Before the vote, Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) committed to amending the bill in the Assembly Elections Committee to address Vice Chair Marc Levine’s (D-San Rafael) concerns. The League remains opposed to the bill.
Currently the bill limits charter amendments and newly proposed charters to statewide general elections, severely restricting cities’ flexibility to address otherwise legitimate issues. The amendments discussed Wednesday are not formally in print. Conceptually the new amendments would no longer impact all charter amendments. Instead, if amended, the bill limits labor-related charter amendments to statewide general elections.
Sen. Padilla remarked that local government issues are not lost on him as he previously served as a Los Angeles City Council member and was an active member of the League of California Cities. He also stated his sensitivity to the concerns raised by opponents that cities often may need to move quickly to address budget concerns. He continued that his bill, SB 311, is not intended to interfere with those questions. Sen. Padilla has long argued that this measure is intended to address low voter turnout, though today marked a shift in his line of argument and thinking. He says that the bill is intended to address changes that impact worker protections.
The League continues to contend that SB 311 does not resolve the issue of low voter turnout. Assembly Member Melendez (R-Lake Elsinor) voted no and her remarks stressed that the low voter turnout problem can be solved when voters are engaged and interested in what is before them on a ballot regardless of which election it is.
The League’s testimony in committee on Wednesday addressed several concerns: Removing local decision making authority to determine which election is best suited to put proposed charter amendments and charter proposals before the voters may unduly delay important and needed decisions. In reality, some charter cities run elections yearly and charter amendments are often proposed to make technical changes, may be needed to avoid litigation, or may provide needed budget relief. As drafted, SB 311 would put these important changes off for two years.
The committee was also reminded that just last session, Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 1344 (Feuer; 2011) that made several changes to the law related to this very topic. AB 1344 did two significant things:
Special elections were eliminated as an option for cities to go to the voters with charter amendments and new charters; and
A very lengthy process was put into place before cities can go to the voters with a newly proposed charter, equaling to about a 10-week process, and requires at least two public hearings. One of the public hearings must be held outside of regular business hours in order to facilitate public participation in the charter adoption process.
The bottom line is that cities should be able to govern effectively and efficiently even if that means going to the voters at regularly scheduled municipal elections or statewide primaries