In the past few years we’ve seen a lot of land use fights spill onto the ballot: the affordable housing fee, the Barrio Logan community plan update, One Paseo, the Strawberry Fields mall initiative in Carlsbad. And we can expect to see more in 2016.
It usually works like this: A city council makes a decision on a plan or a project, then citizens or businesses unhappy with that decision collect signatures with the aim of forcing it onto the ballot, where voters could potentially overturn the decision.
That process is called a referendum – a motion to challenge something that’s already been passed. It allows citizens to approve or reject something elected officials have done. Then there’s an initiative, a similar process but one that enacts a brand new plan, law, policy or constitutional amendment that is proposed by citizens.
The citizen-led initiative process is often considered a pure form of direct democracy. There’s something empowering about the idea of a citizen being able to start a measure of his or her choice and, if he or she garners enough support, taking it to the voters.
Yet these measures are often vehicles for private interests.
“It’s very common to see hotels block a new hotel, a mall block a mall,” said Joe Matthews, author of “California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State.” “Do we want our public participation to be used by one power to screw another power? Having people pick winners and losers between two malls or hotel companies – is that really what we want?”
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Once again we have legalized a process that facilitates big corporations/big money getting its way. The use of the initiative has gotten out of hand. We elect people who we think are best in representing us and the city's best interest. let them do their job. If we do not like their performance - vote them out of office. Respecting 'the people's will" by allowing signature gathering is understandable. But at the very least, we should not allow paid signature gatherers and we should raise the percentage of qualified voters necessary for an initiative to qualify.
"For example, with the Barrio Logan community plan Update, opponents [gathered] more than 52,000 signatures. According to 2010 census data, Barrio Logan itself only has a population of 4,865, meaning that most of the people who signed a referendum against the plan weren’t from the community."
Forget two wolves and a sheep, that's ten wolves and a sheep voting on what to eat for lunch!