Charter City Proposal Moves Forward

In November of 2006, the voters of Davis passed an advisory vote to ask the city to look into creating choice voting. Choice voting, otherwise known as instant runoff asks voters to rank their preferences of candidates and office holders in order to determine the winner.

However, in order for a city in California to enact a choice voting system, the city must go from a general law city to a charter city. A charter gives the city more flexibility to enact any number of laws–depending on what is contained within the charter.

“There are two types of cities in California – charter and general law. Charter cities follow the laws set forth in the state’s constitution along with their own adopted “charter” document. General law cities follow the laws set forth by the state legislature. Charter cities still follow the laws of the state’s constitution, which include constitutional amendments like Proposition 13 (cap on property taxes) and Proposition 218 (the right to vote on taxes), but a charter gives a city more local authority over municipal affairs in areas not considered to be statewide matters. Of California’s 478 cities, 109 are charter cities.”

By a 4-1 vote last night, Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson dissenting, the Davis city council directed city staff and the city attorney to complete an analysis of a draft charter and to return to the City Council by the end of March.

At that point, the City Council could place the charter measure on the ballot before the voters in November.

This particular charter is brief and broad. There are a number of specific elements that these charters can contain. However, the subcommittee of Lamar Heystek and Stephen Souza chose to continue current law and practices with one exception–granting a future city council the authority to create a choice voting system.

This is something important to stress. The charter does not itself create choice vote. The subcommittee had that option and could have written into the charter a choice voting system. Instead they have made such a system possible but have left that decision to future councils.

While much of the discussion has rightly focused on choice voting itself, I think a full discussion of charter cities is in order. There were good questions that were raised last night by both council and the public about them.

One of the keys arose from Councilmember Don Saylor–why are only one-fourth of the cities in California Charter Cities? Have there really only been four or five new Charter Cities since 1992? We have heard of the advantages of Charter Cities, but what are some of the disadvantages?

The last one in particular did not gain a lot of answers, but one thing that was pointed out was the ability of cities with charters to circumvent prevailing wage law and collective bargaining. The council could write into its charter stronger protections for those, but that is something to be wary of. As is the general notion that there may be other weaknesses that city staff and the subcommittee have not come up with just yet.

I went into the discussion last night neutral on the issue of a charter city. I left the meeting last night leaning toward supporting it having some of my concerns assuaged. I think both Councilmember Heystek and Souza did a very good job of keeping the charter itself simple and easily understandable.

Where I am not 100 percent sold is that I would like a better accounting of possible pitfalls. Like Councilmember Saylor I would get a better understanding for why only 25 percent or so of cities have charters.

I hope these points are addressed in more detail at a future council meeting.

Finally on the issue of choice voting, I am not 100 percent on that issue as well. I appreciate that we had an advisory vote on Measure L. I think Ruth Asmundson in her dissent raised a good point that that vote was not necessarily a vote in support of creating choice voting but rather a vote in support of exploring the creation of a choice voting system. It is a subtle but important difference.

What I would like to see is a full public debate over it. The implication from this discussion was that it would probably require another ballot measure after the creation of the charter city. I completely agree with that approach as it will allow for a full vetting of the issue. One of my concerns with Measure L is that there was no organized opposition. Some might suggest that in itself indicates support for the concept, but in my view it also prevented there from being a true debate over the strengths and weaknesses of a system.

I am not opposed for choice voting by any means, but I would like to see a full debate where strengths and weaknesses are addressed, including and most specifically an accounting over whether the system has create voter confusion in other jurisdictions that have employed this form of voting.

That will be a discussion for another day. In the meantime, I was pleased with both the discussion and the outcome of this meeting and look forward to future discussions on the charter city proposal in the future.

—Doug Paul Davis reporting

Author

  • David Greenwald

    Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Categories:

Elections

64 comments

  1. “…why only 25 percent or so of cities have charters.”

    Could it be that most cities in CA are communities with a largely passive, uninvolved electorate when it comes to local politics? The Davis voters are quite special in this regard and Davis as a Charter city is much more in line with our political ethos.

  2. “…why only 25 percent or so of cities have charters.”

    Could it be that most cities in CA are communities with a largely passive, uninvolved electorate when it comes to local politics? The Davis voters are quite special in this regard and Davis as a Charter city is much more in line with our political ethos.

  3. “…why only 25 percent or so of cities have charters.”

    Could it be that most cities in CA are communities with a largely passive, uninvolved electorate when it comes to local politics? The Davis voters are quite special in this regard and Davis as a Charter city is much more in line with our political ethos.

  4. “…why only 25 percent or so of cities have charters.”

    Could it be that most cities in CA are communities with a largely passive, uninvolved electorate when it comes to local politics? The Davis voters are quite special in this regard and Davis as a Charter city is much more in line with our political ethos.

  5. dpd or others-
    i didnt watch the council meeting last evening….

    did ruth give a reason for not voting for the charter city motion?

    i don’t think that it would hurt to at least investigate the option further.

  6. dpd or others-
    i didnt watch the council meeting last evening….

    did ruth give a reason for not voting for the charter city motion?

    i don’t think that it would hurt to at least investigate the option further.

  7. dpd or others-
    i didnt watch the council meeting last evening….

    did ruth give a reason for not voting for the charter city motion?

    i don’t think that it would hurt to at least investigate the option further.

  8. dpd or others-
    i didnt watch the council meeting last evening….

    did ruth give a reason for not voting for the charter city motion?

    i don’t think that it would hurt to at least investigate the option further.

  9. David Greenwald (AKA DPD):

    A little history.

    A group of students started the campaign to institute choice voting. It was strongly supported by council members Steve Souza and Lamar Heystek.

    Because of this, a measure was put on the ballot which asked whether voters would be interested in considering choice voting.

    I had spoken against putting this measure on the ballot, because the implications of a “yes” or “no” vote would be unclear, i.e., how do you implement “consider”?

    Nonetheless, the measure was put on the ballot and passed.

    Meanwhile, most of the students who had wanted choice voting on the ballot graduated, and are no longer around to advocate for their cause.

    That said, the ballot measure did pass. We knew when we put the measure on the ballot we would need a charter in order to “seriously consider” choice voting.

    So, as I said last night, I think the council has no ethical choice at this point but to put a charter in place which allows us to the option of instituting choice voting.

  10. David Greenwald (AKA DPD):

    A little history.

    A group of students started the campaign to institute choice voting. It was strongly supported by council members Steve Souza and Lamar Heystek.

    Because of this, a measure was put on the ballot which asked whether voters would be interested in considering choice voting.

    I had spoken against putting this measure on the ballot, because the implications of a “yes” or “no” vote would be unclear, i.e., how do you implement “consider”?

    Nonetheless, the measure was put on the ballot and passed.

    Meanwhile, most of the students who had wanted choice voting on the ballot graduated, and are no longer around to advocate for their cause.

    That said, the ballot measure did pass. We knew when we put the measure on the ballot we would need a charter in order to “seriously consider” choice voting.

    So, as I said last night, I think the council has no ethical choice at this point but to put a charter in place which allows us to the option of instituting choice voting.

  11. David Greenwald (AKA DPD):

    A little history.

    A group of students started the campaign to institute choice voting. It was strongly supported by council members Steve Souza and Lamar Heystek.

    Because of this, a measure was put on the ballot which asked whether voters would be interested in considering choice voting.

    I had spoken against putting this measure on the ballot, because the implications of a “yes” or “no” vote would be unclear, i.e., how do you implement “consider”?

    Nonetheless, the measure was put on the ballot and passed.

    Meanwhile, most of the students who had wanted choice voting on the ballot graduated, and are no longer around to advocate for their cause.

    That said, the ballot measure did pass. We knew when we put the measure on the ballot we would need a charter in order to “seriously consider” choice voting.

    So, as I said last night, I think the council has no ethical choice at this point but to put a charter in place which allows us to the option of instituting choice voting.

  12. David Greenwald (AKA DPD):

    A little history.

    A group of students started the campaign to institute choice voting. It was strongly supported by council members Steve Souza and Lamar Heystek.

    Because of this, a measure was put on the ballot which asked whether voters would be interested in considering choice voting.

    I had spoken against putting this measure on the ballot, because the implications of a “yes” or “no” vote would be unclear, i.e., how do you implement “consider”?

    Nonetheless, the measure was put on the ballot and passed.

    Meanwhile, most of the students who had wanted choice voting on the ballot graduated, and are no longer around to advocate for their cause.

    That said, the ballot measure did pass. We knew when we put the measure on the ballot we would need a charter in order to “seriously consider” choice voting.

    So, as I said last night, I think the council has no ethical choice at this point but to put a charter in place which allows us to the option of instituting choice voting.

  13. “One of the keys arose from Councilmember Don Saylor–why are only one-fourth of the cities in California Charter Cities?”

    I think the lady from the city staff answered this. She said that all California cities started out as general law cities and they will remain general law cities unless they have a specific need to change into a charter city. So far one-fourth of California cities have had a need to change. Davis’ need is to permit Choice Voting. If we didn’t have that need, we would have no reason to adopt a charter. But we do, so we should.

  14. “One of the keys arose from Councilmember Don Saylor–why are only one-fourth of the cities in California Charter Cities?”

    I think the lady from the city staff answered this. She said that all California cities started out as general law cities and they will remain general law cities unless they have a specific need to change into a charter city. So far one-fourth of California cities have had a need to change. Davis’ need is to permit Choice Voting. If we didn’t have that need, we would have no reason to adopt a charter. But we do, so we should.

  15. “One of the keys arose from Councilmember Don Saylor–why are only one-fourth of the cities in California Charter Cities?”

    I think the lady from the city staff answered this. She said that all California cities started out as general law cities and they will remain general law cities unless they have a specific need to change into a charter city. So far one-fourth of California cities have had a need to change. Davis’ need is to permit Choice Voting. If we didn’t have that need, we would have no reason to adopt a charter. But we do, so we should.

  16. “One of the keys arose from Councilmember Don Saylor–why are only one-fourth of the cities in California Charter Cities?”

    I think the lady from the city staff answered this. She said that all California cities started out as general law cities and they will remain general law cities unless they have a specific need to change into a charter city. So far one-fourth of California cities have had a need to change. Davis’ need is to permit Choice Voting. If we didn’t have that need, we would have no reason to adopt a charter. But we do, so we should.

  17. here’s hoping that the charter discussion allows us a shot at enacting district voting, along with choice voting. it would lessen the cost of campaigning significantly, and make the council more responsive to neighborhood issues.

  18. here’s hoping that the charter discussion allows us a shot at enacting district voting, along with choice voting. it would lessen the cost of campaigning significantly, and make the council more responsive to neighborhood issues.

  19. here’s hoping that the charter discussion allows us a shot at enacting district voting, along with choice voting. it would lessen the cost of campaigning significantly, and make the council more responsive to neighborhood issues.

  20. here’s hoping that the charter discussion allows us a shot at enacting district voting, along with choice voting. it would lessen the cost of campaigning significantly, and make the council more responsive to neighborhood issues.

  21. additionally, a strong mayor system would at least put control of city staff under some sort of democratic supervision. it’s pretty clear that the weak mayor system has led to a city manager that acts a lot like an unelected mayor.

  22. additionally, a strong mayor system would at least put control of city staff under some sort of democratic supervision. it’s pretty clear that the weak mayor system has led to a city manager that acts a lot like an unelected mayor.

  23. additionally, a strong mayor system would at least put control of city staff under some sort of democratic supervision. it’s pretty clear that the weak mayor system has led to a city manager that acts a lot like an unelected mayor.

  24. additionally, a strong mayor system would at least put control of city staff under some sort of democratic supervision. it’s pretty clear that the weak mayor system has led to a city manager that acts a lot like an unelected mayor.

  25. There are HUGE potential implications of Davis becoming a charter city. In general, a charter city is given much greater control over its “municipal affairs.” What this means for any particular municipality probably depends on how the City Council might use their charter to change those procedures from those set forth in state Constitution (which general law cities must follow).

    This opens the door to all manner of potentially troubling issues. It is not clear whether the Heystek/Souza proposed charter could effectivly limit the new powers and potential for mischief.

    In general law cities, zoning must be consistent with the General Plan.

    In a general law city, a 2/3 majority is required to institute or raise special taxes.

    In a general law city, “general taxes” require voter approval. A City Council can’t for instance, institute a real estate transfer tax without voter approval.

    How might these things change under a charter? Could a well-written charter prevent later actions by a future City Council to exercise other charter city powers (beyond choice voting)?

    All of this should be investigated very thoroughly before even considering charter city status.

  26. There are HUGE potential implications of Davis becoming a charter city. In general, a charter city is given much greater control over its “municipal affairs.” What this means for any particular municipality probably depends on how the City Council might use their charter to change those procedures from those set forth in state Constitution (which general law cities must follow).

    This opens the door to all manner of potentially troubling issues. It is not clear whether the Heystek/Souza proposed charter could effectivly limit the new powers and potential for mischief.

    In general law cities, zoning must be consistent with the General Plan.

    In a general law city, a 2/3 majority is required to institute or raise special taxes.

    In a general law city, “general taxes” require voter approval. A City Council can’t for instance, institute a real estate transfer tax without voter approval.

    How might these things change under a charter? Could a well-written charter prevent later actions by a future City Council to exercise other charter city powers (beyond choice voting)?

    All of this should be investigated very thoroughly before even considering charter city status.

  27. There are HUGE potential implications of Davis becoming a charter city. In general, a charter city is given much greater control over its “municipal affairs.” What this means for any particular municipality probably depends on how the City Council might use their charter to change those procedures from those set forth in state Constitution (which general law cities must follow).

    This opens the door to all manner of potentially troubling issues. It is not clear whether the Heystek/Souza proposed charter could effectivly limit the new powers and potential for mischief.

    In general law cities, zoning must be consistent with the General Plan.

    In a general law city, a 2/3 majority is required to institute or raise special taxes.

    In a general law city, “general taxes” require voter approval. A City Council can’t for instance, institute a real estate transfer tax without voter approval.

    How might these things change under a charter? Could a well-written charter prevent later actions by a future City Council to exercise other charter city powers (beyond choice voting)?

    All of this should be investigated very thoroughly before even considering charter city status.

  28. There are HUGE potential implications of Davis becoming a charter city. In general, a charter city is given much greater control over its “municipal affairs.” What this means for any particular municipality probably depends on how the City Council might use their charter to change those procedures from those set forth in state Constitution (which general law cities must follow).

    This opens the door to all manner of potentially troubling issues. It is not clear whether the Heystek/Souza proposed charter could effectivly limit the new powers and potential for mischief.

    In general law cities, zoning must be consistent with the General Plan.

    In a general law city, a 2/3 majority is required to institute or raise special taxes.

    In a general law city, “general taxes” require voter approval. A City Council can’t for instance, institute a real estate transfer tax without voter approval.

    How might these things change under a charter? Could a well-written charter prevent later actions by a future City Council to exercise other charter city powers (beyond choice voting)?

    All of this should be investigated very thoroughly before even considering charter city status.

  29. Davisite and Megan (especially Megan) both have it right about the 75% of California cities that haven’t adopted charters. Adoption is pretty much always motivated by a specific issue. In Davis, that issue is choice voting.

    Council Member Saylor is right to call for due diligence on this and other questions about charter city status. But, on the disadvantages, the answer will turn out to be that there really are none.

    Anonymous #1 asks why Council Member Asmundson dissented from the motion to get a staff analysis. She said she is in favor of becoming a charter city, but is opposed to choice voting and won’t vote for anything that mentions it. Other members pointed out that the draft charter does not require choice voting — only permits it — but that didn’t change her mind.

    The issues of prevailing wages and collective bargaining are extremely important to me — as they are, apparently, to Doug. It should be acknowledged that some charter adoptions have been motivated by a desire to override state law in this area. But those adoptions are in places that are anti-labor to begin with.

    You can’t very well ask for local control only with regard to the things where you want differ from state law. Aside from choice voting, public financing of campaigns also comes to mind. Local control means just that: Davis voters decide for Davis.

    By the way, when you’re talking to progressives and liberals it’s called “local control”. When you’re talking to conservatives, it’s called “home rule”. Called by either name, is something a very broad spectrum of people can agree on.

  30. Davisite and Megan (especially Megan) both have it right about the 75% of California cities that haven’t adopted charters. Adoption is pretty much always motivated by a specific issue. In Davis, that issue is choice voting.

    Council Member Saylor is right to call for due diligence on this and other questions about charter city status. But, on the disadvantages, the answer will turn out to be that there really are none.

    Anonymous #1 asks why Council Member Asmundson dissented from the motion to get a staff analysis. She said she is in favor of becoming a charter city, but is opposed to choice voting and won’t vote for anything that mentions it. Other members pointed out that the draft charter does not require choice voting — only permits it — but that didn’t change her mind.

    The issues of prevailing wages and collective bargaining are extremely important to me — as they are, apparently, to Doug. It should be acknowledged that some charter adoptions have been motivated by a desire to override state law in this area. But those adoptions are in places that are anti-labor to begin with.

    You can’t very well ask for local control only with regard to the things where you want differ from state law. Aside from choice voting, public financing of campaigns also comes to mind. Local control means just that: Davis voters decide for Davis.

    By the way, when you’re talking to progressives and liberals it’s called “local control”. When you’re talking to conservatives, it’s called “home rule”. Called by either name, is something a very broad spectrum of people can agree on.

  31. Davisite and Megan (especially Megan) both have it right about the 75% of California cities that haven’t adopted charters. Adoption is pretty much always motivated by a specific issue. In Davis, that issue is choice voting.

    Council Member Saylor is right to call for due diligence on this and other questions about charter city status. But, on the disadvantages, the answer will turn out to be that there really are none.

    Anonymous #1 asks why Council Member Asmundson dissented from the motion to get a staff analysis. She said she is in favor of becoming a charter city, but is opposed to choice voting and won’t vote for anything that mentions it. Other members pointed out that the draft charter does not require choice voting — only permits it — but that didn’t change her mind.

    The issues of prevailing wages and collective bargaining are extremely important to me — as they are, apparently, to Doug. It should be acknowledged that some charter adoptions have been motivated by a desire to override state law in this area. But those adoptions are in places that are anti-labor to begin with.

    You can’t very well ask for local control only with regard to the things where you want differ from state law. Aside from choice voting, public financing of campaigns also comes to mind. Local control means just that: Davis voters decide for Davis.

    By the way, when you’re talking to progressives and liberals it’s called “local control”. When you’re talking to conservatives, it’s called “home rule”. Called by either name, is something a very broad spectrum of people can agree on.

  32. Davisite and Megan (especially Megan) both have it right about the 75% of California cities that haven’t adopted charters. Adoption is pretty much always motivated by a specific issue. In Davis, that issue is choice voting.

    Council Member Saylor is right to call for due diligence on this and other questions about charter city status. But, on the disadvantages, the answer will turn out to be that there really are none.

    Anonymous #1 asks why Council Member Asmundson dissented from the motion to get a staff analysis. She said she is in favor of becoming a charter city, but is opposed to choice voting and won’t vote for anything that mentions it. Other members pointed out that the draft charter does not require choice voting — only permits it — but that didn’t change her mind.

    The issues of prevailing wages and collective bargaining are extremely important to me — as they are, apparently, to Doug. It should be acknowledged that some charter adoptions have been motivated by a desire to override state law in this area. But those adoptions are in places that are anti-labor to begin with.

    You can’t very well ask for local control only with regard to the things where you want differ from state law. Aside from choice voting, public financing of campaigns also comes to mind. Local control means just that: Davis voters decide for Davis.

    By the way, when you’re talking to progressives and liberals it’s called “local control”. When you’re talking to conservatives, it’s called “home rule”. Called by either name, is something a very broad spectrum of people can agree on.

  33. So, how would a charter city have differed in regard to changing the zoning of the Target site? As a charter city, would a simple majority of the city council be able to change ag zoning to commercial or retail, even if that violates the General Plan?
    I wonder if choice voting, which IMO is of very limited value (if any), will cause a change in city governance that residents will come to regret when there is a council majority in favor of development.

  34. So, how would a charter city have differed in regard to changing the zoning of the Target site? As a charter city, would a simple majority of the city council be able to change ag zoning to commercial or retail, even if that violates the General Plan?
    I wonder if choice voting, which IMO is of very limited value (if any), will cause a change in city governance that residents will come to regret when there is a council majority in favor of development.

  35. So, how would a charter city have differed in regard to changing the zoning of the Target site? As a charter city, would a simple majority of the city council be able to change ag zoning to commercial or retail, even if that violates the General Plan?
    I wonder if choice voting, which IMO is of very limited value (if any), will cause a change in city governance that residents will come to regret when there is a council majority in favor of development.

  36. So, how would a charter city have differed in regard to changing the zoning of the Target site? As a charter city, would a simple majority of the city council be able to change ag zoning to commercial or retail, even if that violates the General Plan?
    I wonder if choice voting, which IMO is of very limited value (if any), will cause a change in city governance that residents will come to regret when there is a council majority in favor of development.

  37. Wu Ming and Don Shore,

    The cost of running council campaigns is prohibitively high these days, unless a candidate has support from the growth-related businesses and the firemen’s union. These are the two special interests that have the greatest financial stake in council decisions, and hence, can raise the extra margin of money needed to mount a city-wide campaign.

    Although district elections have their disadvantages, I have always supported them due to the high cost of running city-wide.

    Becoming a charter city would allow us to adopt district elections with instant run-off voting.

  38. Wu Ming and Don Shore,

    The cost of running council campaigns is prohibitively high these days, unless a candidate has support from the growth-related businesses and the firemen’s union. These are the two special interests that have the greatest financial stake in council decisions, and hence, can raise the extra margin of money needed to mount a city-wide campaign.

    Although district elections have their disadvantages, I have always supported them due to the high cost of running city-wide.

    Becoming a charter city would allow us to adopt district elections with instant run-off voting.

  39. Wu Ming and Don Shore,

    The cost of running council campaigns is prohibitively high these days, unless a candidate has support from the growth-related businesses and the firemen’s union. These are the two special interests that have the greatest financial stake in council decisions, and hence, can raise the extra margin of money needed to mount a city-wide campaign.

    Although district elections have their disadvantages, I have always supported them due to the high cost of running city-wide.

    Becoming a charter city would allow us to adopt district elections with instant run-off voting.

  40. Wu Ming and Don Shore,

    The cost of running council campaigns is prohibitively high these days, unless a candidate has support from the growth-related businesses and the firemen’s union. These are the two special interests that have the greatest financial stake in council decisions, and hence, can raise the extra margin of money needed to mount a city-wide campaign.

    Although district elections have their disadvantages, I have always supported them due to the high cost of running city-wide.

    Becoming a charter city would allow us to adopt district elections with instant run-off voting.