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San Fernando's Ridiculous Lease Law : Ordinance requiring vote on renting out city property should be repealed

October 23, 1994

The building at 120 MacNeil St. in the city of San Fernando has no special historical significance. It is not an engineering marvel. It does not rest upon a slice of real estate that is especially valuable, and it's safe to say that it will never make the cover of Architectural Digest. Ah, but in the annals of American politics in general, and California balloting in particular, it may be unique.

Where else but at this not-so-hallowed address do voters have to waste precious tax dollars every time the city government and its elected officials want to lease the space?

You heard that right. There are 2.4 square miles in this naked city, and this is the only address with its own ordinance decreeing that any lease or rental agreement or sale has to first be approved directly by the voters. So said Proposition L, first supported by enough of the city's 5,920 voters to become law back in 1986 and narrowly upheld in a challenge in 1990.

At the time of its enactment, it was (of course) supported by a member of the City Council who has since been defeated at the polls. That former member, Carmillas M. Noltemeyer, said it was necessary to mitigate "the poor decisions of the San Fernando City Council" involving the old police station at 120 MacNeil.

Well, that makes a lot of sense. If the city government and its elected officials can't be trusted with one piece of real estate, how can they be trusted with any of it? And the political process of one person-one vote was designed to keep the elected officials in line, not to have 5,920 landlords for one measly building.

The silliness doesn't stop there. As dictated by the ordinance, the voters in November must pass judgment on whether two-thirds of the building should be leased to the Los Angeles city attorney's office for $6,300 a month. Well, the city attorney's office is already there , on an emergency basis, because of the Northridge quake, but it is only paying the city of San Fernando $1,300 a month. This is going to add $5,000 a month to the city coffers. Not a bad deal for a local government and a City Council that can't be trusted.

Moreover, these little ballot measures on that single piece of real estate could cost city taxpayers as much as $13,000 to $15,000. In a city where damage from the quake ($9 million) amounts to more than one-fourth of its budget this year (about $35 million), the cost of this ordinance is ridiculous. We suggest that it is the ordinance, not the lease arrangement, that ought to be put to another vote and given the old heave-ho as soon as possible.

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