Category Archives: state government
Government Insiders Threaten the Initiative Process | Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association – Mozilla Firefox
(Although Rex Rabin of the Sacramento Bee may have a different opinion on the Initiative process, we tend to agree with Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Tax Institute. We are blessed with the ability to force grass-roots democracy on our government leaders. Some of those same leaders are threatening to take away this tool of self-determination – Jeff)
August 18, 2013
By Jon Coupal
Are you and your neighbors fed up with the policies of your local officials? For over one hundred years, disgruntled Californians have had the option of responding to onerous local ordinances or other government decisions by using the initiative to affect change, but a recent appellate court decision may mean the end of the voters’ right to use the initiative process at the local level.
It is no secret that politicians and bureaucrats detest the initiative process. Government insiders find it annoying that average citizens have the option to place measures on the ballot which can spoil their best laid plans.
Of course the initiative process was not established to make the political class more comfortable. It was intended to allow voters to act as the lawmakers of last resort when representatives proved to be indolent, incompetent, corrupt, or just plain unresponsive. Many Californians are aware that that the state-level initiative and referendum were adopted in 1911, but initiative rights at the county level date back to 1893. Unfortunately, this local option may be about to end if an appellate court decision, that allows the Mission Springs Water District (MSWD) to reject placing a qualified initiative on the ballot, is upheld by the California Supreme Court.
When Mission Springs water users reacted to a 40% rate increase by collecting signatures to qualify an initiative that would roll back the increase, while allowing annual adjustments for inflation, the MSWD was required by statute to place the initiative on the next regularly scheduled election ballot. However, the District withheld the initiative from the ballot and instead sued the initiative proponents for declaratory relief. It alleged that, without the 40% increase, it would be unable to pay its bills (a claim that initiative sponsors who are all current or former elected officials, say is bogus).
On behalf of initiative sponsors, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association attorneys filed a motion, seeking to dismiss the case as a meritless “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation” (SLAP) == these suits are used by government agencies to intimidate and harass citizens who actively oppose their actions.
Taxpayer attorneys argued that local agencies, when presented with a duly qualified initiative, do not have the option of withholding it from the voters and filing a years-long action for declaratory relief. Rather, they are required by statute to place the initiative on the ballot and let the voters approve or reject it while the issue is timely. If the voters reject the initiative, it is then unnecessary for either side to incur the expense of litigation. If the voters approve it, there is still ample opportunity for the agency to seek judicial review.
The court denied the motion and said where a local agency contends that an initiative is invalid, it may withhold the initiative from the ballot and sue the proponents for declaratory relief, even though such cases take years to decide. This means the government may now simply withhold an initiative from the ballot for any reason, and file an action for declaratory relief against the proponents. Then, whether the government wins the case or loses, it wins — because it has succeeded in keeping the initiative off the ballot.
While Mission Springs involved an initiative to roll back a rate increase, many other initiative types will be affected by this decision. Proposed land use changes, term limits, changes to public employee benefits, government transparency, and many other initiative proposals have met opposition from elected officials. That is why the people, in their constitution, reserved the power of initiative — so that they could pass needed laws that their elected officials were unwilling to enact. But if elected officials can prevent such initiatives from ever seeing the light of day, and if the initiative backers are rewarded for their time and sacrifice by getting dragged into court for years, then the right of initiative may as well not exist, for no sane person would exercise it. For a meaningful right of initiative to continue to exist in California, it is imperative that the Mission Springs decision be reversed.
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is petitioning the California Supreme Court for review. We are counting on the justices to agree that the people’s right to the initiative should not be arbitrarily denied by local officials who believe they may be inconvenienced by the passage of a properly qualified measure.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.
I hope everyone enjoyed National Night Out at the District in Tustin. The annual event is put on by public safety around the country. Many cities in The Real OC, including Tustin, enjoyed a different view of the police and fire departments that serve our community. We are fortunate to have one of the finest of each to protect and serve.
Since there were no official meetings at the city level this week, we thought we would discuss an issue of pressing concern at the county level, where it is getting to be a regular thing that the Orange County Board of Supervisors have trouble admitting fault.
The Republic machine that runs most of Orange County just doesn’t seem to get it. It seems every time local government gets into trouble, they don’t want to admit they had any part in it. From the multitude of sexual harassment suits to the CalOptima debacle, the Orange County Supervisors always seem to find a way to blame others for their stupidity. When Carlos Bustamante was finally outed for his, shall we say, interesting management techniques, the public discovered what the rank-and-file employees of Orange County government knew all along. Yet, the OC Supervisors played the blame game and wound up using Tom Mauck as cannon fodder.
The Board of Supervisors continued to blame others for their poor oversight when the Grand Jury issued a couple of reports questioning their ethics and management of CalOptima, even when faced with the facts. John Moorlach, who refuses to lead by example, complained when the Grand Jury did its job. And, Todd Spitzer, in a holding pattern for Tony Rackauckus’ job (and, consequently, the Jury’s potential boss), was indignant that anyone, let alone the Grand Jury, could find fault with the BoS.
Through all of the bad publicity the Board of Supervisors has undergone lately, one important issue seems to have fallen out of the public’s eye. It wouldn’t be that big of a deal except it is worth $76.5 million dollars. That’s the amount of money the state will withhold from Orange County in property tax unless they can come to some sort of agreement.
And, as usual, the Board of Supervisors wants to lay the blame on someone else. The only trouble is, they couldn’t. So, they went into denial mode.
Back in May, the Voice of Orange County outlined the problems the county ran into when they refinanced bankruptcy debt. At the time, Orange County still received vehicle license fee money from the state to help with the remaining debt. In 2005, however, supervisors sought a reduction in costs and, in so doing, they inadvertently eliminated their access to the VLF. Actually, that’s not quite true. Many sources claim the county was aware of the faux pas but chose to ignore it, hoping no one else would notice.
That worked until this year when the folks working on Governor Brown’s budget caught up with the money and took it back. That resulted in a court case that everyone except the Supervisors knew the county would lose.
After ignoring the problem and keeping the money, then losing in court, the Board of Supervisors, now faced with the facts, is finally ready to make a deal with the state. Only trouble is, the state may not be willing to deal. And, of course, the supes have said that, if no agreement can be reached, others will pay for their mistake.
“Bridging the $76.5 million reduction would require a combination of labor reduction, revenue assumptions and non-labor cuts (e.g., services & supplies, equipment, capital projects, etc.),” reads a memo being distributed by county Chief Financial Officer Frank Kim.
County labor leaders have already sent out mass notices warning workers about potential cuts and where the pain might be felt.
During a meeting with the OCEA Bargaining Team, Kim offered three scenarios to OCEA members. One was that the County would lose the $76.5 million in VLF. The second scenario would have them lose the VLF but convert a special property tax set aside that Senator Lou Correa secured in 2009, into an ongoing replacement fund. The third scenario was just as dire: The county keeps the VLF but loses the property tax set aside.
Of course Kim, who also appears to be in denial, didn’t mention the likelihood of the state thumbing their nose at the county and keeping everything.
In a missive to employees, Berardino laid out the BoS strategy to lay the responsibility of getting out of the mess by taking it out on labor.
OCEA General Manager, Nick Berardino, is not taking it lying down. Berardino, who appears to be the only one who saw the potential for failure during this episode of the BoS drama, told the Supervisors that it would be unfair to continue to place the burden of resolution on the backs of the rank-and-file employees of the county.
The County predicts they could bridge the revenue loss with labor reductions, revenue assumptions and other non-labor cuts, however any specific and direct impacts are not currently known. We told the County again, as we’ve said many times before, working families did not create the bankruptcy and the fallout from the bankruptcy must not fall on the backs of working men and women!!
Berardino further points out that the blame lies squarely with the Board of Supervisors who, even though they were aware of the cuts, directed then Auditor-Controller David Sundstrom (who has since left for cooler skies to the north) to act as if nothing had happened. Talk about denial.
There may be light at the end of the tunnel. The $50 million dollar deal Senator Correa cut for Orange County in 2009 has now become a key bargaining chip in the game.
“What we thought should have been a step toward a bit of gravy is now just a struggle to get back to where we were,” Correa said. “Without that $50 million, we’d be nowhere. There would be nothing to negotiate.”
The deal Correa is attempting to work out, however, will only return the county to the original status quo and will still leave the county with budget cuts to deal with, some permanently. And, while the county said they are not looking at layoffs to bridge the funding gap, Nick Berardino is not likely to take them at their word.
Neither are Department Heads, some of whom are scrambling to meet with their employees to reassure them -or warn them- of budget issues. Most departments have cut to the bone as it is and, while employees have been able to maintain services, that is not likely to last should layoff occur.
So, while the Board of Supervisors fiddle, it is the public that could get burned if a deal can’t be reached. Senator Correa, who has come to the aid of the county many times before, describes the negotiations with the state as a “painful process”. We agree. Good luck, Lou.
In a blow for freedom, the California Supreme Court ruled that Orange County’s exemption from public records law is illegal.
The case stems from a request to Orange County by the Sierra Club for access to their computerized satellite mapping system. The system, which cost millions of dollars in taxpayer funds, was originally offered to the Sierra Club for a third of a million dollars. The Club refused, saying that the database is a public record and, therefore the county should follow the California Public Records law in making it available at cost.
Lower courts aligned with the county and ruled against the Sierra Club who then took the issue to the California Supreme Court. In ruling for the Sierra Club, the court said Orange County must provide access to the system at the actual cost of duplication.
We hold that although GIS mapping software falls within the ambit of this statutory exclusion, a GIS-formatted database likethe OC Landbase does not. Accordingly, such databases are public records that, unless otherwise exempt, must be produced upon request at the actual cost of duplication.
While this ruling specifically addresses a single public record it should, by inference, affect access to all public records in the state. That is good news for the media in general.
In a public records case last year, the city of Anaheim resisted a request for archived emails from city records. When pressed by the Voice of OC, the city then attempted to extract a $19,000 fee for reconstructing the records which had been deleted. Voice of OC and Californians Aware threatened a lawsuit in that case. The emails were allegedly destroyed in response to the Voice of OC’s request.
The City of Tustin has been particularly generous in granting access to public records. In one case where the number of records requested by Our Town Tustin resulted in several binders of information, we were given access in the City Clerk’s foyer rather than insist on charging for duplication. So, while this ruling may not do much for us directly, it will certainly insure the doors remain open for future access.