YOKOSUKA, Japan — A second try at putting citizen acceptance of the USS George Washington to a vote of the people resoundingly failed Friday.

The Yokosuka City Council voted down putting the referendum to a vote 33 to 8 — garnering two more opposition votes than a similar referendum measure did in February 2007.

A citizens’ group collected more than 40,000 signatures calling for a referendum to get residents’ input on whether they approve or disapprove of the deployment of the George Washington, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier slated to replace the conventionally powered USS Kitty Hawk in Yokosuka this August.

The group also called for votes on whether the city has given enough explanation on the nuclear carrier’s deployment.

The group’s leader called Friday’s outcome "extremely regrettable."

Yokosuka city mayor Ryoichi Kabaya maintained his position that the issue had no place in local government.

"Overall residents’ voices have become clear" as the council — the citizens’ representatives — voted against the referendum twice, he said.

However, the council voted unanimously to submit a letter asking the national government to ensure the safety of the nuclear carrier, develop effective crime prevention measures, and revise the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement.

The group leaders said the letter is a step forward and that the council could not ignore the concerns of the 40,000 residents who wanted a referendum. They said they will continue with their efforts.

Commander U.S. Naval Japan Forces spokesman Cmdr. David Waterman refrained from commenting on the decision, saying the vote was an issue between Yokosuka and its citizens.

Stars and Stripes reporter Allison Batdorff contributed to this story.

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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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