CA Referendums Praised, Battled Over

Fri, Jan 10 2014 by Neal Hobson

After two lawsuits failed to block a vote on a San Diego referendum over the city council’s Barrio Logan land use plan, those opposed to the referendum claimed the process was “undemocratic.”

Attorney Jan Goldsmith took issue with that in an op-ed in the local Union-Tribune newspaper. “The use of referendums to challenge legislative decisions is legal and has deep roots in democracy,” wrote Goldsmith. “There is nothing undemocratic about leaving decisions to San Diego voters, which is all a referendum does.”

Since 2011, there have been three referendums in San Diego challenging enactments by the city council and putting those ordinances before voters.

In his opinion piece, Goldsmith quotes Hiram Johnson, who championed the establishment of California’s I&R back in 1911, arguing that the direct democratic process “places in the hands of the people the means by which they may protect themselves.” Goldsmith also quoted Thomas Jefferson, who said, “I know of no safe repository of the ultimate power of society but the people.”

Meanwhile, a Sacramento referendum on a plan to use taxpayer money to build a new arena for the Kings, a National Basketball Association team, has become a beacon of controversy.

Signatures are still being verified, so the referendum hasn’t been certified yet for the ballot. An aggressive campaign in opposition to the referendum has complicated that process by soliciting nearly 10,000 signatures of citizens wishing to withdraw their signature on the referendum petition.

It has also been determined that all the referendum petitions were not identical in terms of their legal language. That could be a fatal flaw, but courts in previous cases have allowed a ballot measure to proceed to a vote if the differences were not so great as to mislead signers.

An editorial in the Sacramento Bee calls on proponents to release copies of the petitions forms so that the public can see how different various petitions may have been worded. Proponents have thus far declined to do so. Unique to California, petitions are not considered public documents and, therefore, the city will not release them.

Goldsmith: Referendums have roots in democracy

SacBee: Let the public see all the petitions for arena ballot measure