Commission Struggles With Draft of Plan to Overhaul State Constitution
The California Constitution Revision Commission, beginning the final draft of a dramatic overhaul of the state Constitution, struggled Friday to fashion a radically new form of local government.
The commission’s plan, if approved by the Legislature this spring, would go to California voters for approval in the November general election. It would be the most ambitious revision of the Constitution since its adoption in 1879.
Proposals include converting the two-house state Legislature into a single 121-member body, making three top elected state officials gubernatorial appointees, consolidating the two major tax collecting agencies and requiring the state to have a balanced budget.
Commission Chairman William Hauck said Gov. Pete Wilson generally supports the commission’s proposals, although he plans to take no position on a one-house legislature.
The proposal with possibly the greatest impact on Californians would allow the creation of local “charter governments” that could include some or all of the functions of current cities, counties, school districts and special districts.
The idea is to reduce the maze of 7,000 local government units in California and to make local government more efficient, autonomous, understandable and accountable.
Among the critical issues is the level of independence that local government would have from the state and whether the plan would fuel the county secession movement in areas such as Canyon Country and the San Gabriel Valley.
State Sen. Bill Leonard (R-San Bernardino), a commission member, said local governments must be given considerable autonomy “if you really want to talk about local government being in charge of its own destiny.”
Hauck said the local government proposal would be revised along the lines of Friday’s two-hour discussion and be resubmitted at the final commission meetings on Thursday and Feb. 5-6.
The 21-member commission was established in 1993 by legislation authored by state Sen. Lucy Killea (I-San Diego), who is a commission member. The group drafted a preliminary plan last summer after holding hearings throughout the state.
The plan would require the creation of a Citizens Charter Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Restructuring in each of the 58 counties.
“The CCC would develop and adopt a plan for the provision of all local government services and their financing,” the commission proposal states.
The local reorganization plans would go to voters in each county for approval in November 1998, but several commission members said they thought that schedule was too ambitious.
A major incentive for local governments to streamline and restructure is that they would gain control over their own revenue sources rather than having to depend on allocations from state government. That would include all local property taxes.
The local plan would have to reduce both the number of local entities and their operational costs, and “provide for greater public accountability.”
Two or more counties could form multi-county agencies to perform areawide functions. Counties also could be split into subgroups, if the voters wished.
The concept of sub-county charter governments triggered discussion Friday, with commission member Alan Heslop of Claremont McKenna Colleges noting that it could encourage secession movements.
Hauck said, “Our intent in this is that the Constitution will empower counties to reorganize themselves in any manner they choose. . . . You would have a lot of proposals, I would guess, to redirect boundaries.”
Leon Williams of San Diego and Betty Tom Chu of Arcadia expressed concern that regions might attempt to establish their own governments along economic and racial lines.
“There is a risk of people withdrawing into their shells like in a medieval city,” Williams said.
Hauck said any such government still would have to comply with the overall county general plan. He said it also would be subject to nullification by the courts.
Donald Benninghoven, retired executive director of the League of California Cities and the commission’s vice chairman, said, “They’ll have to work together to be a part of the larger community.”