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Sharon Fujier was exiting G&G Market in Santa Rosa Thursday when a woman approached her and asked if she was a registered voter.

The 76-year-old retired school teacher said she was. The woman then said something that gave Fujier the impression she was circulating a petition to help renters.

Fujier signed the petition without giving it a close look. Now, it’s evident that she is one of numerous residents who say they have mistakenly signed a petition in recent days to overturn rent control, thinking they were putting down their name in support of it.

“Being in a hurry, I signed,” Fujier said Friday. “I’m usually more careful than that.”

The woman circulating the petition claimed the rent control law passed by Santa Rosa last month and due to go into effect Sept. 30 “needed revision” and therefore should be placed on the ballot, Fujier said.

In fact, the petition calls on the City Council to repeal the law entirely, or send the matter to a vote of the people, which if successful would also result in the law being overturned, not revised. When Fujier read in Friday’s edition of The Press Democrat that the petition was to block rent control, she thought to herself, “Oh my. I wish I could undo that.”

It turns out, she and others like her can.

Santa Rosa residents who signed such a petition in error — either because they misunderstood it or were misled — have a few options, according to elections officials.

They can get their names removed from the petition if they act quickly, said Daisy Gomez, Santa Rosa city clerk.

To remove one’s name from such a petition, a person must bring or send a letter to the City Clerk’s Office before the petition forms are submitted, Gomez said. The letter must request removal from the petition, and contain the person’s name, address where they are registered to vote, and an original signature, Gomez said.

Because of the requirement for original signatures, emails and photocopies are not accepted, she said.

The signature is needed because elections officials will compare it to the signature on file with the Registrar of Voters Office to confirm their identify, she said.

City officials heard from numerous people Friday after publication of the Press Democrat story.

A number of people appear to have been confused about what the petition was really for, Gomez said.

“There’s a lot of calls coming in,” Gomez said. “Some people really didn’t know what they were signing was a referendum to repeal an ordinance.”

In at least one instance, a petition gatherer claimed rent control had not yet been approved, said Diana Wilson. The Windsor resident said she was fairly certain Santa Rosa had passed rent control already, and was confused when the petition gatherer said it needed a vote of the people to take effect, she said.

“This guy boldfaced lied to me,” she said.

She said it felt like a “double-whammy” because she told him she lived in Windsor, and he encouraged her to sign the Santa Rosa petition anyway.

Even though she isn’t a registered voter in Santa Rosa, Wilson’s signature won’t be removed from the petition unless the error is discovered by elections officials during their verification process. She said she intends to contact the clerk’s office to have it removed from the forms.

Petition gatherers have until Sept. 29 to file their petitions, but can file earlier, which means the clock is running for those who wish to file paperwork to have their names removed.

In addition, if people feel they have been misled by a petition, they can file a complaint with the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office or the Secretary of State’s Office.

It is a crime to make a false statement in an effort to get someone to sign a petition, Gomez said.

Anyone who “intentionally misrepresents or intentionally makes any false statement” while circulating a petition is guilty of a misdemeanor, according to the state election code. The California Apartment Association, which on Sept. 1 began the process of establishing an independent expenditure committee in the city, has declined to answer questions about the petition drive. The group, which represents the interests of landlords statewide, conducted a similar effort last year in Richmond against rent control.

There are reports of people going door-to-door as part of the petition drive, as well as a voter registration drive being conducted in conjunction with the effort. A man who gave his name to county officials as Robert Blaska picked up 300 voter registration cards from the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters Office Friday, said Elizabeth Acosta, chief deputy Registrar of Voters. The man said he was with an organization called American Voter Drive.

County staff asked Blaska how he intended to register new voters, and he said he planned to do so in front of supermarkets as part of a rent control petition, Acosta said.

When contacted by The Press Democrat, Blaska claimed he had no idea who was behind the petition drive. After he was asked a follow-up question about who was paying him to register new voters, Blaska hung up. He declined to answer questions in a subsequent telephone call. A search of news stories turned up a Robert Blaska who was contacted by police in Kirkland, Washington in May 2015 about gathering signatures in front of a Trader Joe’s store.

According to an account of the incident on the website Permanent Defense, a Northwest liberal activist group, a police report indicates Blaska “refused to move his petition table from obscuring the exit and wheelchair ramp.” Officers also reported receiving “complaints of him cursing at patrons.”

Asked about the reports in another telephone call, Blaska said the account was inaccurate, denied he was involved and hung up.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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