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Inland Valley Times
Mar 17, 2001

by Tipton Blish

Court's inaction keeps law alive

Claremont weighs next move with Oaks Initiative poised to take effect
The city's challenge to a new law that radically restricts political fund-raising was quashed when an appellate court chose not to decide on the law's constitutionality, officials said Friday.

The decision means that the Oaks Initiative, approved overwhelmingly by voters March 6, will go into effect March 30. The state's 4th District Court of Appeal on Thursday chose not to rule on a challenge to the same law by the city of Vista.

Vista voters passed the Oaks Initiative in November, which bans city officials from taking campaign contributions from people who have benefited by the official's action. It also prevents officials from taking a job from any individual or organization that benefited by the official's vote.

Claremont and Pasadena, where the initiative overwhelmingly passed as well, joined Vista's challenge and were hoping the court would declare the law unconstitutional. That would have saved the cities from challenging the law themselves.

Claremont City Atty. Sonia Carvalho said she continues to believe that parts of the law violate constitutional guarantees of free speech and right to work. She relies on a decision in a 1976 Supreme Court case, Buckley vs. Vallejo, that linked contributions to free speech.

"There is not doubt in my mind," Carvalho said. "The Buckley decision makes it so clear that you can't have an outright ban on campaign contributions."

Supporters of the initiative saw the court ruling in another way. They wanted the appeals court to declare Vista's challenge moot because the city passed a similar law that superseded the Oaks Initiative.

The fact that the three-judge appeals panel didn't rule was an indication the court wanted to let the various laws stand as they are for now, said Carmen Balber, an organizer for the Oaks Project.

"It seems to me that if the court wanted to rule it unconstitutional, they could have. They had the jurisdiction," Balber said. "It seems they said: 'The voters spoke and that is where it stands.' "

Claremont's City Council will meet Tuesday to certify the election in which the measure was passed. Carvalho is evaluating the law. At the council's next regular meeting March 27, she will make a presentation with several options.

The council could allow it to stand, wait for a challenge in another city or pay for its own challenge. Carvalho said she hasn't decided on what to recommend.

Council members are convinced the law will be overturned. It would scare citizens from wanting to serve on Claremont's many commissions and committees, they contend.

The appeals court decision not to rule leaves only one court opinion about the law on the books: San Diego Superior Court Judge David Moon ruled it unconstitutional on Sept. 8. His decision doesn't affect Claremont's law or any other outside San Diego County, but Carvalho said it is important.

"As far as I am concerned, there is a well-informed decision out there," she said. "It's not in our county, but you know, I am going to take seriously any decision that a court has rendered."


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