BY DONNA WESTFALL
California is one of the states that practice Direct Democracy. This allows citizens to place issues on the state or local ballot so that voters have an opportunity to enact laws they deem necessary for a functioning society that their representatives may not be interested or motivated in pursuing. The man responsible for this People Rule form of government is Dr. John R. Haynes.
Dr. Haynes is referred to in the “California Outlook” of September 9, 1911, by its editor, Mr. Charles D. Willard, in the following terms:
“There is in Dr. John R. Haynes some of the material of which great law-makers are made, also something of the hero and martyr, also a bit of the prophet and seer, and a lot of the keen, vigorous man of affairs. It took all of that to accomplish what he has put to his credit in the State of California. He arrived in Los Angeles from Philadelphia in 1887 and started right to work for direct legislation. It took ten years to make the people understand what it was, and then five years more to get it into the Los Angeles city charter. He did it; nobody can dispute the honor with him; and he was abused and insulted every inch of the way. For ten years and more he has been urging every State Legislature to let the people vote on a “people’s-rule” amendment. At last he won that fight. Incidentally, as mere side issues, it might be mentioned that he is one of the most eminent physicians of California, that he is one of the city’s largest property holders, and that he is personally one of the most popular men in that part of the country.”
In 1895, Haynes help found a branch of the California Direct Legislation League dedicated to winning the rights of the initiative, referendum and recall. Why did he dedicate so much of his life to this? Because of corruption. The entire state of California had been under the domination of Southern Pacific Railroad. Bribery was the accepted method of doing business in the State Capitol. Realizing the hopelessness of dealing with the current office holders, he and other reformers began a program to get rid of them and remake state government from top to bottom.
With Crescent City, City Councils knee deep in back slapping and glad handing with staff over first approving the one and only bid for $37 million to upgrade and expand the old sewer system lacking the thought process to question what a $44 million State Revolving loan would do to this community. Lacking the fiduciary responsibility to question whether or not the bid was fixed. Then not questioning 20 change orders throughout the ordeal of construction. Allowing construction to start 6 months before the Prop 218 protest process. Not questioning the former Public Works Director, Jim Barnts, involvement in needing sewer to his projects behind Wal Mart and Ace Hardware so his buddies could build low income apartments getting exempt from property taxes. Having a Grand Jury with a stacked deck concluding it was only the “appearance of a conflict of interest,” not an actual conflict of interest.
For these reasons and more, the latest increase to the sewer rate is a slap in the face to the intelligence of the public already groaning under high rates for water and sewer.
I think I would have enjoyed know Dr. Haynes and his wife who worked for women’s right to vote. His dedication to the public’s right to correct the wrongs of bad government and crooked government affects us to this day. The referendum process is simple. 30 days after the City Council voted to approve the increase in sewer rates, the law takes effect. This is through an Ordinance. An ordinance is overturned through the referendum process. One day after the law takes effect, the public is allowed to start collecting signatures. That’s what will happen around June 18th.
The Prop 218 protest allows both county and city ratepayers/owners to “vote.” An owner can protest or a tenant can protest if they are responsible for paying the sewer bill. A referendum is different in that it goes to the ballot and the Prop 218 is not a ballot issue. Another contrast; Prop 218 protestors do not have to be registered voters. Those that sign the referendum do have to be registered voters and they have to live in the City of Crescent City. It is a City issue. County voters will not be allowed to vote on the issue of raised sewer rates.
The next step in the referendum process is to collect 10% of the registered voters. This morning, County Clerk/Registrar or Voters Alissia Northrup emailed me a listing of the current registered voters in the City. As of May 19th she has 1,725 registered voters. 10% of that is 173. We will plan on collecting closer to 300 signatures. People are already lining up to sign.
Then the issue will be having it go to the ballot if the City Council does not repeal their decision to increase the sewer rates. I expect it will not make the November 2014 ballot although if the City decides to streamline the signature validation process, Ms. Northrup believes it could still make the deadline for November’s ballot. I anticipate the City will drag their feet and thus make the Referendum go to a Special Election. This is a cost that the city will have to bear because that’s the law.
This is another example in our little town of Direct Democracy. The last example was voting the fluoride out of our water, an initiative placed on the ballot by local citizens. Dr. Haynes would be proud! We are his legacy and fulfilling his vision of citizens taking control of their government and not settling for what a few invested parties have to offer.