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City of Watsonville Vacancies Filled by Election Initiative Amendment, Measure H (June 2014)

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A City of Watsonville Vacansies Filled by Election Initiative Amendment, Measure H ballot question was on the June 3, 2014 election ballot for voters in the city of Watsonville in Santa Cruz County, California, where it was approved.

Measure H amended the city charter to require an election to fill city council vacancies, instead of vacancies being filled by an appointment from the remaining city council.

Measure H was one of three ballot initiatives put on the ballot by the group called Let The People Vote. The other two measures were called Measure I and Measure J. All three were approved.[1]

Election results

Measure H
ResultVotesPercentage
Approveda Yes 2,813 63.60%
No1,61036.40%
Election results from Santa Cruz County Elections Office

Text of measure

Ballot question

The question on the ballot:[2]

Shall Section 406 of the City Charter be changed and subdivision (k) of Section 1503 be added to the City Charter to require a vacant (as defined) Council seat be filled only by voters at either a General Municipal Election or a Special Municipal Election rather than by Council election, required to be held within ninety (90) days after the vacancy (as defined) occurs? [3]

Impartial analysis

The following impartial analysis of Measure H was prepared by the office of the city attorney:[2]

Citizen Initiative - Charter Amendment.

Signatures were gathered to place Measure H on the June 3, 2014, ballot to ask Watsonville voters to approve a Charter amendment to define “vacancy” and require an election to fill a vacancy on the City Council. This measure would amend Section 406 and add subdivision (k) to Section 1503 of the Watsonville City Charter.

A city charter, is in effect a city’s constitution. A city charter allows charter cities to have similar powers to the State, unless preempted by state law. The Watsonville City Charter was adopted in February 1960 and has been changed by the voters from time to time since.

Existing Section 406 of the Watsonville City Charter now says that California Elections Code Section 1770 “shall govern the existence of a vacancy on the City Council.” Elections Code Section 1770 defines vacancy to include among many other things: death, moving out of the City and/or resignation from office. This measure would also add a new subdivision (k) to Charter Section 1503 now defining “vacancy” as “empty or unoccupied.”

The new Section 406 says Elections Code Section 1770, “lists the conditions, upon the occurrence of, create a vacancy” but makes no reference to the new definition of vacancy in subdivision (j) of Charter Section 1503.

Existing Section 406 requires the Council to appoint a successor within 30 days to serve until the next General Municipal Election (generally every two years in November) or the vacancy must be filled by an election “forthwith.”

The new Section 406 does not allow the Council to appoint a successor to hold office until the next General Municipal Election. The new Section 406 requires an election actually be held “no later than 90 days from the date of the occurrence of the vacancy.” Since State law establishes election dates, not every vacancy may be capable of being filled at an election held on a state election date. This may affect the cost to the City of the election, the ability to consolidate the election with County and State elections to facilitate election advertising and voter turnout, and provide candidates time to campaign and raise funds.

The measure would be permanent. It will remain in effect until or unless changed by the voters.

A “Yes” vote is a vote to approve the charter amendments and adopt this new definition and method of filling a City Council vacancy. A “No” vote would reject the change and maintain the present method.

This Measure would be approved if a majority (more than fifty percent) of those voting vote “yes.” [3]

—Alan J. Smith, City Attorney, [2]

Charter changes

The full text of the enacted changes to the city charter are below:[2]

THE PEOPLE OF WATSONVILLE DO ORDAIN AS FOLLOWS:

PART 1: Proposed Amendments to City Charter

Be it enacted by the voters of the City of Watsonville that the following two (2) amendments to the Watsonville City Charter are to take effect immediately after the approval by the Watsonville City of the resolution confirming and approving the canvass of returns and result of the Election for this measure:

AMENDMENT 1: Article IV Section 406 is hereby repealed in its entirety (as noted in strikeout type below) and replaced with the following:

The provisions of Section 1770 of the Government Code of the State of California as they now exist or may hereafter be amended shall govern the existence of a vacancy. If a vacancy shall occur in the office of Councilman, the vacancy shall be filled by appointment by the Council, and the person appointed shall hold office until the first Tuesday following the next General Municipal Election, or until his successor qualifies. At the next General Municipal Election following any vacancy, a new member shall be elected to serve for the remaining period of any unexpired term. In the event the Council shall fail to fill a vacancy by appointment within thirty (30) days after such an office shall have become vacant, it shall forthwith cause an election to be held to fill such vacancy.

SECTION 406. VACANCIES.

California Government Code Section 1770 as it now exist or may hereafter be amended lists the conditions, upon the occurrence of, create a vacancy. If a vacancy shall occur in the office of a Council Member, then the vacancy shall be filled only by the election of a new Council Member to be held at either a General Municipal Election or a Special Municipal Election which the Council must cause to be held no later than ninety (90) days from the date of the occurrence of the vacancy.

A Council Member elected to fill a vacancy shall serve for the remaining period of the unexpired term of office that the new Council Member was elected to fill.

AMENDMENT 2: Section 1503(k) is hereby added to Article XV of the Watsonville City Charter:

SECTION 1503(k). “Vacancy” means empty or unoccupied. A “vacancy” cannot begin or be in effect until there is no one in actual existence discharging the duties of the office.

PART 2: General Provisions

If any provision of this measure is found to be invalid by a Court, that invalidity shall not affect the remaining portions of this measure.[3]

Support

Supporters

The following individuals signed the official arguments in favor of Measure H:[2]

  • Rick Danna, city of Watsonville Planning Commissioner
  • Ari A. Parker, teacher at P.V.U.S.D.
  • Greg Caput, Santa Cruz County Supervisor District 4
  • Yolanda Ruiz-Danna, Watsonville Library Commissioner
  • Georgia Acosta, Watsonville business owner

Arguments in favor

Official arguments

The following was submitted as the official argument in favor of Measure H:[2]

Let The People Vote – YES – on Measure H
VOTE YES for HONESTY
  • Restore the People’s right to FAIR representation.
  • Retain each District’s hope for EQUAL opportunity.
  • Rebuild trust in the election PROCESS for vacancies.

Thousands of Watsonville signatures were collected to allow each & every city voter the right to have their voices heard!

Measure H is the direct result of that grassroots effort. You now have the ability to take back your rights for fair treatment for ALL the PEOPLE of Watsonville:

  • Vote YES on Measure H —- for HONESTY
  • Vote YES on Measure H —- for INTEGRITY
  • Vote YES on Measure H —- for JUSTICE

Measure H creates an honest definition of the word “vacancy” in respect to a Council seat. As defined by Measure H a Council Seat will be considered truly “empty or unoccupied” upon death, resignation in office, or other qualifying event that creates a vacancy.

Measure H restores honesty to the democratic process. No longer will a small handful of politicians determine who will represent you on the Council. Simply, it’s your choice!

Measure H empowers City residents of the seven Council Districts to decide who will best represent their interests through a direct election. MeasureHwill end the current controversial process and restore elected Council Members who are responsive to the needs of your neighborhoods.

Measure H is an important step in taking back our basic rights as City residents. Watsonville voters need to stay alert, engaged and vigilant over our local government.

PLEASE SUPPORT “Let The People Vote” efforts by voting YES on MEASURE H
RESTORE HONESTY. Be an integral part of changing the City of Watsonville for the better.
Let’s work together for Honesty, Integrity and Justice!
VOTE YES for MEASURE H

[3]

—Rick Danna, Ari A. Parker, Greg Caput, Yolanda Ruiz-Danna and Georgia Acosta, [2]

Opposition

Opponents

The following individuals signed the official arguments in opposition to Measure H:[2]

  • Isaac Rodriguez, community volunteer
  • Leah Sugarman, educator and mother
  • Pedro Castillo, retired university professor
  • Francisco Rodriguez, educator
  • Rev. Joseph R. Barndt, pastor

Arguments against

Opponents of the group Let the People Vote and its three initiative measures argued that, while the group claimed to be a volunteer, grass-roots effort, it was actually just a puppet for outside interests. Critics posited that an organization called Capitola hired paid signature gatherers to put the initiatives on the ballot in an attempt to impose its own ideology on the people of Watsonville.[2]

Official arguments

The following was submitted as the official argument against Measure H:[2]

We respectfully ask you to vote “NO” on Measure H.

Measure H will leave city council districts vacant for up to 3 months until an election can be held. Meanwhile, you will be left without an advocate representing you on the city council on important matters.

Measure H will cost taxpayers thousands of dollars to hold an election unnecessarily.

Measure H will put us out of step with the rest of the state. The current city charter already parallels state law (Govt Code 36512(b)) that allows city councils to either temporarily appoint or call for an election. Our current charter also requires the council to appoint “within 30 days” to ensure that council districts will not be without representation for a significant time period. This would end under Measure H, and Watsonville would be the only city in the entire state with such bad policy.

Measure H undermines a 2012 Santa Cruz County Superior Court ruling that legally concluded that the Council could appoint for a vacancy and defined when a vacancy occurs. Some Measure H supporters did not win in court and now, they want to amend the charter to get their way. This is wrong.

Measure H is not a “volunteer” effort as claimed. Most signatures were collected by paid signature gatherers hired by a group based in Capitola. This secretly-funded, Capitola group is now trying to impose on Watsonville residents what it wants. The Fair Political Practices Commission is currently investigating this group regarding possible violations of campaign reporting and transparency laws.

Vote “NO” on Measure H.

Don’t let outsiders change how we govern ourselves.

Let’s save our scarce taxpayer dollars for more important needs. [3]

—Isaac Rodriguez, Leah Sugarman, Pedro Castillo, Francisco Rodriguez and Rev. Joseph R. Barndt, [2]

Let the people vote

Measure H was one of three ballot initiatives put on the ballot by the group called Let The People Vote. The other two measures were called Measure I and Measure J. Measure I required a rotating mayoral position, meaning that the council member from each of the seven city districts has a turn serving as mayor over time. Prior to Measure I, the city charter required the mayor to be elected from among the city council members by the city council. Measure J required public places to be named through an election of the people, instead of being named by the city council.[1]

Similar measures

Approveda City of Watsonville Vacancies Filled by Election Initiative Amendment, Measure H (June 2014)
Approveda City of Watsonville Mayor Rotate Initiative Amendment, Measure I (June 2014)
Approveda City of Watsonville Naming of Public Places Initiative, Measure J (June 2014)

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