Measure S campaign bucks Sheriff’s Dept. demands on ‘eviction’ mailers


Backers of Measure S refused Monday to comply with county demands tied to a campaign mailer that mimics an eviction notice, arguing that concerns about misleading tenants are “quite overblown.”

The mailers are emblazoned with the phrase “EVICTION NOTICE” under the words “County of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.”

Below, in much smaller print, the mailer mentions the Measure S campaign committee and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, its chief financial backer. The reverse side urges Angelenos to vote for the ballot measure and includes a quotation from Eviction Defense Network Executive Director Elena Popp, along with the campaign logo, phone number and website address.


“The mailer has a photograph of the Eviction Defense Network advocate on it — who could possibly believe that this was an actual eviction notice?” the Yes on S campaign said in a statement Monday, denouncing the demands as an attempt to silence the group.

The Coalition for Economic Survival, a tenant rights group that opposes the ballot measure, called the mailers “disgraceful” and said it had gotten phone calls from confused and fearful tenants who received them last week. The Sheriff’s Department publicly stated that the mailers “could mislead members of the public to believe they are subject to legal action.”

The Office of the County Counsel, which represents the department and the county, sent a “cease and desist” letter Friday to the campaign, arguing that the campaign mailers improperly used the name of the Sheriff’s Department in violation of state law.

It demanded that the Yes on S campaign stop using the mailers, send out correction notices to everyone who had gotten them saying that the Sheriff’s Department did not authorize the use of its name or the message, and post the letter from county attorneys on its campaign website.

In reaction, the Yes on S campaign said Monday that there was “no merit” to those demands because “the mailer does not state or imply that the Sheriff’s Department endorses or is affiliated with it.” It argued that the mailers were lawful, protected political speech.

In a letter, Yes on S campaign attorney Fredric Woocher argued that the cease-and-desist letter could be seen as an effort to silence the ballot measure proponents. Backers of the campaign demand that county lawyers “publicly withdraw” their cease-and-desist demand and “refrain from further engaging in partisan politics,” Woocher wrote.

County spokesman Joel Sappell said Monday that the county believed its efforts had protected the public from getting “deceptive mailers” in the future and was still analyzing what steps it would take, if any, to ensure compliance.

In the letter sent to the Yes on S campaign last week, Office of the County Counsel attorney Lawrence Hafetz warned that the office would “pursue any and all available legal remedies, including seeking injunctive relief and attorneys’ fees,” if its demands were not met.

Ballot measure opponents sent a complaint last week to Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey and City Atty. Mike Feuer, arguing that the “offensive and illegal” mailers violated state laws against intimidating voters and impersonating a peace officer. Josh Kamensky, a spokesman for the opposition campaign, said Monday that the mailers were meant to “terrorize voters into supporting an initiative that will accelerate the pace of evictions.”

“It escalates their disinformation campaign from confusion to fear,” Kamensky said.

The ballot measure, which goes before voters next week, would impose a moratorium on building projects that seek zoning changes and other alterations in city rules. It would also prohibit amendments to the General Plan — a document that governs development across the city — for individual projects.

Backers have argued that stopping “mega-developments” would prevent longtime residents from being displaced from rent-controlled apartments. A Los Angeles Times review of city records found that only a small fraction of such evictions in recent years was caused by the types of projects that would be barred under Measure S. From 2011 to 2015, fewer than 200 rent-controlled homes were removed from the market by developers who were seeking the changes in city rules targeted by the ballot measure.

Supporters nonetheless argue that such projects became anchors for gentrification that prompts more evictions. Kamensky and other opponents counter that the proposed restrictions would push developers to target other areas and end up fueling more displacement.

Twitter: @LATimesEmily