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Rushed to the ballot

The City Council is serving the city and its voters poorly with its regular election-week ballot rush.

November 01, 2010

In the last few days before Tuesday's election — when Californians will, among other things, pick their next governor and other statewide officials, cast ballots in a key race for U.S. Senate, sift through nine important and complex measures and send representatives to Congress, the Legislature and the tax board — the Los Angeles City Council is trying to cram measures onto the ballot that will begin arriving in mailboxes in about three months.

The March 8 city election won't, blessedly, include all 15 measures that council members marched through meetings in the last week to meet their Nov. 3 deadline. But that's small comfort. The council is serving the city and its voters poorly with its regular election-week ballot rush.

Even proposals that have been the subject of citywide discussion for months, such as Council President Eric Garcetti's proposed changes to the Department of Water and Power, get short shrift in the end. Yes, Garcetti conducted hearings throughout the summer, but the city's top analysts issued their studies just last week, and there has been little public input from city charter experts or even the DWP itself. For all the thought and planning, the measure is being pushed onto the ballot at the same time, on the same agendas, in the same meetings and in the same rush as those offered at the last minute.

A city charter amendment requires a studied and deliberative process, not a deadline-driven bottleneck that crams more than a dozen potential measures through the council all at once. The consequences of poorly thought-out charter provisions are apparent. One measure almost certain to appear in March is meant to overturn a pension provision that was adopted with too little thought just 10 years ago. The solar power plan known as Measure B was defeated two years ago in large part because, despite months of discussion, it was insufficiently thought through and pushed onto the ballot amid similar deadline pressure.

The current procedure leaves voters with little confidence that the council has rationally considered the ramifications of the proposals that will be on the March ballot. Among them are measures to ban bidders for city contracts from giving money to candidates, to tax billboards, to impose fees for extracting oil or cultivating medical marijuana and to set minimum budgets for libraries.

The council can do better. It can bar the introduction of last-minute charter amendments and mandate that any proposals be vetted thoroughly and that reports be received months in advance from the city attorney, city analysts, experts and interested parties. In the meantime, it should continue with its pension reform plan but otherwise drop the rest of the potential March measures.

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