Signature gatherers for San Francisco's pension measure accused of lies

An undercover video depicting signature gatherers making false statements about a ballot measure is the latest controversy in the battle over pension reform in San Francisco.

A YouTube video shows four signature gatherers for Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s pension reform measure telling the undercover cellphone videographer in the parking lot of the Market Street Safeway that not supporting the measure might result in nighttime parking meters so The City can raise funds in other ways.

Nathan Ballard, a political consultant for a group of labor unions supporting a city-sponsored dueling pension reform measure, said Adachi should “start over” on gathering the 72,640 signatures because the video represents “sleazy campaign tactics.”

Adachi argued the gatherers don’t represent the 300 people working on the petition, and he has little involvement in that part of the campaign.

“There are two possibilities,” Ballard said. “Either Jeff Adachi told them to lie, or No. 2, he is exercising such poor control over his own campaign he is allowing dishonesty to flourish.”

Adachi said the important legal factor in signature gathering is what the petition says, not the gatherer. He said signature gatherers have been harassed in the buildup to the submission deadline, but he didn’t provide details.

On June 28, two petition gatherers were arrested and cited for allegedly trespassing after they were detained by security in the Stonestown mall shopping center.

Joseph Lapham, one of the suspects arrested, told the Police Commission on June 29 that he felt his First Amendment rights were violated after police told him he couldn’t ask people for signatures in front of a Trader Joe’s grocery store. Lt. Troy Dangerfield said police received complaints that Lapham, 34, and fellow signature gatherer Willie Wright, 33, were blocking the entrance to the store. Police Chief Greg Suhr responded to Lapham’s comment at the meeting by saying he wanted to make sure police understand the latest U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the First Amendment and that signature gatherers have a right to conduct their work.

PCI Consultants Inc. President Angelo Paparella, whose company was hired by Adachi to manage workers and conduct the gathering, said controversy is common with local issues. He said the gatherers depicted in the video were merely “tongue-tied” when presented with questions by the videographer, who is a member of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21.

Ballard said the union member was acting on tips that the signature gatherers were presenting measures in a misleading way, and the unions are now considering legal action.

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com

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