Laws governing local ballot measures in California
This article sets out the laws governing local ballot measures in California. It explains:
- Which local units of government make the initiative process available to residents.
- How and whether local units of government, including school districts, can refer local ballot measures (such as school bond propositions) to the ballot.
- An overview of laws governing local recall elections.
Note that California is one of twenty-four states that allow the initiative process at the statewide level.
Types of local government
Local government in California consists of:
- Cities: as of November 2012, California had 482 cities. California's city with the largest population is Los Angeles, with a population of 3,792,621 as of the 2010 census. The city with the smallest population in California is Vernon which, as of the 2010 census, had a population of 112.
- Counties: California has 58 counties. (including San Francisco which is a consolidated city-county and listed by the U.S. Census Bureau as a city government)
- Public school districts: there are roughly 1,300 public school districts in the state.
- Special taxing districts: this includes Community Service Districts, Fire Protection Districts, Parks & Recreation Districts, Hospital Districts, and more. As of 2011, there were 4,772 special districts in California.
- San Francisco is a consolidated city-county government, exercising powers and responsibilities of both forms of government.
Counties in California are classified in one of two ways:
- Charter counties: 14 of the 58 counties are governed under a charter. They are Alameda, Butte, El Dorado, Fresno, Los Angeles, Orange, Placer, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Tehama. 
- General law counties: the remaining 44 operate under the general law.
Cities in California are classified in one of two ways:
- Charter cities: as of November 2012, there were 121 charter cities in the state.
- General law cities: the remaining 361 cities are general law cities.
- See also: School bond elections in California
California school bond elections are local ballot measures that ask voters to decide on whether the school district that is sponsoring the measure should be allowed to issue bonds, and incur the additional indebtedness that bonds bring with them.
California also has a statewide school building program known as the School Facilities Grant Program which is supported by statewide bond measures such as Proposition 1D in 2006. Statewide bond measures require a simple majority to pass.
Local school districts can also issue school construction bonds and levy property taxes to pay for them, as long as the voters in the district approve.
Local recall rules
The authority to conduct a recall election in California only applies to politicians at the state and local levels; as with most states, the right of recall in California does not extend to recalling federal politicians. In California, citizens can recall "judges of courts of appeal and trial courts".
- For additional detail, see: Laws governing recall in California
Initiative process availability
The local units of government in California that make the initiative process available are:
- All 361 general law cities, which have a state mandated initiative and referendum process for ordinances.
- All 121 charter cities, which have a state mandated initiative and referendum process for charter amendments.
- All 43 general law counties, which have a state mandated initiative and referendum process for ordinances.
- All 14 charter counties, which have a state mandated initiative and referendum process.
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Section 11 of Article II of the California Constitution gives the citizens of general law cities and counties the power change ordinances through initiative and referendum.
Text of Article II, Section 11:
|“|| (a) Initiative and referendum powers may be exercised by the electors of each city or county under procedures that the Legislature shall provide. Except as provided in subdivisions (b) and (c), this section does not affect a city having a charter.
(b) A city or county initiative measure shall not include or exclude any part of the city or county from the application or effect of its provisions based upon approval or disapproval of the initiative measure, or based upon the casting of a specified percentage of votes in favor of the measure, by the electors of the city or county or any part thereof. (c) A city or county initiative measure shall not contain alternative or cumulative provisions wherein one or more of those provisions would become law depending upon the casting of a specified percentage of votes for or against the measure.
Section 3 of Article XI gives all cities and counties the power to become charter cities and counties and gives all citizens the power to amend their charters through initiative and referendum.
Text of Article XI, Section 3:
|“|| (a) For its own government, a county or city may adopt a charter by majority vote of its electors voting on the question. The charter is effective when filed with the Secretary of State. A charter may be amended, revised, or repealed in the same manner. A charter, amendment, revision, or repeal thereof shall be published in the official state statutes. County charters adopted pursuant to this section shall supersede any existing charter and all laws inconsistent therewith. The provisions of a charter are the law of the State and have the force and effect of legislative enactments.
(b) The governing body or charter commission of a county or city may propose a charter or revision. Amendment or repeal may be proposed by initiative or by the governing body. (c) An election to determine whether to draft or revise a charter and elect a charter commission may be required by initiative or by the governing body. (d) If provisions of 2 or more measures approved at the same election conflict, those of the measure receiving the highest affirmative vote shall prevail.
|A guide to local ballot initiatives|
Section 9201 of the California Elections Code mandates the power to change ordinances in general law cities through initiative and referendum. Section 9101 mandates the same for general law counties. Section 9255 mandates the powers of initiative and referendum regarding charter amendments.
California Elections Code:
|“|| 9201. Any proposed ordinance may be submitted to the legislative body of the city by a petition filed with the elections official of the legislative body, in the manner hereinafter prescribed, after being signed by not less than the number of voters specified in this
article. The petition may be in separate sections, providing that the petition complies with this article. The first page of each section shall contain the title of the petition and the text of the measure. The petition sections shall be designated in the manner set forth in Section 9020.
|“|| 9101. Any proposed ordinance may be submitted to the board of supervisors by filing an initiative petition with the county
elections official, signed by not less than the number of voters specified in this article.
|“|| 9255(b) The following city or city and county charter proposals shall be submitted to the voters at an established statewide general,
statewide primary, or regularly scheduled municipal election, pursuant to Section 1200, 1201, or 1301, provided that there are at least 88 days before the election: (1) An amendment or repeal of a charter proposed by the governing body of a city or a city and county on its own motion. (2) An amendment or repeal of a city charter proposed by a petition signed by 15 percent of the registered voters of the city. (3)An amendment or repeal of a city and county charter proposed by a petition signed by 10 percent of the registered voters of the city and county.
Initiative process features in general law cities
|Local I&R Laws in the 50 States|
|Source:Local Ballot Initiatives: How citizens change laws with |
clipboards, conversations, and campaigns
All information on the initiative and referendum process features is drawn from these sections of the California Elections Code: California Elections Code sections 9200-9226 and California Elections Code sections 9235-9247
Initiative process features in charter cities
The petition process for charter amendments is substantially the same as that for general law ordinances. For the specific charter amendment features see California Elections Code section 9255-9269
Initiative process in the top 10 most populated cities
|List of Most Populated Cities in California|
|City||Population||City Type||Next election|
|Los Angeles||3,819,702||Charter||March 5, 2013|
|San Francisco||812,826||Charter as consolidated city-county|
- Research document of California local I&R laws
- I&R in California's top ten most populated cities
- California league of cities
- The local initiative in California
- Center for Governmental Studies "Democracy by Initiative" Second Edition, 2008
- ↑ California State Controller, "Special Districts 2011"
- ↑ See California, California Counties
- ↑ League of California Cities, "California Residents and Basic Geography"
- ↑ Ballotpedia: Types and #'s of local government by state
- ↑ California EC 9203 b
- ↑ California EC 9237.5 and 9238
- ↑ US Census Bureau "City and Town Totals: Vintage 2011 (Population figures as of 2011 Census estimates)
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 8.8 8.9 US Census, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places in California: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2011