Betty Rexford recall, Poway, California, 2010
John Mullin was elected to fill the Rexford seat.
The recall effort culminating in the June vote began in August 2009. In August, other Poway City Council members asked Rexford to resign, but she declined. Recall organizers turned about 7,000 signatures in to election officials on February 1 to force a recall election.
Steve Vaus, a Grammy-award winning musician, launched the recall effort. According to Vaus, Rexford should be recalled because she abused her power in office and wasted $495,000. The $495,000 is what the city has paid so far on a lawsuit filed against both the city and Rexford by her neighbors that says she coerced city inspectors and planners into interfering with their building plans. A trial is set on those charges for October 26.
Rexford was serving in her fourth four-year term on the Poway City Council at the time of the recall vote in June 2010. Her term, if she had not been recalled, would have ended in November 2010.
Poway, which was incorporated in 1980, has a population of about 48,000. The Rexford recall effort is the first in the political history of Poway.
A "yes vote" was for the recall of Betty Rexford and a "not vote" was for her to remain in office.
|Betty Rexford Recall|
- These final, certified results are from the Sand Diego County elections office.
Eight candidates ran for the seat that became vacant with the Rexford recall. John Mullin won the contest among the 8 contenders with 2,132 votes.
- Peter Babich. Babich, who has lived in Poway for 35 years, is a business owner and engineer.
- Howard Collins. Collins is an insurance manager who helped develop the Poway Boys & Girls Club.
- Chuck Cross. Cross volunteers at the Poway-Midland Railroad and owns a landscaping business.
- Dave Grosch. Grosch is the leader of a Poway group that opposes a request by the Walmart in Poway to expand into a Walmart Supercenter.
- John Mullin. Mullin, a 33 year resident of Poway, has served as director of the Poway Chamber of Commerce. He has also been a member of the city’s budget review and redevelopment advisory committees.
- David Radcliff. Radcliff has worked in management and education and has lived in Poway for 12 years.
- Steve Vaus. Vaus is a recording artist and business owner. His stage name is Buck Howdy. Vaus launched the Rexford recall.
- Roger Willoughby. Willoughby has served on the Poway redevelopment and housing advisory committee and the budget review committee.
Campaign finance reports filed in mid-May showed that candidate John Mullin had raised the most for his campaign warchest: $13,400. Steve Vaus was the second-highest in terms of funds raised for his campaign at $6,900. Pete Babich was third with $5,400. The 5 other candidates spend less than $3,000, including some who as of the date of the campaign finance report had raised no funds.
- Steve Vaus was the main organizer of the recall effort.
- The group name for the recall effort was "Committee to Recall Betty Rexford".
- Logan Jenkins, a reporter for the San Diego Union Tribune. He wrote, "In the past year, the unsinkable community activist has turned into a pathetic public figure who, for her own health if nothing else, should retire from the stage."
- In early January 2010, recall organizers opened an office and hired staff, including paid circulators.
- Mayor Don Higginson, Councilwoman Merrilee Boyack and Sharon Cafagna signed an ad endorsing the recall.
In December, Rexford launched a website, "The Real Betty Rexford," in support of her bid to not be recalled. The website quoted several Poway residents who supported Rexford and disagreed with claims that have been made about Rexford seeking special treatment from the city.
At a local meeting of the Society of Professional Journalists in February, Rexford spoke on a panel, saying that reporters had launched a "vicious and brutal news blitz" attacking her in order to sell newspapers. Rexford also said, "Even after the media was presented with the true story, they still stick with their facts and accusations and repeat the misstatements."
Jerry Hargarten, a long-time political activist in Poway, said he thought the recall effort was disproportionate to what Rexford was accused of. Hargarten also thought that those on the city council who wanted Rexford to resign were trying to make her take the fall for behaviors that they, too, were guilty of. Specifically, if city employees acting at Rexford's behest did illegally interfere with construction projects planned by Rexford neighbors, the bureaucrats who complied with Rexford's alleged orders were just as guilty as Rexford. Hargarten believed that to a certain extent, the recall effort was an attempt to distract attention from this uncomfortable fact.
Undue influence lawsuit
The lawsuit at the root of the controversy surrounding Rexford was filed by Allen and Dawn Basile and Nathan and Rachel Cannon. They are neighbors of Rexford. In the lawsuit, they say their civil rights were violated by being denied the use of their land. Specific accusations in the lawsuit include:
- The City of Poway, Rexford, her husband, Paul, and former director of development services Niall Fritz abused the city's permit process for five years in such a way that it deprived them of the ability to finish or occupy their homes.
- The Basiles were building a home next to the Rexfords on Creek Road. Rexford objected to the driveway's grading, drainage, lighting and construction noise.
- The Cannons' home had a metal outbuilding across the street from the Rexford home. Betty Rexford didn't like the way it looked.
- The lawsuit says that city decisions between 2004-2007 kept these neighbors out of their homes for more than a year because Rexford was interfering with routine city permit processes on an ongoing basis.
- The lawsuit was filed in 2007.
- Dozens of depositions were taken from city employees and others.
- Federal judge Dana Sabraw ruled in July 2009 that there is ample evidence for the lawsuit to proceed to trial.
- In Sabraw's ruling, he said, "The city endeavored to keep Betty Rexford appraised of circumstances surrounding her neighbors' developments, often directing blind carbon copies of correspondence to, and from, the City to her attention...The evidence raises triable issues of fact as to whether City management solicitously and arbitrarily placed staff and resources at the disposal of Betty Rexford, who, in turn, abused her position to interfere with the Basiles' project."
- One city engineer testified that the Basiles' driveway was “very sensitive” to the Rexfords and “staff cannot go forward and recommend approval without concurrence of the neighbors.”
- Another engineer said in his deposition that Betty Rexford's interest in the Basile project “was extraordinary." He testified that the city's responses to the Rexfords' concerns "were beyond anything (he) had experienced on projects of a similar scope.”
- Based on the federal judge's ruling, the City of Poway settled its part of the lawsuit for $360,000. The part of the lawsuit directed against Betty Rexford is still ongoing. She denies the charges.
Rexford neighbors George and Helen Wu filed a $1.2 million lawsuit in February 2010 against the City of Poway, claiming that when the Wus asked for a permit to bury utility lines on their land, the City of Poway required them to do some work in the backyard of the Rexford residence as a condition of receiving that permit. After the work was completed, Rexford then sued the Wus in small claims court, asserting that the work they were required to perform by the City of Poway had caused erosion on her property.
Path to the ballot
The first step in the recall process was to collect a minimum of 20 signatures on a notice of intent to circulate a recall petition. The second step was to have a copy of that intent legally served on the recall target. Those steps were accomplished in late August.
The City of Poway then had to approve the wording of the recall petition and send it to the county registrar of voters. This approval was granted the week of October 12.
Recall supporters had 120 days, or until February 1, to gather signatures from 20% of the city's registered votes, or 5,657 people.
Recall supporters announced at a November 17 City Council meeting that they have collected 2,243 signatures of the signatures they need to force the recall election.
Although recall organizers had until February 10 to turn in their signatures, they wanted to turn them in by the end of January in order to give election officials sufficient time to review the signatures to ensure a spot on the June 8, 2010 ballot. By earning a spot on the June 8 ballot, they avoided the cost of a special election.
An incident occurred between Paul Rexford and neighbor Nathan Cannon on Sunday, October 18 that resulted in the filing of police reports. Cannon is one of the Rexford neighbors who filed a lawsuit in federal court against the city of Poway and the Rexfords accusing Rexford of abusing her position in order to delay or interfere with construction of the Cannon's home.
In the incident, middle fingers were raised by both parties in the classic gesture of hostile contempt. This was followed by Paul Rexford alluding to a gun. Both parties indicated to the police that they felt threatened.
- Recall campaigns in California
- Political recall efforts, 2010
- City council recalls
- Linda Bernhardt recall, San Diego, California (1991)
- Recall Rexford, official website of the recall
- The Real Betty Rexford, website opposing the recall
- Official website of the City of Poway
- Election results
- North County Times, "Mullin joins field of five vying for Poway Council," February 10, 2010
- North County Times, "Still no winner"
- North County Times, "Recall drive launched against Poway City Councilwoman Rexford," August 28, 2009
- San Diego Union Tribune, "Rexford recall petition tops 7,000 names," February 1, 2010
- NBC San Diego, "Poway Recall Effort Builds," January 1, 2010
- San Diego Union Tribune, "Poway recall effort targets Councilwoman Rexford," August 27, 2009
- San Diego Union Tribune, "Voters will decide on recalling Rexford; eight run for her seat," March 28, 2010
- San Diego Union Tribune, "Walmart expansion may figure in recall election," February 28, 2010
- San Diego Union Tribune, "Mayor reverses," March 24, 2010
- North County Times, "Recall candidates' fundraising, spending differ widely," May 28, 2010
- North County Times, "Rexford recall supporters open office, increase efforts in final weeks," January 4, 2010
- San Diego Union Tribune, "It's time for Poway's Rexford to exit the stage," October 12, 2009
- San Diego Newsroom, "Organizers open office, hire staff to recall Rexford," January 5, 2010
- North County Times, "Rexford launches Web site to answer critics calling for resignation," December 16, 2009
- San Diego Union Tribune, "Rexford lashes out at media," February 26, 2010
- San Diego Union Tribune, "Second thoughts on Rexford and recall," February 21, 2010
- San Diego Union Tribune, "Rexford neighbors sue, claiming harassment," March 3, 2010
- North County Times, "POWAY: Rexford recall petition OK'd for circulation," October 15, 2009
- San Diego Union Tribune, "Rexford recall movement gains steam," November 19, 2009
- San Diego Union Tribune, "Sheriff's Dept. steps in as Rexford feud escalates," October 19, 2009
- The Betty Rexford spectacle
- Plot thickens for Poway recall
- Poway Councilwoman Rexford breaks hip
- Poway's Rexford awaits voters’ decision