As small-business owners, we have learned the importance of timing and the value of a dollar. In the private sector, decisions are determined by market conditions, supply and demand, available resources and a business's priorities. We have tried to bring this line of thoughtful, priority-based budgeting to the City Council.
In June, a majority of the City Council voted to place a charter review commission on the November ballot, Measure M. While we absolutely support public participation in city governance, we voted no to the commission. It's the wrong time and the wrong priority for the city. Here's why:
Commissions are expensive: The city of Sacramento spent more than $200,000 to put this measure on the ballot. If it passes, the city will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars or more to provide the commission with the staff and legal resources they will require. This cost is estimated to be a minimum of $600,000. The last time a California city placed this language on a ballot was in the 1990s. The commission cost the city of Los Angeles $1.8 million, the equivalent of $2.5 million today.
Potential litigation: The city of Los Angeles also faced a lawsuit because its charter commission was found to be in violation of the Voting Rights Act. The elected commissioners did not necessarily provide a base of equal representation for the city. Sacramento does not need any such costly and time-consuming distraction or litigation, and our measure mirrors the language used in Los Angeles, leaving us vulnerable to the same outcome.
Special Interests: More than 50 candidates are on the ballot, each representing a different special interest. Sacramento stands to gain 15 new elected representatives who will need to comply with Fair Political Practices Commission standards and receive email accounts and staff time, exhausting city resources. This is additional bureaucracy with no accountability that we cannot afford.
Sacramento has higher priorities: The city must make restoring services and protecting public safety its top priority. In the past two years, we have laid off 160 police officers, and this year we had to resort to charity in order to keep our swimming pools open. We "brown out" three fire stations every day and don't adequately maintain our parks. We have closed nine community centers. The cost of the charter commission could bring back six to 20 police officers, keep three to six pools open next summer, or keep more fire engines running.
There is no focus: Charter reforms should be focused to address specific problems or inefficiencies in our governance. The city charter is complex and covers a broad range of issues, from civil service to charter officers, to elections requirements and more. Any revision initiatives to the charter should have specific goals and desired outcomes intended to address specific problems in our governance structure. This commission has no stated outcome and no requirement for a work product.
In a time where our region faces double-digit unemployment and we have seen more than a thousand jobs leave our city in the past few months, we should be spending all available resources on stabilizing our economy, recruiting and retaining private-sector employers, and aggressively pursuing growth to our region's job base.
With scarce resources and significant challenges facing our city, placing the commission on the ballot is a political distraction we do not need, and one that we can't afford right now. The council needs to focus on the priorities most important to the people of Sacramento. Growing our economy, preserving public safety, restoring our parks and protecting our bottom line are the issues people tell us are most important to them. Those are the issues we choose to focus on. That's why we voted "No" on the commission and why we are asking you to join us in voting "No" on Measure M on Nov. 6. For more information, visit mcostssac.com.