The effort to remove Solvang City Councilman Chris Djernaes from office has advanced to the next phase with organizers aiming to collect hundreds of signatures to qualify for an upcoming recall election.

Chris Djernaes

Solvang City Councilman Chris Djernaes has dismissed the recall drive against him as based on “specious accusations.” (Janene Scully / Noozhawk file photo)

On July 4, supporters of the recall campaign gathered at the Veterans Memorial Building to begin collecting signatures and hand out petitions for others to circulate.

Organizers said they need signatures of 920 registered voters who live within Solvang city limits.

They plan to collect more than twice as many, or up to 2,000, to ensure they meet the goal.

“People want to make a statement,” recall organizer Lammy Johnstone told Noozhawk. “And the turnout has been incredible.”

During a brief stint in front of the Solvang post office on Tuesday morning, organizers collected 28 signatures, she said. A steady stream of signers stopped by to add their names Wednesday.

Many recall elections fail to make the ballot because supporters do not get enough signatures of registered voters.

In fact, the first step of the Djernaes recall effort hit a stumbling block when the original petitions included four signatures that Santa Barbara County elections officials deemed invalid.

Johnstone said recall organizers quickly resolved the problem.

“Rather than giving them four new names, we just gave them 10 new names,” she said.

Only signatures of those who live within the city limits and vote in Solvang city elections can count toward the goal.

The official recall notice alleges that Djernaes’ actions and statements have shown “a blatant disregard for the Ralph M. Brown (Open Meetings) Act and the council’s protocols regarding simple rules of common courtesy.”

“Djernaes’ failures to be respectful and civil include, but are not limited to, his obvious disdain of constituents; mockery of speakers at City Council meetings; blatant disregard for the wishes of the voters; disrespectful remarks directed toward both current and former City Council members; frequent defamation of organizations and individuals; and bullying and harassment of a number employees of the City of Solvang both inside and outside of City Council meetings,” the notice of recall states.

During public meetings, Djernaes, who was elected in 2018, frequently derides former council members and previous city managers and city staff, despite a nondisparagement clause in at least one contract, potentially leaving Solvang at risk of litigation over the matter.

A large development proposing major changes for the Veterans Memorial Building, at 1745 Mission Drive, mobilized residents in various ways, including the recall effort.

Djernaes did not respond to Noozhawk’s request for comments, but his answer is included on the recall petition.

“I reject the specious accusations made against me,” according to his statement on the petition. “If they were legitimate complaints, the council or city attorney would have acted on them.”

It’s not clear what he means since neither the council nor city attorney can remove a council member from office.

However, Djernaes was chastised for attempting to find out who filed a Brown Act complaint with the District Attorney’s Office, with prosecutors warning against retaliation.

“The recaller’s notorious political machine has relentlessly attacked my professional reputation, my livelihood and my associates,” Djernaes said. “They shamelessly intimidate anyone that opposes them simply for the sake of power.”

Djernaes has claimed that his actions on the council have led to the city doing more for less. However, recall supporters have noted the rising bill for City Attorney Chip Wullbrandt, whose $500,000 partial tally for the year has far exceeded the previous city attorney’s annual salary.

“Let’s recall the ‘Recallers’ and build a new inclusive, stronger, healthier and happier community,” Djernaes added. “I will not resign.”

Recall organizers still hope to qualify their initiative for the Nov. 3 ballot to avoid a more costly special election.

Retired Santa Barbara County Sheriff Jim Thomas has vowed to run as a candidate to replace Djernaes if the recall succeeds.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.