Amid all the uproar over the Salida Now and Stamp Out Sprawl initiatives, a fundamental truth seems to be missing: So-called ballot-box legislating is a very inappropriate way to do government business.
The cry we frequently hear these days is "this issue is too important not to let the voters decide."
Well, seems to me the voters do decide; they decide who they wanted to sit as supervisors, Assembly members, council members, you name it. If we don't like how they govern, then we simply vote them out of office.
The legislative process is designed to make laws. It is not a task suited for the ballot box.
Consider this: The Salida Now initiative did not properly follow the process mandated by the planning law known as the California Environmental Quality Act. (As a developer, CEQA is the bane of my existence, covering every aspect of the development process, from fairy shrimp to classroom enrollment.) Local planners tell me that CEQA has to be followed prior to government approval.
Of greater concern than these recent examples is the plethora of initiatives that swamp our ballots every election.
The November 1990 ballot was inundated with 28 measures, 13 of which were initiatives. Between 2000 and 2006, 46 initiatives qualified statewide. Fewer than 30 percent were approved.
This borders on madness, for the simple reason that much of this potential law is poorly written (anyone can craft an initiative, no experience or expertise required) and virtually none of it gets read or fully understood by the electorate that so proudly passes judgment upon it.
Whether a measure is promoted by "big-bucks developers" or "grass-roots enthusiasts," the process to qualify for the ballot is always the same. Set up cardboard tables, hang a misleading sign under the table, and start gathering signatures.
I would never sign a petition that I had not read and fully understood. Which means I never sign petitions. Generally this gathers a sneer or a snarl from the signature collector, which, if I have the time, causes me to approach the table and inquire as to whether they have read and fully understand the document. Of course they have not, and do not, but sometimes it requires a quick reference to a fourth-page paragraph to expose this little deception.
And the sign — well, generally that is about as far from the truth of the document as you can get.
So, we are stuck with a deeply flawed process, one that rightly belongs to the legislative body, not the voters via the ballot box.
As to the slogan, "This is too important not to let the voters decide," well, if that is really true, then why don't voters approve the city, county and state budgets each year? There is something that is truly important. On second thought, maybe we should. The job certainly isn't getting done by our elected minions in Sacramento.
Hagerty is an Oakdale real estate developer active in communitynonprofit groups. E-mail him at email@example.com.