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Interim city manager defends obtaining outside legal counsel; contends Larson wanted city to participate in an illegal petition
Lei Ann :Larson

Lei Ann Larson “terminated” the process of trying to advance to a citywide vote on a homeless navigation center, and not the City of Manteca.

Larson, a candidate for mayor in the Nov. 8 election who has made dealing with the homeless a top — if not “the top”—  issue of the campaign, said the city’s filing and subsequent dismal action against the wording of her proposed petition is a reason why Manteca needs to return to the direct election of the city clerk and even the city treasurer.

Larson was informed this week by outside city legal counsel Mona G. Ebrahim that the city had filed for dismal of a declaratory judgment request against Larson over the wording of a Mantecans4Change petition where the city had a concern it would not pass legal muster.

There’s only one problem with the dismissal request filed on the city’s behalf on Sept. 23, according to Larson.

She never submitted a complete notice of intent to the city. As such, Larson contends the city wasted “thousands of dollars” on outside legal counsel on the matter.

In order to get to the point there would be a petition to review, Larson would needed to have re-submitted a notice of intent to circulate one.

City Clerk Cassie Candini-Tilton on July 13 rejected Larson’s original notice of intent submitted July 6 after she determined it did not meet a technical procedural requirement — it did not have a “signed statement to accompany request for title and summary” as required under California Election Code 9608.


Larson’s notice of intent was

determined to be incomplete

Candini-Tilton conferred with the San Joaquin County Registrar of Voters as well as City Attorney Dave Nefouse before informing Larson that the notice of intent was incomplete.

Larson resubmitted the notice of intent on July 14. After reviewing the second submission, Candini-Tilton rejected is as incomplete as well.

Candini-Tilton made no legal interpretation on the wording given that is not within the scope of her office.

Instead, she zeroed in on the fact it lacked the legally required statement “ . . . “Proponent of an initiative measure shall execute and submit, along with the request for a title and summary for the proposed measure . . . “

Larson was asked to refile a new third notice of intent with the required wording “if you wish to continue the initiative process.” Larson did not refile a third time.

Larson on Wednesday said given the short time frame to gather the required 5,069 signatures — 15 percent of the registered voters within the city limits — to qualify a petition in time for the Nov. 8 ballot she opted not to submit a revised letter of intent. As such, there was never a petition with wording the city considered to be questionable under state law that existed for the city to seek declaratory judgment

“The city jumped the gun,” Larson said. “It cost (taxpayers) thousands of dollars.”

Interim City Manager Toni Lundgren confirmed that while the City Council authorized spending up to $10,000 for services of the law firm of Kronick, Moskovitz, Tiedemann & Girard the city obtained on June 27 to address the proposed wording on the petition the actual cost will be significantly lower because the matter is no longer headed to a courtroom.

Lundgren noted the city had serious concerns the wording of the petition Larson has proposed and presented to the council in advance of her filing the notice of intent would run afoul of established state law on what cities can do in regardless to homeless shelters.

And due to the acute political nature of the politics surrounding the proposed homeless navigation center, Nefouse recommended the city obtain outside legal counsel to examine the petition wording.

The outside counsel also determined it would not pass legal muster if it qualified for the ballot and was approved by voters.


Lundgren says ‘the real waste

of tax dollars’ is by Larson

In an email to Larson on Sept. 27, Lundgren said “ the statement that you make saying the City “wasted” thousands of dollars is inaccurate. We have a duty to protect the City and the amount of staff time and resources we have wasted trying to explain to you that what you are wanted us to do is impermissible, is the real waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Larson said the incident involving the petition underscores the need for checks and balances at city hall.

Larson believes the interim city manager and by extension the city attorney overstepped boundaries of authority on the issue to address concerns that didn’t exist simply because she never filed a completed notice of intent.

A notice of intent is the first step in the process for the circulation of a petition to try and qualify a measure for the ballot.  There can’t be a petition to circulate — or review for legal issues — unless a valid letter of intent is filed.

The city clerk rejected Larson’s original notice of intent because it was not complete as defined by the California elections code. And given Larson did not refile a complete letter of intent there was no petition.

The city, due to the tight turnaround Larson had to collect signatures in a bid to qualify the measure for the Nov. 8 ballot, did not want to be accused once a completed notice of intent was filed with the city clerk’s office of trying to throw up a roadblock at the last minute.

And from Lundgren’s perspective Larson would be asking “the city to participate in an illegal petition.”

Lundgren, in the same Sept. 27 email told Larson “when outside counsel tried to communicate this with you and get you to withdraw several times, you declined to do so before the suit was filed.”

Nancy Watson, who is running for the District 4 City Council seat that represents all of Manteca north of Louise Avenue except for east of Highway 99, in early August submitted a notice of intent for the same exactly worded petition.

At that point it would have required a special election citing in excess of $200,000 if enough signatures were collected to qualify it for the ballot given the deadline for the Nov. 8 vote had passed.

Watson ultimately withdrew her notice of intent.


Petition’s wording was

determined to not be legal

As for the wording, the law firm of Kronick, Moskovitz, Tiedemann & Girard determined at least one provision in the petition Mantcans4Change submitted wasn’t legal.

It centered around the wording of the proposed ballot measure that seeks to amend the Manteca Municipal Code to read  ”Low Barrier Navigation Centers shall not be permitted to operate in any location within the City of Manteca, including but not limited to areas zoned for mixed use and nonresidential zones permitting multifamily uses.”

California State Senate Bill 2 established right zoning for shelters.

The state law requires each jurisdiction to identify a zone or zones where shelters are permitted without discretionary approval (by-right) with sufficient capacity to meet the unmet housing need.  In Manteca’s case that would be 129 beds based on the latest point in time count conducted in January of this year

The jurisdiction must also demonstrate that existing or proposed permitting processes are objective and encourage the development of shelters.

Manteca several years ago amended its municipal code to comply with state law.


City clerk has been appointed

position since June 1999

The city clerk has been an appointed position by the city manager since June 8, 1999 wen voters approved a measure to cease having the city clerk’s office an elected position  like the city council.

At the time, there hadn’t been a contested city clerk’s election in more than 24 years.

Larson believes that having an appointed city clerk position puts the public at a disadvantage given many use the office as if it were “an ombudsman position” to deal with concerns they are having with the city.

She also supports making the city treasurer’s position  elected as it once was. She said not doing so has eliminated “the balances and checks” within the finance department given the treasurer is now under the finance director.

Larson alluded to the recent bookkeeping issues the city had recently when they were trying to determine the proper accounting of $67 million — a point the San Joaquin County Grand Jury zeroed in on during a scathing investigation of city government.

The treasurer’s primary responsibility during the time George Davdasocich — the last elected treasurer who served in the position for 47 years — was to oversee the city’s investment portfolio.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email