Council Loads Up Local Ballot
By Olin Ericksen
July 27 – The November 7 ballot promises to be crowded with local initiatives, after the City Council Tuesday night took steps to place at least four measures before voters.
The measures deal with everything from marijuana use to storm water clean up, from the city manager’s clout to political conflicts of interest.
Perhaps the most controversial of the proposed laws would direct Santa Monica police to make marijuana enforcement their lowest priority for people 21 and older discovered with the drug.
Decried by local police, the measure was reluctantly moved on by the council, which was faced with either enacting the law or bringing it before voters, since it received enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
”I’m going to vote for this holding my nose,” said Council member Richard Bloom, who said he was concerned about public health and safety issues and worried about passing the measure at a time when the nation faces an “epidemic of substance abuse.”
Several council members, including Bloom, said they also worried about telling local police how to do their jobs.
“I’m reluctantly supporting this,” said Council member Herb Katz. “This hamstrings our police department and puts them in a very awkward position.”
In a report to the council, Police Chief James T. Butts, Jr. warned that the proposed law would increase paper work for the department and could prohibit Santa Monica police from participating in joint-task force operations.
The law, Butts wrote, would impose “strict reporting requirements” if action is taken for a marijuana offense. Police would have to prove there were no other requests for assistance if a bust occurs, the chief said.
In addition, reports of the smell of marijuana have led to the discovery of more serious offenses, as was the case when police discovered hundreds of pounds of marijuana across the street from John Adams Middle School, police said.
Proponents of the measure -- including Santa Monicans for Sensible Marijuana Policy, the group that sponsored the signature gathering -- told the council that the police chief’s analysis was slanted and “exaggerated” and that the proposed law could be easily implemented.
“By doing this, you can perhaps save lives,” said Jack Cole, who said he had worked as narcotics detective for 12 years. “I and my colleagues believe that police spend a lot of time chasing around marijuana smokers… when that time can be used to follow up on more serious offenses.”
Local polls conducted by the sponsoring group found strong support for the initiative in Santa Monica, proponents said.
The item will come back before the council, which must to approve language for the measure, before placing it on the ballot.
In a separate action, the council gave the go-ahead to place an $84 a year parcel tax to help clean Santa Monica Bay, which is considered by many one of the most polluted areas along the California coast.
Called the Clean Beaches and Ocean Parcel Tax, the measure would partially fund the City’s Watershed Management Plan and help upgrade the infrastructure and administer and maintain the system.
Before greenlighting the measure, the council added amendments to exempt renters and low-income residents.
Although City officials contend the measure would decrease pollution, they also acknowledge that cleaning the Bay will require other inland communities to pass taxes to help stop urban runoff.
A controversial conflict of interest election law known as the “Oaks Initiative,” which was easily approved by Santa Monica voters in 2000, appears to be headed back to the polls after City officials failed to defeat it in the courts. (see story)
After six years of fighting the measure -- which bars politicians from taking campaign cash, gifts or jobs from companies they award municipal business to -- City officials have been working to amend the law, which they argue is cumbersome and problematic.
But instead of approving the amendments drafted by the City Attorney’s office, the council Tuesday night asked staff to return with alternate amendments similar to those sponsored by City officials in Pasadena, which also approved an identical initiative in 2000.
Proponents of the original measure had argued that the amendments that were before the council would “effectively overturn” the ordinance. On the other hand, they said, Pasadena’s amendments -- which were crafted by a task force -- tweak the law, rather than overturn the spirit of the measure. (see story)
The council on Tuesday was also faced with placing a general “Clean Money” Charter measure on the November ballot that could have included changes to the ordinance that places a $250 limit on individual campaign contributions to local elected officials.
Rather than moving forward, the council directed staff staff to look at similar measures in other cities and states, consult with experts and identify sources of funding, before coming back with either a proposed charter amendment or ordinance that could be placed before voters in 2007.
Bob Stern – an expert on campaign financing – told the council that while public financing is an important tool to keep elections clean, it does not need to be implemented through a ballot measure.
Finally, the council adopted a resolution to place a measure on the November ballot that amends the City Charter to give the city manager more power to hire and fire department heads by waiving civil service protections. (see story)
The measure also would clarify and modify positions in the City Clerk’s
office and amend the advisory roles of certain boards and commissions
when it comes to appointing department heads.
City Manager Lamont Ewell, who came to Santa Monica from San Diego in December, has argued that the proposed changes would provide more accountability, speed up appointments and allow the City to function more efficiently.
In addition to the measures taken up by the council at Tuesday’s meeting, the School Board has taken steps to place a bond on the November ballot. (see story)
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