces second-place candidate Abe Guillen in the Nov. 6 general election. If Bonta wins, he would need to resign from the city council — and in that case, no recall election would be held, according to City Clerk Lara Weisiger.
So why the recall attempt?
"There's no guarantee Bonta will get to the Assembly. Some polls show Guillen ahead," said David Howard, who is spearheading the recall effort, in an email. "Also, furor over his actions came to a boiling point on July 17th when he voted to just ignore Measure A and approve over 2,400 new housing units in Alameda, on the main island aside from Alameda Point."
Bonta was part of the majority when city council voted 4-1 to approve zoning rules that would allow new multi-family housing to be built in Alameda, as part of the Housing Element of the city's General Plan. Councilman Doug deHaan cast the single "no" vote.
Who's behind the recall? Howard, perhaps best know for his Action Alameda News website, has been the public face of the effort.
"I am facilitating on behalf of the many people who called for a recall," Howard said. "As such, I end up as de facto spokesperson. I do prefer to think of myself as a 'facilitator' of what other people are asking for, rather than a "leader" — people want a recall, but don't necessarily understand how to navigate the process, or how to do it. I responded to those demands to facilitate it to get rolling."
Thirty-five people in addition to Howard signed the "notice of intention to circulate recall petition," including Leland Blandon Traiman, a candidate for the City of Alameda Health Care District (Alameda Hospital) board in the Nov. 6 election.
Why Recall Rob Bonta?
The recall proponents cite other reasons beyond Bonta's vote on the housing issue. Noel Folsom said via email, "Why did Bonta vote to dismiss the former interim city manager when he'd been on the council less that three months?
"And maybe a final question: Has he ever thought that he was selling short those who worked to get him elected or who voted for him by running for another office when he's only about halfway through his current term on the council?"
The "notice of intention" lists the following grounds for the proposed recall:
- BONTA took office December 2010, after firefighters, corporate developers and their affliates spent hundreds of thousands of dollars attacking his opposition, using fake names and distorting the facts.
- BONTA represents those corporate developers andspecial interests that funded his election campaign, NOT Alameda.
- BONTA voted to override MEASURE A. This contradicted his campaign statements before the League of Women Voters. Alameda is an island and our transportation access is dependent upon neighboring Oakland. Measure A, approved by voters three times, limits housing density inresponse to this constraint.
- BONTA supported giving away the GOLF COURSE to developers.
- BONTA forced voters to gather more than 10,000 signatures to preserve open space.
- BONTA abuses the public trust to reward SPECIAL INTERESTS.
- BONTA supported a flawed sales tax measure designed to reward his campaign donors.
- BONTA gave firefighters raises AND shortened their work week. A firefighter can cost taxpayers over $220,000 in their first year alone.
- BONTA announced he was running for higher offce just six months into his first term. Instead of staying to work on Alameda's finances and our multi-millon dollar unfunded public safety pension obligations.
- BONTA is just looking for the quickest way out of town.
In a phone interview Friday morning, Bonta characterized the recall as "a cynical effort to undermine my Assembly campaign." The recall proponents, he said, are "a miniscule group that doesn't move Alameda forward."
Bonta said his intention when he ran for city council was to fulfill his four-year term and then seek re-election to the council for another four years.
"In the middle of my public service, it became absoutely clear that the state was not a helpful partner to Alameda," he said. Massive state cuts and obstacles to school funding, redevelopment and other issues persuaded him that Alameda needed representation at the state level, he said.
Bonta filed the following answer to the notice of intent with the city clerk's office:
"I am proud of my work as Councilman to protect Alameda's quality of life.
"While state law requires increased multi-unit housing, I helped keep Measure A completely intact in the city charter without changing a single word.
"After reviewing all of the options to save our golf course, I seconded the motion to kill the land swap proposal at the Chuck Corica Golf Complex and I support protecting all 45 holes.
"I supported passing a local measure to raise additional funds for police and fire protection, libraries, parks and other services. This is because these funds would stay local and could not be taken by the state. It is why I supported a similar measure for schools that passed last year.
"I worked with firefighters to reform their pension and retirement health care costs. Alameda firefighters have had no raises for seven years and continue to work 56 hours per week. We've made the tough decisions to balance the budget without layoffs or cuts to public safety services.
"This recall petition saddens me. It is based on completely false information and distracts from what is good about our town and people, the progress we are making and the bright days ahead."
What Happens Next?
A recall is a slow process, and its steps are spelled out in precise detail in the state Elections Code, said Alameda City Clerk Lara Weisiger.
It took a little over one month for the recall proponents to gain official approval for their petition, including a 10-day period for Bonta to file his written response and some days for the proponents to make minor changes to conform to the state code.
The petition was approved Sept. 5, and the proponents have 120 days from that date to collect the necessary signatures, Weisiger said.
The next step is a period of 30 working days for the city clerk's office to check a random sample of signatures to see if they are registered Alameda voters. If registered voters are below a certain percentage of the total signatures, the city clerk may need to check all signatures — another 30 working days. Finally, if enough signatures are approved, the matter goes to the city council, which sets a date for the recall election.
A recall doesn't come cheap. If the city is able to consolidate the recall with another election, or conduct a mail-in ballot election only, the bill will come to about $200,000, Weisiger said. If it's a stand-alone election with traditional polling places, the cost would double, to about $400,000, she said.
However, if Bonta wins the 18th Assembly District seat, no recall election will be held, Weisiger said.
"You can't recall a council member who isn't on the city council," she said.