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Council gives Kids First a free ticket to the ballot

On August 4, the Oakland City Council called a special meeting and put Kids First 2, the multimillion-dollar set-aside initiative for youth-serving nonprofits, on the November ballot. Kelly Rayburn of the Tribune, after talking to Councilmember Jean Quan, wrote the Council “had to” call the meeting because Kids First had collected enough signatures to force the ballot issue. However, a reading of California election law shows that they did not have a legal obligation to place the measure on this November’s ballot. 

Oakland, though a Charter City, uses the state’s General Law to manage its elections. The General Law election code (section 9211) says the County rules apply to cities except that Board of Supervisors should be considered City Council.* Here’s how the procedure is supposed to work:

9114. … If the petition is found sufficient, the elections official shall certify the results of the examination to the board of supervisors at the next regular meeting of the board.

9215.  If the initiative petition is signed by [enough voters] the legislative body shall do one of the following:

  (a) Adopt the ordinance, without alteration, at the regular meeting at which the certification of the petition is presented, or within 10 days after it is presented.

  (b) Submit the ordinance, without alteration, to the voters pursuant to subdivision (b) of Section 1405, unless the ordinance petitioned for is required to be, or for some reason is, submitted to the voters at a special election pursuant to subdivision (a) of Section 1405.

  (c) Order a report pursuant to Section 9212 at the regular meeting at which the certification of the petition is presented.  When the report is presented to the legislative body, the legislative body shall either adopt the ordinance within 10 days or order an election pursuant to subdivision (b).

Clearly the City Council is not required to call a special meeting to put an initiative on the ballot, just that they have to do so at their next regular meeting. Therefore, because the statement of sufficiency (the certification that the initiative got enough signatures) wasn’t delivered to the Council before they went on recess, they had no legal obligation to consider placing the measure on the ballot until they return in September, well after the ballot deadline of last Friday, August 8.

Furthermore, the City has ten days in which to make a decision on whether to put the measure on the ballot or just adopt it themselves, a timeline that also would put the decision past the ballot deadline. There also appears to be an option for the Council to delay a decision by 30 days in order to get a report on the impact of adopting the measure (Section 9212).

While some may argue that delaying the measure until June 2010 does not necessarily make it easier to defeat, it would at least hold off the measure for two years to give the city time to balance the budget. Also, a June election would probably be easier to defeat the measure because there are traditionally fewer voters in June elections than November ones, and this November is expected to generate high turnout from young voters who may not understand fiscal limits and be sympathetic to youth programs.

Using technicalities to keep the measure off the ballot could have been difficult for the Council politically, but they had other options to help defeat this unaffordable spending mandate. They should have put a competing measure on the ballot that overrode the KF2 initiative and only mandated the city to do what it agreed to voluntarily in the Spring. With voters being unable to tell the difference, and more support for the Council measure than the nonprofits’, it would have had a great chance of passing with more votes than KF2, saving the Council and the public from the prospect of throwing money to nonprofits while vital public services, including those that serve youth, see drastic cuts.

* The state website uses a search function to find the law, so I can’t link directly to the legal language. All of the quoted sections can be verified with a search on LegInfo.

Posted in california, citycouncil, elections, jeanquan, oakland.

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2 Responses

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  1. dto510 says

    So, a city employee familiar with the discussion over Kids First told me that the City Attorney advised that if the measure were not placed on the November ballot, it would need a special election (it cannot just be delayed until June 2010). Even if this were true, a special election costing less than $500k is a better alternative than being handcuffed with a multi-million-dollar, permanent spending mandate.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Voters give Oakland a new councilmember, new transit plans, and an old fight « FutureOakland linked to this post on November 11, 2008

    [...] in the local ballot measures was the narrow passage of Measure OO, also known as Kids First 2. As I wrote at the time, Measure OO did not meet the ballot deadline and the City Council was not under a legal obligation [...]