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Signature gathering smackdown!

Submitted by on 1, April 17, 2009 – 8:30 am7 Comments

3The saga of the signature gatherers for a ballot initiative to exempt development at Alameda Point from Measure A continues. (Sigh.)

This past weekend, the Alameda Sun’s city editor, Dennis Evanosky, was out taking pictures of the signature gatherers when, according to the Sun’s Eric Turowski:

He drove to Park Street at Central Avenue where he attempted to photograph an Alamedan signing SunCal’s petition in front of Peet’s Coffee Shop.

Just as he was ready to take the photograph, a woman blindsided him and shoved his camera, nearly knocking it from his hands. “You can’t photograph my sister,” she said to him. To emphasize her comment, she blew cigarette smoke in Evanosky’s face.

Evanosky explained that he was a newspaper photographer and it was completely legal to photograph anyone and anything on a public street. “Well, you can’t photograph us,” the woman said, blowing cigarette smoke in Evanosky’s face a second time.

The woman then explained to Evanosky that his “friends” had been there earlier and had called her sister names. Evanosky replied that he was not with any friends. He then reached for his cell phone to call the Alameda Police Department.

A SunCal rep apologized, per Turowski’s story; it says Alameda police are investigating the incident. I spoke with Adam Alberti of Singer Associates, SunCal’s PR firm on this one, and he said the person who attacked Evanosky has been “removed from the streets.”

But things aren’t all sunshine and roses for the signature gatherers either, apparently. I chatted with one outside Bladium last night who said she’s been at the receiving end of some pretty rough treatment herself.

She said people have physically blocked her from getting signatures and that folks have been shoving flyers in the faces of people as they try to sign the petition to put the measure on the ballot. But this signature gatherer said she does her best to play it cool.

“People don’t have to do right by me, but I need to be right by them,” she said.

A number of media outlets, including this one, have been flooded with complaints from folks who feel the signature gatherers have been misrepresenting the facts about the initiative. They say the gatherers are selling the Point plan based on cleanup, and the real reason the plan is on the ballot is because it can’t be built without a Measure A exemption.

The gatherers are paid by the signature, and while they are trained on the measure and what to say, Alberti said “there’s an element of control that can’t be done.” But he said he thinks the gatherers are representing the initiative properly.

The signature gatherers were hired by Arno Political Consultants, which has offices in Sacramento and Carlsbad. Arno’s website boasts that the company has built its reputation on signature gathering and lists among its achievements

Qualifying a measure in Alaska in under three weeks in the midst of minus 40-degree weather and an exploding volcano.

But the company’s tactics have raised the ire of the folks at the left-leaning Ballot Initiative Strategy Center in Washington, D.C., who issued this 2007 report chronicling what they claim is ballot abuse, focusing on Arno, which has worked for a number of conservative causes.

It includes newspaper stories about several of Arno’s signature gathering efforts that outline a list of apparent abuses, including false statements about initiatives from signature gatherers and false signatures on ballot petitions. In one of the articles, the company’s late co-owner, Bill Arno, said he would fire anyone caught deliberately making false statements about an initiative; in another, he encouraged prosecution of signature forgers.

Alberti denounced the report as a “political hit piece” and said none of its claims have been substantiated. (The company’s Kellen Arno did not return a call seeking comment.)

“Signature gathering is never an issue unless people disagree on the issue being collected on,” he said.


  • AD says:

    Why go after Arno (or Pacific Petitions, or Singer Associates or whatever—I’ve heard all)? They work on the order of their client. Suncal did research to find out what people are worried about and is using the results for maximum impact. Not maximum accuracy or honesty.

    Mr Alberti’s statements get more ridiculous by the minute. So he thinks he has a license to lie about an issue, as long as everybody’s in agreement? The man’s got water in his moral compass.

    Maybe he thinks it’s okay to ask people to “sign here for free lunch” at the soup kitchen while in fact they are assigning their social security check to him?

  • David Howard says:

    We have documented several times the different lies, truth-stretching and mis-characterizations by the signature gatherers. (Click on my name for a recent example.) We have also documented, and reported to Alameda PD, probable violations of state law by the signature-gatherers, such as lying about the intent of the initiative and insisting that people sign without letting them read the petition. And the reports still keep coming into me by email or in comments on our website.

    The signature gatherers have personally mocked me, called me names which aren’t re-printable on this website, and one stood up out of her chair and walked toward me to physically intimidate me because I was standing near her table talking to voters about the petition. And they have harrassed me – repeatedly addressing me, mocking me and calling me names after I have repeatedly asked them to stop talking to me.

    So far, one signature-gatherer was arrested for not staying in their designated place, and another has had assault charges filed against her. The opposition has held two peaceful rallies at City Hall.

    And yes, we have teams out handing out flyers to passers-by to educate the public about the truth of the initiative and to counter the lies being told by the signature gatherers. This is a valid part of the democratic process and initiative process. We have just as much right to stand out on the street corner and hand out flyers and talk to voters as they do to collect signatures.

    But nobody handing out flyers is assaulting anyone nor are they physically blocking anyone from signing, nor are they, as they have done to our people handing out flyers, deliberately walking into them and pushing them. Nor, as the signature gatherers are doing, are we following people into places of business or following them to their car and trapping them inside. We have a “regret card” that we give to people after they sign that says, basically, “after you find out more about this, you may wish to rescind your signature. use this card to do so.”

    And I have personally been contacted by many people who felt they were mis-led and asking how they can remove their signature.

    Further, we have received reports from Southern California about SunCal’s attempts to use paid signature firms like Arno to provide signature “blockers” – people trying to prevent petition signing – in the recent fight in Anaheim over a SunCal project, where there was a petition AGAINST SunCal put on the ballot.

    I don’t think anybody’s heart is bleeding for the dis-honest signature-gatherers.

  • Anon says:

    Let me see if I have this right, David Howard wants to fund the Fire Department at an “arbitrary” level no matter what it costs the City. Ask him how many Cities have more firefighters than policemen in California and around the country and how he can justify that,. The ballot measure the firefighters union is pushing means the City will have 27 firefighters and a supervisor on duty every single day regardless of what that will mean to the cities overall budget. David Howard wants to take a third of the island and make parks and open space along with some commercial use fund, the Fire Departments overtime, as well as to continue to fund all of the the other City services without any additional revenue. I cannot believe he still lives in Alameda and not Washington D. C. Prop 13 limits the amount of money cities can recover from property taxes and the vast amount of revenues are already limited, yet costs continue to rise. Hey David, how do you plan on providing crucial services without funding. I look forward to your response.

  • Jennifer says:

    Michele, AD and David: I don’t live in your community, but I am nostalgically enjoying reading about your groups’ battle against the SunCal initiative. Back in 1986, my friends and I qualified two local ballot measures in Southern California. We went through the same kind of crazy stuff, with the local developers paying people to disrupt our signature gathering.

    In one circumstance, a gang of drunk construction workers came to harass us, probably at the behest of their boss. My 5 year old son was with me, and he had the presence of mind to hit one of the drunks with a big sign my son was holding. That creating a fracas in front of the Vons store where we were collecting signatures, which ended up with the drunks being arrested and a positive story running in the local paper. Tell your activists to keep standing their ground, physically and verbally, and magic things will happen.

    Just tonight I was reading my now 28 year old son some of your stories, reminding him how early he learned about the ugly side of local politics. He said the events of 1986 are indelibly engraved in his memory, enhancing his continued belief in citizen action. Take you kids with you when you are out campaigning. It reminds voters that your issues affect families and children, and serves as an unforgettable teaching tool for the kids.

    In another circumstance, one of our group’s signature gatherers was collecting signatures in a public park, was assaulted by employees of Chamber of Commerce members. They squirted him with relish and mustard from the park’s refreshment stand. My friend contacted the police, but when they arrived at the park they arrested my friend, rather than the Chamber of Commerce goons, because the goons complained to the police that they had been pelted with relish and mustard when my friend shook the condiments off his petition clip board and sign. At the time, our city had a reputation of defendants accidentally dying while in custody at the local police station, so we had to rush down and bail him out. The pro-development City Council convinced the District Attorney to prosecute our signature gatherer for “trespassing in a public park”. After a 5 day trial, our signature gatherer was acquitted, and filed a Federal rights lawsuit against the city under 42 USC 1983. Rather than be practical, pay our signature gatherer’s attorneys fees spent defending against his unlawful arrest, our City Council spent well over $500,000 on their attorneys fees defending the case, stubbornly claiming that they would “never give in to our little group.” Our signature gatherer won his case in Federal court, after an appeal to the 9th Circuit by the City Council. That incident taught us to “never give up”. For those of you who have Lexis or Westlaw, you can read the old appellate case by global searching the word Sloman.

    My point in telling you these old stories is that nothing really changes when real estate development and ballot measures are involved. You just have to keep plugging along, being creative, communicating with the voters, and you will prevail.

    In 23 years, you too will have some amazing stories to tell your grandchildren about how the foot soldiers of democracy really work.

  • Jon Spangler says:

    So this is how Alamedans welcome our guests and visitors who come here to work in the democratic process?

    I would be more inclined to believe David Howard’s claims (above) if he himself had not consistently misrepresented the truth in public meetings and in print–and been caught in the act.

    The petition is valid, and, although I personally dislike paid petition signing as less democratic, it is a legal method of putting a measure on the ballot–which, in itself is a very democratic thing to do. The people who are signing it or who are being paid to collect signatures should not be harassed by overzealous “natives” spreading untruth or hostility.

    In any case, what are David Howard and others afraid of?

    Shouldn’t Alameda’s “foot soldiers of democracy” who oppose the SunCal development welcome a fair and open community debate in which all the facts can be discussed at length in better places than in front of a grocery store on the sidewalk?

    I, too, consider myself a “foot soldier of democracy,” and have signed several petitions to place measures on the ballot that I did not agree with, so that the voters–all of us–could decide important issues at the ballot box, not with theatrics on a city sidewalk.

  • David Howard says:

    Jon – the evidence of the signature-gatherers’ mis-behavior is overwhelming and documented by several people other than myself. And nobody is harrassing the signature gatherers – in case you haven’t been reading, it’s the signature gatherers that are harrassing voters and assaulting journalists.

    We’re not afraid of a fair vote, or a fair attempt to gather signatures. Nobody had any interest in handing out flyers until we heard about the lies the signature-gatherers were telling.

    How SunCal runs the signature gathering campaign is how they will run the vote campaign if their petition gets on the ballot – with lies and deceit. And as we saw recently in New Mexico, they are prepared to pour tons of money into the campaign.

    Many people who have signed the petition have regretted it, and asked to remove their signature. You can’t take back your vote once it’s cast.

    It’s very clear what we’re afraid of: that SunCal will run a deceitful, mis-leading campaign, as they are doing with signature gathering, and afterwards, people will regret voting in favor of a bad initiative based on SunCal’s lies, but by then, there will be no turning back, no rescinding your vote.

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