Petition Drive Calls for Vote on Policing : Council: Santa Fe Springs group wants residents to decide on the change from Sheriff's Dept. to Whittier service.


A group of Santa Fe Springs residents has started a petition drive calling for a vote on the city's plans to cancel its contract with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and hire the Whittier Police Department.

The notice, which was filed recently at City Hall, demanded that the city receive voters' approval before switching law enforcement agencies. The City Council is scheduled to take final action on the proposed deal next week.

The proponents need 700 signatures to place a measure on the March, 1997, ballot. Proponents could force a special election, most likely in the fall, if they collect 1,200 signatures.

Santa Fe Springs officials are recommending that the City Council cancel the $4.2-million contract with the Sheriff's Department in favor of a deal with Whittier. Santa Fe Springs would save about $500,000 by switching law enforcement agencies, officials estimate. The changeover would take place later this year.

But some residents said they worry about the level of service the city would give up if the sheriff's contract is terminated.

"I understand that the city wants to save money, but our comfort level with the Sheriff's Department has been developed over 37 years," said Francis Carbajal, a 28-year resident who is leading the petition effort. "We like them, and if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Carbajal said many residents don't know enough about the proposal to decide whether it is in their best interests, and has suggested that the council delay its vote until the petition drive is finished.

"We all feel as if this (proposal) is being crammed down our throats," she said. "What's the urgency?"

But Santa Fe Springs officials say that the proposal has been on the table since last fall, when the council voted to research the potential savings of such a plan.

"There has been so much discussion about (the proposal), not only at council meetings, but at various other forums within the city," including Neighborhood Watch and Chamber of Commerce meetings, City Manager Don Powell said. "We have had no reason to hide anything that we are doing. It has been public all the way."

Officials disagree on the potential impact of the petition drive. An attorney for the association of sheriff's deputies said a successful petition could delay the city's action until an election, but Powell said the city has a legal right to contract with whatever agency it desires.

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