By Doug Porter
An attempt by the City of Upland to delay a referendum overturning its ban on medical marijuana dispensaries has led to an appellate court decision challenging the presumption of a two-thirds majority being needed for tax increases in citizen-based ballot measures.
This is huge. And what seems like a good thing could end up being a nightmare, thanks to flaws in California’s initiative process. This ruling should mean a restoration of ‘majority rules’ when it comes to citizen-driven projects.
However, given the rash of special interest gaming of the electoral process, it could mean the public will be paying for projects benefiting private interests. In San Diego, that means the path to success could be a whole lot easier in the San Diego Chargers’ quest for a new stadium.
The Chargers’ Ballot Measure
The football organization has apparently decided to pursue its own referendum increasing hotel-room taxes to pay for a new convention center and stadium, replacing the Tourism Marketing District and clearing the way for permitting of the new facilities in the East Village.
Scott Lewis at Voice of San Diego broke the story Tuesday, following a breakdown in talks between the team, the mayor’s office and representatives of hotel industry interests. The Chargers were unable to gain support for their concept of a ballot measure, settling for a promise of no overt opposition from Mayor Faulconer and hoteliers.
And then the court ruling came along:
In a dispute between the California Cannabis Coalition and the city of Upland, the court ruled that a ballot initiative was not subject to Article 13C of the California Constitution.
That amendment requires two-thirds voter approval for new taxes and two-thirds voter approval if the taxes are meant for a specific purpose – like a stadium.
“No local government may impose, extend, or increase any special tax unless and until that tax is submitted to the electorate and approved by a two-thirds vote. A special tax shall not be deemed to have been increased if it is imposed at a rate not higher than the maximum rate so approved,” the constitutional amendment says.
The court now says that doesn’t apply to citizen initiatives.
The Union Tribune also weighed in on the court decision, suggesting that it wouldn’t necessarily impact the quest for a stadium/convention center ballot measure:
“It has a far reaching impact across the state,” San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said of the ruling on Wednesday. “There was a belief there was a two-thirds requirement and this changes that. There’s no question it’s a seminal case.”
In addition to the Chargers proposal, which could increase local hotel taxes, the ruling could lower voter approval to a simple majority for school bond measures, sales tax hikes or other increases as long as such proposals begin with a citizen’s initiative.
The threat of a potential overturn by the state Supreme Court, however, makes it unlikely citizen’s groups will quickly start pursuing such initiatives.
There can be no doubt that the “No New Taxes” crowd will have their lawyers furiously attacking the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruling.
Chargers Plan vs the Citizens Plan
Like the Citizen’s Plan being proposed by Cory Briggs and others, the Charger’s concept (details are still being hashed out) contains a lot of moving parts designed to overcome obstacles along the way.
In addition to restructuring and raising room taxes (with a proviso for a reduction if no stadium gets built), the team would need to cut the city a check for $650 million prior to construction commencing. The City of San Diego would own the stadium/convention center. The Chargers would sign a 30 year lease with a non-location clause.
A 65,000-seat stadium with a 225,000 square-foot convention center including 80,000 square feet of ballroom space and 80,000 square feet of meeting space would see an expedited permitting process under terms of the measure.
One major difference between the plans is that the Chargers’ initiative makes no mention of the Qualcomm Stadium site in Mission Valley. My read on that (other than it’s one less moving part) is that it’s a sop to interests who’d prefer commercial development over the park/educational uses envisioned by backers of the Citizens Plan.
The lack of any mention of the Mission Valley property makes it a non-starter for Citizens Plan backers like John Moores and Donna Frye.
The Chargers will have to publish a legal ad with the verbiage of any initiative over the next few days in order to make the fall ballot. Signature collection could commence 21 days later.
On the other hand, word is that if the political obstacles are deemed too high for the team to push its own measure, they’ll throw their considerable financial support behind the Citizens Plan.
In other words, they told the Mayor and his hospitality allies to choose between the Chargers or Cory Briggs. Given Faulconer’s history of avoiding confrontation, it’s likely he’ll stick with the none-of-the-above option.
Stay tuned. Plenty of opposition has surfaced already for the Citizens Plan (which allows for, but doesn’t stipulate a structure), and the Chargers scheme is guaranteed to draw fire from the usual suspects.
The problem with those opposing either plan is that they (apparently) have no access to money to fund significant opposition come election time. There will be a large number of ballot measures on the November 2016 ballot, all competing for money.
I if I had a few bucks to spare, I can think of several things I’d consider more important.
At this point, simply publicly opposing a measure from the Chargers requiring two-thirds support for passage will suffice. But if the threshold is 50%+1, all bets are off. And Briggs, et.al., believe their Citizens Plan will with stand court challenges to their lower needed level of voter approval.
Speaking of November ballot measures…
Fifteen Dollar Minimum Wage Initiative Qualifies
The California Secretary of State’s office has certified the Fair Wage Act of 2016 for the fall ballot.
The measure would raise California’s minimum wage to $11 in 2017 and then gradually increase it a dollar a year until it reaches $15 in 2021. Once the minimum wage reaches $15, it will automatically be adjusted each year to keep pace with the cost of living.
Keep the above facts in mind as the Chamber of Commerce and their friends begin ad campaigns trying to drum up fear of economic calamity. According to a recent Field Poll, 68% of registered California voters support the concepts embedded in the initiative, so expect a major effort to sow doubt.
Approval come November would make California the largest state to improve the standard of living for low-wage workers, benefiting 3.3 million men and women in the Golden State and helping set the stage for a higher minimum wage across the country.
The initiative has been endorsed by 300 community organizations, labor unions, faith leaders, small business owners and elected officials, including U.S. Reps. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) and Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro), California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, California Controller Betty Yee, 28 state legislators and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who serve as co-chairs of the initiative campaign.
But wait! (As they say in the commercials) There’s more!
The measure that qualified for the ballot was circulated by the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West. A rival union group, (get ready to be confused), led by the state council of the Service Employees International Union is still gathering signatures for a competing $15 per hour measure tacking on paid sick leave provisions, among other things.
It’s possible that a compromise could be worked out by June, which would allow just one measure to appear on the ballot….
BUT… Sacramento may get into the act. State election law was revamped in 2014 to allow lawmakers one final chance to satisfy the demands of an initiative’s proponents.
From the Los Angeles Times:
Private negotiations are taking place in Sacramento, with the governor as the key player in the talks. Brown has rejected similar efforts since agreeing to a minimum wage deal in 2013. But he seemed to soften his stance earlier this year as it became clear that dueling proposals could appear on the fall ballot.
“It’s just a matter of balance,” Brown told reporters in January. “I think raising the minimum wage can be good, but it has to be done very carefully.”
The governor and his advisers have argued that a statewide $15-an-hour minimum wage would translate to an additional $4 billion in California government spending in salaries paid primarily to workers who provide services to the disabled.
Getting a new minimum wage law through the legislature, given the number of Democrats willing to lured by corporate campaign donations, will inevitably lead to a weakened law. The Times article ominously quotes Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León saying “I think that the initiative process can sometimes be a very blunt instrument.”
National Election Notes
Do yourself a favor and ignore media accounts of the latest opinion poll on Democratic presidential candidates in California. It measured voter sentiment without considering the state’s delegate allocation system, something we’ll explain on another day. For now I’d suggest that proponents of both Hillary and Bernie keep up their efforts.
On the Republican side of the equation, the contest between The Donald and The Cruz has turned into a “Yo mama” duel, featuring pictures of spouses.
How’s this for a tasteless tweet?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2016
I strongly urge these “boys” to keep up the good work.
Here’s Nate from FiveThirtyEight.com with a nifty map:
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) March 24, 2016
On This Day: 1958 – Elvis Presley was sworn in as a private in the U.S. Army. 1960 – A U.S. appeals court ruled that the novel, “Lady Chatterly’s Lover”, was not obscene and could be sent through the mail. 1989 – The Exxon Valdez spilled 240,000 barrels (11 million gallons) of oil in Alaska’s Prince William Sound after it ran aground.
Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to “The Starting Line” and get an email every time a new article in this series is posted!
I read the Daily Fishwrap(s) so you don’t have to… Catch “the Starting Line” Monday thru Friday right here at San Diego Free Press (dot) org. Send your hate mail and ideas to DougPorter@SanDiegoFreePress.Org Check us out on Facebook and Twitter.