Glendale officials tried to prevent an interim report by the Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury on a controversial utility money transfer from being released last week because they believed it could negatively influence the outcome of a related ballot measure on Tuesday.
In a motion filed with the civil grand jury’s presiding judge, Senior Asst. City Atty. Christine Godinez argued that the “tone, tenor and timing of the interim report demonstrate that its publication has one purpose: to affect the voters’ views of Measure B.”
This article has been updated, see note below for details.
Measure B aims to streamline how the city transfers tens of millions of dollars in electricity revenues each year to pay for police, parks and other public services. Several City Council members have said that without the transfer from Glendale Water & Power, the city could not afford to maintain current public services.
Critics say the revenue transfer acts like a backdoor tax because city officials backfill by raising rates on consumers.
In denying Glendale’s request for a temporary restraining order for the report, Judge Charlaine Olmedo said the civil grand jury serves as a public watchdog and can release a report at any time.
“The Superior Court may prevent the filing of a report only when the report is illegal,” Olmedo wrote in her order on March 25, referring to reports that include no independent investigation or cover a topic outside the jury’s purview.
A few hours later, the report was released.
While critics say Measure B would fundamentally change how the transfer is carried out, City Atty. Mike Garcia said that if a court determines the measure to be a substantive change, it becomes null and void -- or what officials call a "safety valve" for the public.
"When you think of the safety valve that's there for the ratepayers, then it really begs the question, 'Why the heck did they do this?'" City Manager Scott Ochoa said on Tuesday as election polls entered their final hours.
Officials have said they plan to continue the revenue transfer no matter how the electorate votes this week.
The civil grand jury warned the transfer may be in violation of state propositions that limit taxes. But city officials have said the propositions do not apply, further degrading the validility of the report being issued early.
"They were in such a hurry to issue a heavily unprecedented report that it comes at the expense of their analysis and their thinking," Ochoa said.
The city has 90 days to respond to the civil grand jury’s report. At least one council member wants to continue to fight the civil grand jury’s interim findings and has called on others to defend Glendale.
At a City Hall meeting last week, Councilman Ara Najarian called on state legislators and the state attorney general to punish the civil grand jury for what he considered election tampering.
“I don’t think we should stand for it,” Najarian said. “We need to put our foot down."
[Updated April 2, 2013: This article was updated to include input from City Manager Scott Ochoa on Election Night.]
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