After months of meetings and allegations, residents served four board members from the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District official notice that they were issuing a formal recall election on Sept. 26.
How This Works
Community organizers will attempt to remove these elected officials before their terms end by spreading petitions, getting signatures, having the signatures evaluated and having a public vote if there are enough valid signatures.
Politically, HLPUSD board member Gino Kwok and board president Martin Medrano are up for reelection in 2020, while board member Joseph Chang and vice president Anthony Duarte were reelected in 2018. Board member Jeffrey De La Torre, however, was recently elected in 2018 and is not being included in the recall effort.
They have drafted a notice of intention to recall, which has under 200 words explaining the reasons why they want to recall Chang, Kwok, Duarte and Medrano from the HLPUSD board. This must be signed by at least 10 people.
This recall notice must then be served by personal delivery or by mail, according to Article 2, 11021 of the Elections Code. Within seven days of serving the notice, the original must be filed along with an affidavit of the time and manner it was served. In this case, it was personally delivered by district resident Gabriela Navar and handed to each board member by Officer Robert Barba.
The publication of this article and the publication of the Tribune coverage of this event may fall under Article 2 of the election code, which requires a copy of the notice be published in a “newspaper of general circulation able to provide timely publication in the jurisdiction of the officer sought to be recalled.”
Otherwise, Article 2, 11022, further states that if publication is not possible, the notice shall be posted in at least three public places within the board member’s jurisdiction.
The board members may then, according to Article 2, 11023, file an answer of not more than 200 words within seven days of the notice’s filing. If an answer is filed, it must be served to the organizers of the petition as well.
This statement and answer are solely information for the voters.
The Petition Process
It may have any number of sections and the number of signatures in each section can be decided by the people collecting signatures. Each section may consist of any number of separate pages.
Before any signatures may be added, each page of each section must have a request to elect a successor, include a copy of the notice of intention with the statement of grounds, the names of at least 10 recall proponents and the answer of the the individual being recalled in no less than eight-point type in uniform spacing, size and darkness. If there was no answer, the petition must state such, according to Section 3, 11041.
After 10 days, answer or not to the notice of intention, the community organizers will file two blank copies of the petition with the elections official who shall evaluate whether the form meets the requirements. When filed, they must file proof of publication of the notice or an affidavit that it was posted, according to Section 3, 11042.
After 10 more days, the elections official will notify the community organizers whether or not the requirements have been met.
This process continues if requirements are not met. There are 10 more days to alter the petition and its notice, followed by another 10 days for the elections official to review the corrected petition until it is deemed there are no more alterations.
No signatures can be collected until the community organizers are told their petition meets these requirements.
The petitions must have the signature, name, address and the name of city or unincorporated community of each signer and a blank one inch wide space in between each name along with a one inch margin on the top and bottom of the petition, according to Article 3, 11043.
According to Article 3, 11044-11047, separate petitions are needed for each board member, only voters in the region of the office are qualified to sign, each section of the petition must have a signed declaration attached and if circulated in more than one county, it must only be signed by people in the county it is being circulated in.
That last provision may not matter because both La Puente and Hacienda Heights are in Los Angeles County, but if that is to be interpreted that only residents from one area may sign petitions for their area, it may mean voters in La Puente are not to sign the same version offered to voters in Hacienda Heights.
Further complicating things are the boundaries of La Puente, Hacienda Heights and City of Industry. There may be some voters from these communities that do not fall under the jurisdiction of HLPUSD— which would make their signatures invalid.
There are 11 states that do not allow recalls. Of the 39 states that do, 12 require legal or political grounds for the petition. Although California allows all elected officials to be recalled without grounds, there are limits to this power.
The proceeding cannot happen if the board members have not held their term for 90 days, have it determined that the election will go in their favor or have their term of office ending within six months or less from the date of recall, according to the Elections Code, Article 1, 11007.
Of these parameters, all board members have held their term for over 90 days, and the next election is a year out. However, it is unknown if it will be determined that the elections will go in the board members’ favor, as Joseph Chang has been on the board for over 25 years and has outlasted a censuring and an investigation by the district attorney.
Of the 55,000 voters in the region, 15 percent of them need to sign within a 160-day window for a total of around 8,250 signatures.
Due to numerous issues with signature gathering and validation, the community organizers will likely shoot for 12,000 signatures in order to ensure it hits the ballot.
As written on the petition, there must be individuals on the ballot to potentially replace the individual being recalled. These individuals must submit standard nomination papers and declare their candidacy at a minimum of 75 days before the recall election date.
It has been speculated that certain community organizers themselves will be running to fill the seats, should the recall be successful.
But Why, Though?
There has been a recent push by the district and its public relations firm, the Lee Andrews Group, to discuss the potential impacts and proposals for a brand new K-8 school where Wedgeworth Elementary current resides.
To build this new school, they want to use the property that is currently occupied by the school to make a two-story school where the K-12 is currently. They were also considering selling land adjacent to the school, known as the Hacienda Heights Highlander Sports Complex, to a developer for residential housing units. This sale would help pay for the new school, which has not been budgeted out at the time of this article.
Losing the fields would mean the relocation or removal of the Hacienda Heights Little League, as they play at those fields and have for decades.
The concerns of losing the fields, the lack of information about funding and the move to build a new school while other district schools are in need of repairs have left several residents divided into camps.
The handling of this new project, the new bond money and Chang’s past history have all led to a recall effort on Chang, which expanded to the other board members as more information was discovered. De La Torre was not implicated in this recall effort because he did not vote in favor of a new school. However, he clarified at the Sept. 26 meeting that he is not against the building of a new school, but is concerned about the cost and the project’s funding.
This has followed two contentious town hall meetings on the Wedgeworth project, a resident-organized town hall calling for change, a presentation about the potential use of the La Subida school site property and a previous HLPUSD board meeting where one resident asked for their resignation, and another asked if there would be charter schools in the district.
Each board member present said there would be no charter in the upcoming project and reaffirmed their commitment to public education.
For the Sept. 26 board meeting, Wedgeworth parents fired back at district residents with reasons that they need a new school, while district residents continued to ask why the district would spend so much on one school instead of across the district.
Voices were raised, and posters were shown, but the tension remains between the two parties and the individuals who align themselves with both sides.
This led the board members to respond to the passionate comments made by both sides, but no board member directly addressed being served with the notice of recall.
Kwok spoke of the school’s educational mission and that his position has not changed about supporting the little league.
“There have been a lot of things, unfortunately, that have been said that upset people,” Kwok said. “That’s a statement of fact, and it has crossed the line.”
Medrano also addressed the heated discussion in public comments and called them historical tensions.
“You grow up here, on the Hacienda Heights side, I’ll be frank—I’ve heard staff make comments about, ‘you’re lucky to go to school on this side of the district,’” Medrano said. “You don’t think much about it, because it just passes through you because you’re a kid.”
He then clarified that he is not saying it is going on now and added that there are great programs in the district.
“People have been incredibly emotional about everything that’s been going on,” he added. “I think it’s for good cause.”
At the Sept. 12 meeting, residents brought up transparency concerns and issues with the lack of resources for students with disabilities.
“I do also ask for an agenda and a list of participants on both the Wedgeworth community meetings,” Christine Salazar said. “I do hope that all five of you will be attending those two meetings.”
In actuality, only De La Torre attended both in full, while Kwok said after the Sept. 26 board meeting that he missed a large portion of one of the Wedgeworth meetings by speaking with a parent outside the meeting.
Two parents with children that need better resources from the district then spoke.
Kwok and De La Torre both have family with disabilities and addressed some of those comments in their comments.
Still, residents did not feel their concerns were addressed after this meeting. The residents that brought up the accessibility concerns would later join with the residents asking for transparency at the Sept. 26 meeting after having spoke and met at the Sept. 12 board meeting.
As new information is made available, this article will be updated.