“I do not by any means believe the initiative, the referendum, and the recall are the panacea for all our political ills, yet they do give to the electorate the power of action when desired, and they do place in the hands of the people the means by which they may protect themselves.” Gov. Hiram Johnson, Inaugural Address, Jan. 3, 1911
With the above words, Governor Johnson ushered in a new era of government for California placing the balance of power back in the hands of the people. Prior to the induction of the initiative process, California politics was considered corrupt and run by special interest and lobbyist, in particular with the Southern Pacific Railroad that was referred to as “the Octopus” because they had their hands, seemingly, into everything from politics to the media by which they controlled the state.
Beginning in September, 2006, community groups in Chula Vista had two initiatives drawn up, published, and gathered the required number of signatures for the next election.
One initiative was to change the position of the city attorney from an appointed position to an elected position. The second initiative was to put the maximum height limit on the Third Ave. corridor of Downtown Chula Vista at 45 feet and that any project over 84 feet would need voter approval, with exceptions like the bay front. Over 20,000 citizens signed the initiatives. It was up to the city council to either put them on the ballot or adapt them as law.
What the City of Chula Vista decided to do instead was to circumvent the balloting process and challenge the fact that the initiatives were published in La Prensa San Diego. If the city’s challenge is legitimized in court, the mayor and council can freely decide to disregard the opinions of 20,000 registered voters.
So what happened and why might the signatures of 20,000 registered voters be thrown out?
Here the process gets technical even for an election law. For all intents and purposes, the citizens of Chula Vista believed they had correctly followed the process for placing an initiative on the next ballot and are now facing the very real possibility that all their good work was for naught.
The point of law that the city is arguing is technical but we will try to get through it as painlessly as possible.
The city clerk for Chula Vista contended that the filing of the petitions were insufficient, citing Election Code 9114. Election Code 9114 refers to signature gathering and verification of said signatures in order to meet the minimum requirements. The city clerk stipulated that the petition was insufficient due to the fact that they were not filed in an adjudicated newspaper of general circulation within the City of Chula Vista as stated in Election Code 9205(a). With us so far?
Election Code 9205(a) describes a “newspaper of general circulation” as a newspaper published for the dissemination of local or telegraphic news and intelligence of a general character, which has a bona fide subscription list of paying subscribers, and has been established, printed and published at regular intervals in the state, county, OR (emphasis added) city where publication, notice by publication, or official advertising is to be given or made for at least one year preceding the date of the publication, notice or advertisement.
The City Council is prepared to argue that La Prensa San Diego does not meet the above requirements despite the fact that La Prensa has been publishing in the County of San Diego with circulation in the City of Chula Vista for the past 31 years, every week without missing a publication date.
It should be noted that no where, in any of the election code cited by the city, does it state anything about adjudication. La Prensa San Diego is adjudicated for the County and Judicial District of San Diego. The finer points of the petition meeting the requirements set forth will now be argued by lawyers.
The bottom line is that the citizens of Chula Vista believed that they were following the process and were led to believe that in fact they had complied with the law. The city clerk accepted the notice of publication and authorized the citizens the authority to gather the signatures. If there was a problem with the public noticing of the initiatives, then it was incumbent upon the city clerk to inform the community groups back in October 2006, eight months ago, when the initiatives were first filed and accepted. The political process is supposed to work for the people not against them.
Some politicians at city hall, with their last-minute actions to derail the initiative process, have given the community of Chula Vista further credence to their sense of undue influence by special interest groups. In a sense, those politicians have taken the electoral power of action out of the hands of the people and put it back into the hands of the special interest.
We find this disconcerting to say the least. When these members of the city council go before the voters asking for their vote to become their elected representatives, each and every one of them vows to represent their best interest. It has become painfully clear that this city council has reneged on this promise.
The community groups plan to re-file the initiatives and once again restore the balance the power in government as Governor Hiram Johnson envisioned back in 1911.