It’s not the hottest topic on the ballot, but it could have serious implications for local government.
If passed, Measure N would change the city of Davis from a general law city to a charter city.
The charter under consideration is a broad charter that comes as the result of several years‘ discussion by various task forces and subcommittees of the Davis City Council.
Most recently, councilmembers Lamar Heystek and Stephen Souza have endorsed a broad charter that would give more local control to the city council, allowing them to govern municipal affairs more directly.
“Measure N is not about specific issues, but whether or not the governor has a say,“ Heystek said at a debate on Thursday. “It offers options to address issues for the community … and confers local control to citizens.“
Measure N would not directly change local tax policy, a decision that would ultimately remain with Davis citizens, he said.
It would, however, give the City Council the ability to make other governmental changes, like instituting choice voting.
Opponents, such as Davis resident and business owner Don Shor, believe Measure N would give the City Council too much unchecked power.
“Many of us are not against becoming a charter city,” he said. “One of the biggest problems is that voters don’t have enough information, and this is a big change.“
Some of the many changes city council may make under the proposed charter include levying a property sale tax, expanding the size of city council, deciding how or when to enact ordinances, not requiring competitive bidding for projects and instituting choice voting for city council members via majority vote, Shor said.
“It’s only a power grab if the City Council wants it to be,” he said. “What you have to decide is whether you want to give that power to the council 10 to 12 years from now.“
In California, 25 percent of cities, or 112 out of 480, have adopted city charters, and while none reverted to general law status, there exists a continual debate about how broad or specific a charter should be to effectively govern a city.
Berkeley has a very limited charter and has altered the charter in every election since its adoption in 1909, Shor said.
Ultimately, Measure N gives no more power to the voter and does not identify any specific proposals that the charter will address, he added.
“I think we can do better,” he said.
Also opposing Measure N is City Councilmember Don Saylor, who recently released a letter to community members recommending a “No” vote on the measure due to its lack of any particular action or purpose.
“Each of the 112 current city charters contain specific provisions related to problems that jurisdiction wanted to address,” Saylor said. “The charter proposed by Measure N, however, does not contain any specific substantive provision … [and] would also permit any number of future amendments to the city charter to be implemented by ordinance or by vote of the electorate.“
Saylor said the only source of potential benefits from Measure N is what the measure’s proponents have been saying, none of which is outlined in the actual measure. Proposed benefits include the ability to implement choice voting, establish an assessment district to finance the installation of solar panels, establish a property transfer tax not permitted by state law, and reinforce existing city land use planning controls, he said.
Additionally, the value of becoming a charter city has diminished over time, he said.
“Substantive differences between the authorities and operations of general law cities and charter cities have narrowed, making it less necessary for cities to establish charters to achieve effective, efficient and responsive local governments,” Saylor said. “As a result, very few cities have converted from general law to charter city status in recent years.“
For more information on Davis‘ proposed charter and California charter cities in general, visit homerulefordavis.org and cacities.org.
AARON BRUNER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.