Privatization back on track after
referendum fails to get enough signatures
By Cheryl Miller
Record Staff Writer
Published Thursday, April 24, 2003
Opponents of a $600 million contract giving a private company operating control of
Stockton'swater utilities failed to gather enough valid signatures to force a referendum
on the issue, San Joaquin County's registrar of voters said Wednesday.
Concerned Citizens Coalition of Stockton turned in 9,261 valid names of registered
Stocktonvoters but needed 10,540 to qualify the referendum, Registrar Deborah Hench said.
Privatization opponents collected 11,779 signatures. But 909 of those were disqualified
because the signatories were not registered to vote, according to the registrar's office.
Elections workers tossed out another 616 names because those who signed were registered at
a different address
from the one they listed on the petition. An additional 455 names weren't counted because
they did not live in city limits.
OMI Inc. and Thames Water, the two companies contracted to run the water, stormwater and
sewage-treatment utilities, financed an anti-referendum campaign urging Stockton residents
to rescind their petition signatures. That effort appears to have had little effect on the
referendum's failure, however.
Of the 4,000 recision requests submitted to elections officials, just 177 were valid.
"It's not over yet," said Sylvia Kothe, chairwoman of Concerned Citizens, a
group that included residents against privatization, labor unions and a consumer-advocacy
Kothe said Concerned Citizens leaders would wait to receive the official referendum notice
from the elections department before deciding what to do. The group might challenge some
of the disqualified signatures, she said.
Susan Mays, spokeswoman for OMI, said the results of the referendum count "mean that
we can get back to focusing all our attention on the transition" between city and
The 20-year contract with OMI-Thames established a three-month time line that would give
the companies operating control this summer. Assistant City Manager Gary Ingraham declined
to say Wednesday whether the referendum issue had slowed the transition, adding only that
the city and OMI-Thames have held several planning sessions.
Mays called the referendum supporters' apparent defeat a "milestone" and said
that if an election had been called, "we were not going to be in a position to
OMI-Thames still faces two major obstacles in its quest to run the water utilities.
The city still is negotiating with its utilities' labor unions over a severance package.
And, several groups have sued the city, claiming that officials have not conducted the
appropriate environmental studies of OMI-Thames' plans to upgrade Stockton's
"I don't know what impact that would have on the start of the contract," Mays
* To reach reporter Cheryl Miller, phone 546-8252 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org