La Cañada school board member Joel Peterson said he plans to move into the district in the future as questions about his residency resurfaced at the start of his reelection campaign.
Peterson, who filed his nomination papers for reelection on Aug. 9, is serving the last months of his second four-year term on the school board. He is the only incumbent running for one of three open seats in the Nov. 5 election. Seven other candidates have filed, while longtime board members Scott Tracy and Susan Boyd have decided to step down after their terms end this fall.
In an interview last week, Peterson said that he is currently renting property in La Cañada but he did not elaborate on its location. He said he plans to buy a home in the city but doesn’t want to rush the decision.
“You certainly don’t go ahead and buy a home just to run for unpaid elected office,” he said. “You do that kind of thing where it makes sense and we continue to look for something that makes sense for us, but the inventory of homes available in La Cañada, as everybody knows, is highly limited.”
Former La Cañada school board member Cindy Wilcox said she has filed a protest against Peterson’s candidacy with the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. Wilcox said that she believes Peterson lives outside the school district boundaries.
Spokeswoman Jane Robison confirmed that the office did receive a complaint regarding Peterson.
While Robison said she couldn’t comment on specific allegations, she said the district attorney’s office has previously convicted City Council members, school board members and other elected officials for falsifying residency or not living where they claimed.
Peterson’s residency was first questioned by members of the community after he sold a home on Cambridge Road in 2010 following a divorce. He told the Valley Sun in 2011 that he was living in a home part-time in Glendale after a remarriage. At the time, he said he planned to purchase a home in La Cañada soon.
To qualify as a candidate for the La Cañada Unified School District board, one must be registered to vote in the district area. The county will release a final list of qualified candidates within a couple of weeks.
The address Peterson used for his campaign filing is the UPS store in the 400 block of Foothill Boulevard. When asked where he is registered to vote, Peterson declined to specify an address, but said the information is public record.
According to county records, he is currently registered to vote at a home in La Cañada on Chevy Chase Drive near Foothill Boulevard, the same address where his ex-wife is registered to vote.
Many factors go into determining a person’s permanent residence or domicile, and therefore where one is registered to vote.
According to California election law, the address a person lists on a driver’s license, identification card or vehicle registration carries significant weight. Where an individual’s family lives permanently is another factor in determining domicile.
Los Angeles attorney Fred Woocher said that having an intention to live somewhere is also an important factor.
“So much depends upon what their intent is, as long as it’s backed up by certain evidence,” he said. “The law says you do have to have a physical presence there, plus the intent to make that your permanent home.”
Since it is one of the few election requirements imposed on candidates, residency often becomes an issue in elections, he added.
Peterson said last week that he felt a “certain obligation and responsibility to run” after members of the community pushed him to seek reelection to keep experienced members on the board.
With three seats open in the November election, the two remaining members of the five-person board — Ellen Multari and Andrew Blumenfeld — are relatively new to their positions after being elected in 2011.
When asked about his own residency, Peterson said that other school board members have multiple properties or may live part-time outside the district. He said that Blumenfeld has an apartment in downtown Los Angeles, where he spends most of his time.
In an email, Blumenfeld said he does not have an apartment in downtown L.A. or any other location. “I live in La Cañada,” he said.