Lower Sproul Initiative Overcomes Legal Dispute

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Correction Appended

More than a week after passing, the B.E.A.R.S. Initiative overcame last-minute legal challenges that could have prevented the implementation of a campus-based student fee to fund the revitalization of Lower Sproul Plaza.

Settlements were reached in two separate cases before the ASUC Judicial Council, entailing the revision of elections bylaws in order to clarify to what extent student government officials can support a ballot initiative.

Although final details of the settlement are unclear, Elections Council Chair Vinit Sukhija, Attorney General Kevin Gibson and President Will Smelko-the latter two were all named as defendants in one of the suits-will meet with the plaintiffs and Joseph Guzman, co-chair of the Lower Sproul Student Council, who was named as a defendant in the other suit, to form a task force that will submit a bill to the ASUC Senate addressing the defendants' concerns, Sukhija said.

Senior Regina Lutz, representing the group Students Concerned About Unfair Elections (SCAUE), alleged that student government officials violated elections bylaws by collectively working for the initiative's passage and allowing ASUC resources to be utilized to publicize that position.

The bylaws state that the "ASUC Senate, Student Groups, or any other organization affiliated with the ASUC shall not endorse, fund, or otherwise take action positively or negatively on campaigns for propositions in ASUC elections."

The second suit, filed by sophomore Andy Nevis, alleged the initiative had been improperly placed on the ballot after a March 12 filing deadline. He said in the suit that the Lower Sproul Student Council acted in support of the initiative while also claiming its website as an unbiased resource for students.

In the suit, Nevis said a banner hung from Eshleman Hall, as well as other evidence, indicated the initiative had been "sponsored" by the ASUC.

The bylaws prohibit any "person, party, candidate, proponent or opponent of a proposition" from using "ASUC authority, facilities, funds, or resources, including Eshleman Hall, for campaign purposes."

"When these things come up, you don't want to go through the hearing process," Sukhija said. "They were concerned about procedural issues but were not opposed to the project itself. We don't know what changes will be made yet, but we will go through the bylaws they specified and see if any changes can be made."

Nevis said he was more concerned about ensuring bylaws were enforced than overturning the initiative itself.

"The best change we could get was ... (to) clarify how the ASUC authority and endorsements can be used in election activities," he said.

Gibson said he was confident the defense would have been sufficient if no settlement had been reached.

"The bylaws as they stand could always be made clearer and more responsive to students," Gibson said.


Correction: Friday, October 1, 2010
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Elections Council Chair Vinit Sukhija was a defendant in one of the suits. In fact, he was not a defendant.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Contact Allie Bidwell at [email protected]

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