Tuesday, February 08, 2011

CityWatchLA - Ballot Measure for Measure: City Hall’s cry for help!

CityWatch, Feb 8, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 11

It’s Ballot Measure season in LA and the voter information pamphlet is out, dedicating 90% of its 136 pages to the ten ballot measures that City Hall promises will provide everything from pension reform to clean elections to DWP oversight. If only it were that easy!

On the one hand, it’s unfortunate that the people of LA have to step up to resolve the turf war between the City Council and the DWP, to do the work of those we send to City Hall on our behalf. On the other hand, it’s a powerful moment for the people of LA, one where it becomes abundantly clear that the journey to full accountability and oversight at City Hall is our responsibility.

As for the Ballot Measures:

I’m voting YES on Measure G, which will provide $173 million in savings to the City of LA for every 1000 new cops and firefighters hired. While I’m in favor of pension reform, this measure is no more than a tepid step in the right direction, but it is a step.

I’m voting YES on Measure H, which will restrict campaign contributions from contractors and increase the Matching Funds Trust Fund. Again, I’m in favor of election reform but this measure is only a small step on a long journey.

I’m voting YES on Measure I, establishing the Office of Public Accountability and a Ratepayer Advocate. This is a huge victory for the people from the community who have fought so hard to bring oversight and accountability to the DWP and to City Hall. A small and diluted first step, but an important one.

I’m voting YES on Measure J, requiring the DWP to communicate its budgets and anticipated surplus transfers with the City Council on a timely basis. Responsible management of city assets should be de rigueur but given the turf war that roils in City Hall, it’s apparently now up to the people to demand accountability and oversight.

I’m voting YES on Measure L, providing incremental increases in funding for our libraries. I’m pleased that the people of LA have the opportunity to position libraries as an element of our Great City mandate but know that the work has just begun and that we must work together to prevent “cost recovery” from diminishing any funding increases.

I’m voting YES on Measure O, levying a $1.44 per barrel tax on oil extracted from the estimated 55 known oil fields in the LA area. At less than 2% of the current $80 per barrel, this seems like a minimal and fair amount from the oil companies that are enjoying record levels of profits. In fact, it’s kind of shocking that it took this long or that the tax is so low. (5% proposed for med marijuana but only 1.8% proposed for crude oil?)

I’m voting YES on Measure P, requiring the City of Los Angeles to establish an Emergency Reserve Account within the City’s Reserve Fund. While it’s important to plan for emergencies, it’s unfortunate that it takes a Charter Amendment to ensure fiscal responsibility. Again, this is a small step in what amounts to be a long journey to budgetary responsibility.

I’m voting YES on Measure N, cleaning up Campaign Finance language in Charter to comply with recent court decisions and to ensure that the City of LA is conducting its elections in compliance with the law. I am in favor of election reform but not when it violates the law.

I’m voting YES on Measure Q, again cleaning up Charter language that addresses personnel and employment issues, sometime requiring cumbersome processes that include certifying candidates for jobs that don’t exist. This is a necessary process that should be addressed systemically, not piecemeal, but it is a step in the right direction.

I’m voting NO on Measure M, a tax levied authorized on marijuana collectives while “recognizing that the sale of marijuana is illegal?” LA’s City Council seems hell-bent on incurring legal fees with moves such as this. Declaring something illegal and then taxing it sets a bad precedent. Approaching medical as medicine and cooperatives as non-profits and then taxing them sets a bad precedent. This is an invitation for litigation that LA can’t afford.

The March 8th Ballot Measures are a cry for help from LA’s City Council. Their turf war, their inability to solve the budget crisis, their inability to simply fund libraries (as is their responsibility), has become the people’s work. In essence, these ballot measures are a clear demonstration of the City Council’s legacy of failure.

At the same time, the March 8th Ballot Measures are an opportunity for the people of Los Angeles to take a powerful step in the right direction, one where Pension Reform, DWP oversight, funding commitments and clean elections are the goal that we work toward. With the understanding that, if passed, there is still much oversight to be done … making sure that the ordinances that follow provide the detail the people asked for and that the city’s electeds fulfill the promise these ballot measures intend.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net. Disclosure: Box is also a candidate for 4th District Councilman.)

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