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Monday, October 20, 2008

Heystek, Souza, and Adler's Statements in Support of Measure N

On August 24, 2008, Davis Councilmember Lamar Heystek wrote a Guest Commentary for the Vanguard: "The Case For Home Rule for Davis."

Yesterday, Councilmember Heystek was joined by Councilmember Stephen Souza in the Davis Enterprise for their column on Measure N.

I have been critical of both their measure and the efforts to educate the public on this issue. However, I believe the public should gain all of the facts so that they can make an informed decision. For that reason I will give a full presentation of the points that the two current councilmembers make as well as the letter to the editor by former Mayor Jerry Adler.

Councilmembers Heystek and Souza argue that home rule allows for more local control and more efficient self-government.

They write:
"General law cities are bound by the state's general law, even with respect to municipal affairs. Charter cities are not. This means that a charter city has more home rule authority than a general law city because the charter city has more authority over municipal affairs."
This is the fundamental point that proponents of home rule, proponents of charter cities make--who should make the laws that govern a city--the city or the state legislature?

They argue that cities should make the laws that govern a city, stating:
"Now, as members of the Davis City Council, we believe the people of Davis should exercise their power and assert their municipal rights more fully under Measure N, the proposed city charter, which provides home rule for Davis."
Now in principal that sounds good, but what about in practice? In other words, what do we gain by having home rule?

The obvious one is choice voting. We cannot enact choice voting without being a charter city.
"Unfortunately, the current governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has vetoed Davis-friendly legislation such as Assembly Bill 1294, a bill unanimously endorsed by the City Council, that would have allowed general law cities like ours to decide for themselves whether to adopt choice voting for council elections. Gov. Schwarzenegger's ability to veto legislation that permits general law cities to govern themselves more fully stifles the city of Davis' progressiveness and ability to be on the cutting edge."
They move beyond choice voting as well. The next one is public electrical utilities.
"Several charter cities across the state provide for public electrical utilities, which Davis residents supported when they voted overwhelmingly in favor of Measures H and I in 2006. The prospect of providing electricity through a community facilities district for solar infrastructure financing makes public power an exciting possibility under charter city status."
They argue that choice voting would allow us the ability to be innovative without interference from the state legislature.
"Examples of our innovation to date include our agricultural mitigation, inclusionary housing and green building ordinances. However, the state may decide to legislate that general law cities like Davis cannot establish such high standards, rendering our own benchmarks meaningless. Measure N would allow Davis to codify and protect these laws in the charter if necessary."
But then they come back to general:
"The issue really isn't whether you support public electrical power (or choice voting or other ideas), but whether you support the notion that Davis shouldn't have to ask the legislators in Sacramento for permission to adopt such ideas. The latter issue, not the former, is the question that Measure N poses."
Actually, isn't the issue exactly about whether we support choice voting? This charter would not be before the voters without the issue of choice voting? Jerry Adler below even argues that's why this issue needs to come forth. So isn't that exactly the point?

At this point, if you are like me, you are saying, I don't mind the positive aspects of this program, but is there not a downside? Does not the City Council amass tremendous amount of power under this proposal--and does the charter as written provide the public in Davis with safeguards against such seizures of power by the city council?

Here is their response to this criticism:
"Some argue that the true beneficiary of power under a broadly drafted Measure N is the City Council, not the people at large. After all, on a weekly basis, the City Council makes most of the decisions on behalf of the people. We understand people's skepticism about what they consider the prospect of handing more powers to a City Council they may or may not agree with. However, just as the people of Davis have shown they possess the strength to override the council, they certainly have the strength to change the balance of power on the City Council at the ballot box every two years."
This is where I am not sure they have hit the point home. Here is an example for me. We have Measure J that allows us to vote on land use changes for proposed development outside our current boundaries. That does not mean I want a city council that puts 10 measure J votes on the ballot every two years. It takes time, energy, and resources to fight that battle. So just as I want checks and balances in congress so that every time we change party control in government we don't throw out our complete law books, the same applies for the city council. I want city council to have limited power to make major changes without voter approval and this seems to weaken those current protections by enabling the council to enact things by ordinance rather than by charter amendment. Now that is correctable in the charter proposal.

Their response to that is as follows:
"In fact, nothing prevents the people of Davis, either through their elected representatives or through the power of initiative, from actually downsizing and restricting municipal powers that otherwise could be granted through a charter. An example of this is Measure N's explicit ban on binding arbitration, a labor negotiation practice that has financially crippled city agencies such as that in San Luis Obispo."
Now they are putting the onus on the voters to limit power of the council rather than putting the burden elsewhere to expand the power of council. Write the law in such a way that the people can choose what innovations we want and I am likely going to be all for it, but as written now, it is too much power to give any council, not just one that I disagree with.

They address the issue of taxation:
"Speaking of finances, don't forget that any new tax measure under the charter would still be subject to the people, per Proposition 218. Our support for the charter does not come from a desire to impose taxes that we cannot levy now, considering the existence of current untapped mechanisms. Under general law, the city of Davis already has the power to levy a utility user's tax and increase its business license tax, but it hasn't."
I do not know if that is reassuring or not to the public. I will let some of the readers

The other sponsor of Measure N is former Davis Mayor Jerry Adler.

Here are a few key excerpts from his letter to the editor:
As a former City Council member signer of the ballot argument in favor of Measure N, the charter city proposal, I am especially interested in opposing opinions. Two such opinions recently appeared on this page.

One writer proclaimed that 'Measure N was prematurely and hastily placed on the ballot,' ignoring the facts that first in 1996 and again in 2005 two governance bodies strongly recommended in favor of a broad general language charter such as now proposed 'which allows the greatest flexibility for full exercise over the municipal affairs of the city. This means the minimum amount of detail in the charter.' Both reports have been discussed extensively by the council, the press and the community since 2005.

Both writers referenced choice voting, a matter not in the charter. The second writer opined that 'it appears to be a solution in search of a problem ....' Whether 'it' referenced choice voting, Measure N, or both is not clear.
He then cites the 2006 advisory vote on Measure L which without opposition polled about 55% and the fact that choice voting cannot be enacted without a charter.
"Ignored under any interpretation was the November 2006 majority advisory vote in favor of further consideration of a choice voting system. Any such system cannot be implemented or even seriously considered unless a broad general language charter is in place that allows enactment and any necessary amendments by ordinance."
And while he is correct on this point, the question that continues to emerge for me is why not enact both the charter and choice voting with one vote. More and more I just do not see there being a strong reason not to do so. If the rationale for putting Measure N on the battle is still Measure L, then let's keep them together.

Mr. Adler continues:
"Contrary to the first writer's dark hint 'about the wide implications of becoming a charter city,' there is no down side to adoption of the proposed charter."
That is a pretty sweeping statement by the former Mayor that ignores much of the discussion that has occurred on this blog laying out large concerns.

He lays out much like Councilmembers Souza and Heystek do, the upside, but his failure to consider even the possibility that there might be a downside, I think is a bit disingenuous. Reasonable people can disagree on these proposals, but there is always a downside to making changes, and that is true whether I agree or disagree with the proposals.

Later in the week, we will have some more guest commentary on this issue, for now this should be some good fodder for discussion.

---David M. Greenwald reporting