An attorney said Pomona purposely stalled to keep an initiative allowing marijuana businesses off the November ballot.
Roger Jon Diamond, representing Pomona resident Jacqueline Dilley, one of two people who pushed for the initiative, is claiming Pomona officials attempted to stifle the process from the beginning when the petition was first submitted to City Hall in February.
The 15-page petition to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant was filed three days after the City Council voted to direct staff to analyze the full impacts of a resident-backed initiative which aims to overthrow the city’s ban on marijuana activity. In doing so, the council missed the Aug. 10 deadline to place the initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Assistant City Attorney Andrew Jared disagreed, saying Pomona followed the proper procedures and the courts to this point have agreed.
But Diamond contends Pomona could have asked for the report earlier.
“Nobody expressed any concern about working around it. They never discussed it,” he said by phone Tuesday, referring to the Aug. 6 council vote. “That’s usually a sign of planning in advance, because they already know what they’re going to do.”
Now Dilley is asking the courts direct Pomona to place the marijuana initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot or the next general election. She is also seeking her attorney’s fees be covered and damages in an amount to be determined by the court or jury.
Efforts to regulate cannabis
The initiative by Dilley proposes to amend Pomona’s zoning code to allow commercial cannabis use by creating two zones: a self-described “safety access cannabis” zone in the middle of downtown and pockets of industrial areas throughout the city. The city banned commercial marijuana operations in late 2017.
Earlier this year, after backers started collecting signatures, Pomona began the process to adopt its own ordinance that would regulate cannabis operations to drum up much-needed revenues for the city’s depleted coffers as well as creating resources to crack down on illegal shops.
In June, the council held its first discussion on the topic and has broached the subject a couple times at subsequent meetings. City leaders don’t have a consensus yet on what types of businesses to allow and how many permits to issue.
During those discussions, Mayor Tim Sandoval suggested the City Council consider a ballot measure that would allow the city to tax marijuana businesses. During the Aug. 6 meeting, the council agreed to place a measure on the November ballot that would do just that should the businesses ever be allowed.
Claims of push back
The first issue Dilley encountered with Pomona occurred when she submitted a summary of her measure and its title that would appear on the ballot. Ballot summaries are typically reviewed by the city attorney’s office before the signature-gathering process can begin. The city has 15 days to respond.
According to the claim, Pomona’s city attorney told Dilley – 12 days after the paperwork had been submitted – there were some errors.
A second version was submitted on Feb. 22, and after discussion with Pomona, she had to resubmit a third version on March 7, which was approved by the city.
“The city delayed the process at the very beginning by claiming the petition wasn’t filed properly – that caused two or three false starts,” Diamond said.
Not true, Jared said.
“We identified and were very upfront with Kevin Salatti, who was representing Mrs. Dilley, that there were several issues with the petition,” he said.
Some of those issues included typographically errors, such as stating that the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department would be in charge of enforcement, making it appear they had simply “cut and pasted a petition from a previous attempt,” Jared said.
Verifying the signatures, first claim filed
Dilley began collecting signatures a couple of days later and by May 15, submitted 8,943 signatures, exceeding the 6,256 signatures the measure needed to secure, which is 10 percent of the registered voters in the last general election.
Elections code allows the city clerk to verify the signatures by conducting a random selection of 500 signatures. Dilley was notified June 26 by the-then city clerk Eva Buice that the petition had failed to qualify based on the sampling of the 500 signatures.
Diamond questioned the city clerk’s outcome. During the random sampling, two duplicate signatures were produced prompting a full count, Jared said.
Pomona waited until July 3 to ask the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder to count all the signatures, Diamond said. Then it took eight days for all the signatures to be physically transferred to the registrar’s office in Norwalk, he said.
“Every day delayed operated in favor of the city’s desire to keep the measure off the ballot,” Diamond wrote in the court documents.
Dilley even offered to pay to have the counting process expedited, but county officials informed her that was something Pomona had to request. A proposal was then made by Dilley to Pomona to pay for the cost of expediting the counting, but the City Council declined the offer during its July 2 meeting, according to court documents.
Jared acknowledged that Dilley, through Diamond, did make an offer, but with strings attached. It required the city waive its right to ask for an impact report, he said.
Dilley then filed the initial lawsuit July 11. The judge sided with Pomona, saying the city had not been given a chance to exhaust all its administrative efforts, since the signatures were still being tallied.
Breakdown in timeline
Pomona failed Dilley one other time during the process, Diamond said. The City Council discussed the proposed initiative during the June 4 council meeting. He believes if the council was committed to getting the initiative on the November ballot, it could have asked for an impact report at that time.
Had the request been made then or prior to July 3, then the report could have been prepared in time to not miss the Nov. 6 ballot, Diamond said.
Diamond amended the original suit Aug. 9, claiming the report was another effort to halt the process.
Jared said the council was not required to ask for the report since the signatures had not been verified. The council took that action during the Aug. 6 meeting.
“The council has a statutory right when a petition is filed to understand what are the impacts,” Jared said, referring to the analysis.
Both sides will be in court Sept. 26.