South Bay Area Subregional Groups' Findings
January 14, 1998
As a result of the group meeting on January 14, 1998, the following are our final recommendations subject to minor revisions from group members. Send revisions to John Greenwood (fax 310-832-8621, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org)
- The financial difficulties faced by local governments should serve as an incentive for state and local governments working collaboratively to evaluate the purpose & responsibilities of state, county and local government. We recommend that funding sources be aligned with these responsibilities.
a. The public mistakenly assumes that property taxes still go to city and county governments. In passing Proposition 13, the voters wanted limits placed on property taxes. We believe they did not intend to remove the connection between property taxes and the provision of property related services by local government. It should be a priority for all levels of government and their related organizations (like the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties) to reestablish that connection.
b. In particular the role of counties should be reexamined. We have put County governments in an untenable position. The State of California mandates services (health care, courts, municipal services to unincorporated areas) to be provided, but has not given Counties any ability to raise revenue to meet this mandate.
c. The current system of funding local government has brought about an unhealthy competition between local governments for sales tax revenues. But retail sales are limited, and this competition primarily takes money from one municipality and it to another. More financial tools should be created and those that exist should be expanded so that cities can generate revenues from manufacturing & trade on a scale similar to retail. This will allow local land use decisions to be made on the basis of community needs and not just revenue.
- Give local governments greater flexibility in using revenues from the state. A consistent complaint of local governments is that the State not only has taken away their funding over the last few years, it has also earmarked some of the remaining funds. We suggest consolidating categorical funds and giving them to local governments as block grants for general fund purposes. (One example of this occurred in the passage this past year of SB45 related to transportation funding.)
- The legislature should use financial incentives to promote the efficient provision of municipal services. They should encourage the use of the options available such as inter- governmental contracting, joint powers authorities, eliminating county islands and changing requirements by Local Agency Formation Commissions to make it harder to form new governments and easier to consolidate them.
In addressing these concerns we should review the many creative proposals for efficiencies and more rational service provision which came out after the Orange County bankruptcy. Studies at the time recommended many of the above concepts. But these ideas for governmental efficiency brought on by financial necessity were threatening and were quickly set by the wayside as more funding became available. They should be brought back!
- We see much merit in the suggestion by the Constitutional Revision Commission that the legislature should provide financial and managerial incentives for the development of Home Rule Community Charters for subregions within counties or on their borders. The Charters, organized to cover a multi-governmental area, would examine governmental functioning and be empowered to increase efficiency, eliminate duplication of services and lower the cost of government. This idea should be detailed further and discussed widely prior to its introduction in the legislature.
- Give citizens (through local governments) a reasonable chance to propose, agree upon and finance long range plans by reducing the current requirement for a 2/3 majority vote for bonds and tax increases to a simple majority requirement. It is not reasonable that 1/3 plus one of the voting public can dismantle the plans of the remaining 2/3.
In addition, the voting provisions of Proposition 218 related to assessment districts cry out for reexamination. The procedures for ratifying assessment districts allow only property owners (even non-citizen property owners) to vote, relate the number of votes to the amount of property owned and are not secret. The whole process needs to be reevaluated and redefined.
- Initiatives are a poor way to amend the constitution because most allow no flexibility in adjusting the provisions to correct unintended consequences or new realities. They can only be changed by another initiative. Several recent initiatives, while meeting other worthy goals, have violated the concept of home rule and reduced the ability of communities to meet local needs.
We recommend that the initiative process be re-examined as follows:
a. Initiatives should pass legal, operational & fiscal reviews prior to appearing on the ballot.
b. Initiatives should contain plain language.
c. Initiative petitions should identify proponents (sponsors) responsible for the effort to qualify the initiative.
d. To the extent possible, the amount of money which can be spent to qualify an initiative should be restricted.
e. The number of signatures required to qualify an initiative for the ballot should be increased.
f. If an initiative proposes extraordinary voting requirements (e.g., a supermajority), that initiative should be required to pass with the same requirement.
- We need to find creative ways to educate and involve the public in the important aspects of local government decision-making. Specifically, the State Board of Education should introduce a new method of teaching about local government. Rather than relying solely on overburdened teachers, local government officials and knowledgeable citizens such as the members of the League of Women Voters should be involved in teaching this curriculum. As one example, the League of Women Voters has developed a creative model which allows students to vote on statewide and national candidates and issues in school at election time. We believe these techniques could be extended to important local issues.
In observing Democracy in 18th Century America, Alexis De Tocqueville asked, "How can a populace, unaccustomed to freedom is small concerns, learn to use it temperately in great affairs? . . . I have heard citizens attribute the power and prosperity of their country to a multitude of reasons: but they all place the advantage of local institutions in the foremost rank." Unfortunately, California voters are undermining the effectiveness of local government and its ability to renew our democracy. These proposals will help us recapture that spirit which De Tocqueville saw as one of the keys to democracy in America.