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City of San Jose Styrofoam Re-Legalization Referendum (2014)

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A City of San Jose Styrofoam Re-Legalization Referendum ballot question will not be on the election ballot in 2014 for voters in the City of San Jose in Santa Clara County.

The Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters, after hearing allegations of signature fraud and deception, went through the process of verifying the 38,592 signatures that were submitted individually instead of using just a random sample. The initiative was designed get a referendum measure on the ballot in 2014 which would overturn a law passed by the city in August of 2013 that bans polystyrene containers, commonly known as styrofoam, from use in the city. Election officials found that only 17,738 out of the 38,592 signatures were actually valid, leaving the initiative petition over 3,000 signatures short of the required 21,046. City officials behind the ban argued that the material is not really recyclable and is responsible for pollution. This ban took effect in 2014 for national companies and was designed to begin in 2015 for smaller businesses. The proposed referendum, if it had reached the ballot and been approved, would have overturned this law and re-legalized the use of polystyrene containers.[1][2]

There had been a lot of confusion and allegations of deception with regard to this petition effort. Reportedly many of those who signed the petition have called the office of the city clerk and said that they were told they were signed a petition to ban styrofoam instead of to legalize it. Several people also reported being given empty gift cards in exchange for signature collection work.[1]

City Clerk Toni Taber said that while the allegations of deception were being looked into, the measure would likely go to the ballot because of its nearly 40,000 signatures, which is more than double the required valid signature count. Taber said that judges tend to side with signature gatherers when complaints about petitions are brought forward, allowing the issue to be sorted out by the voters at the ballot.[1]

Another source of mystery with regard to this referendum measure was the identity of those funding the petition effort. No person or organization has declared themselves as backers of the proposed re-legalization measure. The petition forms were signed by Jade Vo, of San Jose. A person of that name had an LinkedIn account describing herself as a "independent contractor" for the California Restaurant Association, which was one of the chief opponents to the law banning styrofoam. But neither the California Restaurant Association nor Jade Vo responded to calls seeking comment and no connection between the two has been proved.[1]

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