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Commentary: Limited charter provides best future growth

June 12, 2012|By Perry Valantine

A number of Costa Mesa residents have told the City Council they don't want a charter.

But if the council decides to go ahead and put it on the ballot anyway, residents have said the charter should be limited to those provisions the council feels are necessary to allow it to do what it needs to do but can't do now without a charter.

The charter should then provide that all other matters will be governed by the state's general laws. Many residents are concerned about a number of things the council (this one, or any future council) might do if their powers are unlimited.

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Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer has stated that the charter should be left open so that the city would not be bound by some unanticipated future provision of state law that may not be in the city's best interests.

So residents are concerned about what the council can do under an unlimited charter, and the council is concerned about what it can't do under a limited charter. Both may be valid concerns.

But the remedy for one is easier than for the other.

If a future council decides — by a vote of three members — to adopt an ordinance to do something residents don't like (change election procedures or reduce public notice and hearing requirements, for example), residents would have to mount an initiative or referendum campaign, collect thousands of signatures and wait for the council to put the matter on the ballot for an upcoming election (and they don't have to put it on the next election). This would be a burdensome, expensive and time-consuming process, to say the least.

If, on the other hand, the council decides it wants out from under a future state law, it merely needs a vote of three members to put a charter amendment on the ballot for the next election.

So, both sides are concerned about "what if" something changes in the future. But the remedies are far from equal.

When the council says the charter will transfer power from Sacramento to the residents of Costa Mesa, they really mean the power will go to three of the five residents sitting on the council dais. The remaining 117,000 residents will not get more power and, in fact, will lose some of the protections we enjoy under state law.

Residents who are concerned about the future of their city should demand that the council limit the proposed charter to a few important subjects and let the general laws of the state continue to protect us in other areas.

PERRY VALANTINE lives in Costa Mesa.

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