A San Mateo County District Attorney's Office investigator has been assigned to look into complaints about a series of verbal run-ins between a Coastside Fire Protection District board member and recall supporters that occurred over the past two weekends.
The first confrontation happened the weekend of July 14 outside the Half Moon Bay Safeway. Supporters of a petition to recall three CFPD board members — Mike Alifano, Doug Mackintosh and Gary Riddell — had set up a table to collect some of the 2,714 signatures necessary to get the recall on an upcoming ballot. Recall supporters say that Alifano and a firefighter from over the hill were once again intimidating petitioners as they sought signatures at Harbor Village over the weekend.
At least one recall supporter reported feeling threatened by Alifano, who showed up to offer his view on the petition to passersby. Recall supporters say Alifano was intimidating potential signers, a contention he denies.
Intimidation could be in violation of California Election Code 18630, which outlaws attempts to influence elections by intimidation.
"One side will be saying, 'I'm exercising my First Amendment right.' The other will be saying, 'I feel intimidated,'" explained District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. Only a judge or jury could ultimately determine whether these codes are being broken, he added. Nevertheless, he said an investigator had been assigned to look into the allegations. A week earlier, Glenn Levy, an attorney in the San Mateo County Counsel Office, spoke with participants in the Safeway incident.
Alifano allegedly took photographs of the circulating petitions that would get the recall on a future ballot. He denies taking photos of the petitions or names of signers. California Election Code 18650 forbids the use of signatures for anything other than qualifying for the ballot.
Government code excludes recall petitions from state open records laws.
"That means that there is some expectation of privacy relating to them," said Wagstaffe.
For his part, Alifano was concerned that California Election Code 18600 was not being obeyed by recall proponents. That law forbids misrepresentation and false statements of petitions. Specifically, Alifano has said that he thinks “Keep CalFire” signs at the petition sites are misleading, since the recall would only remove the three sitting board members and not guarantee that CalFire would remain to manage fire services on the coast.
Breaking any of these election codes could qualify as a misdemeanor.
The disagreement follows acrimonious meetings over several months. The fire board majority has sought to end the CalFire contract on the Coastside and replace it with a new department. The three board members facing recall say that they would have more local control over fire services that way and that the state fire agency hasn’t lived up to terms of its contract over the last four years.