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Huntington to End Fight on Initiative

A ballot proposal to change the way council members are elected will be decided in March.

August 07, 2003|Stanley Allison | Times Staff Writer

Huntington Beach officials have decided not to mount further challenges to an initiative scheduled for the March ballot that would change the way City Council members are elected.

If voters approve the initiative, council members will be elected by district instead of at-large, which proponents say will make them more accountable and reduce the cost of running for office.

The initiative also calls for decreasing the number of council members from seven to five.

The City Council, meeting in closed session Monday, voted not to appeal a recent Superior Court decision in favor of proponents of the initiative. Because the vote came in closed session, details on the discussion preceding the vote were not revealed.

The city, however, tried to remove the initiative from the ballot because officials said it violated a single-subject rule, was an unconstitutional revision of the City Charter and contained false and misleading statements.

The court disagreed, and the initiative will now be placed on the March 5 state primary ballot.

Scott Baugh, author of the initiative, said the next step is to file a motion to have the city pay his attorney fees.

"There is a provision that says when the City Council pursues an action like this against the public interest and loses, they have to pay the prevailing party's attorney's fees," he said.

Baugh led an effort to get the initiative on the ballot by gathering 22,000 signatures on a petition in June 2002 in time for the November 2002 ballot.

He said the current system, in which seven members are elected at-large, has favored coastal and environmental issues at the expense of inland concerns.

With at-large elections, Baugh said, "you inevitably wind up with a council dominated by special interests." Further, he said, the council is not geographically diverse. "There are parts of the city that have had only one representative in 20 years."

He added that district council members will be better advocates for their district while working in the best interests of the city.

"It's no different than the county Board of Supervisors or state legislators. Every one has a duty to the [county or] state as a whole," Baugh said.

Mayor Connie Boardman disputed Baugh's assertions, saying that with districts, council members "think what's best for my own area. You don't think what's best for the whole city."

In fact, she said, under Baugh's plan, residents would have only one person to turn to with a problem in their district.

An alternative to the current system and to Baugh's initiative has been suggested by Ralph Bauer, a former councilman and leader of a group opposed to the Baugh initiative called Citizens Against Power Politics.

Many people who signed the petition believe that the at-large system has left some areas of the city underrepresented, Bauer said. He proposes keeping seven council members, who would each represent a district but be elected at-large.

"There's an undercurrent of anti-government feeling in general," Bauer said, and the 22,000 people who signed the petition might have felt that the district system would fix things.

"I'm saying it won't fix it, but I'll give you a better alternative," Bauer said.

He said he will discuss his proposal with the leaders of the organization, and if they agree, he will make the recommendation to the council, which could put the measure on the March ballot without having to go through the initiative process.

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