Voting on V: a bundle of laws

EDITOR'S NOTE: First of two parts on Newport Beach's Measure V.

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NEWPORT BEACH – Voters reading their ballots for the first time may be surprised to find, after tackling three pages of candidate boxes and state initiatives, a summary of 13 different laws they must decide on in an up-or-down vote.

Then, if they have the time to read closely, they will find the laws are remarkably varied — covering issues from oil drilling to taxation. What they all have in common is that they came from a City Council-mandated reform to the charter, the local constitution in essence. Seven prominent citizens appointed by the City Council studied a specific list of issues with the charter and recommended changes for voters to decide on. The recommendations from this commission were then approved by the City Council and bundled into Measure V.

It might be necessary for voters to approve multiple measures at once in a comprehensive charter reform because they often deal with interrelated issues, said JoAnne Speers, the executive director of the Institute for Local Government, a good government group in Sacramento.

Huntington Beach also has a comprehensive charter measure on its November ballot.

But changing many rules at once doesn't sit well with some Newport Beach activists who complained at the Oct. 12 City Council meeting.

"Several of the changes are complex and would be controversial if they had to stand on their own," said City Council candidate Mark Tabbert. "Measure V is presented to voters as just housecleaning at times, and in the same conversation as important charter reform. Which is it? It can't be both."

Mayor Keith Curry, in response to Tabbert, said the city wanted to save the cost of printing multiple ballot measures so it condensed them into Measure V. City Clerk Leilani Brown said that the cost ranged from $116,000 to $133,000; it wasn't clear how many measures she was referring to or how much it costs to print Measure V.

The Orange County Registrar of Voters clarified: It says that the maximum savings could be about $45,000. Its estimated cost for printing one ballot measure is between $88,162 and $105,162 and for 14 separate questions, as Brown said, would be between $116,000 to $133,000.

Besides the charter reforms and a related change to municipal employment rules, Measure V includes a provision to repeal a cap on public funding to the Chamber of Commerce. This ordinance was lumped with the other charter updates because the charter reform commissioners, many of whom were associated with the chamber, recommended it be added, and the City Council consented.

City officials have praised Measure V for its taxpayer protections, but not all aspects would restrict spending. They say it would eliminate a loophole that allows the council to tax property owners and it would save advertising costs by eliminating the requirement to publish city ordinances in the newspaper. But repealing the Chamber of Commerce funding limit, and at least one other provision, would give the city more leeway to spend public dollars.

Other reasons city officials have given for bundling the provisions include convenience for voters and the assertion that none of the sections were controversial.

"I just can't imagine putting voters through 14 separate measures," said City Manager Dave Kiff.

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