Commentary: City charter would allow rule of three


I have read Andy Smith’s “Charter would give us ‘home rule’” in the Aug. 3 Daily Pilot, and unlike Smith, I oppose the proposed charter (Measure O). I oppose it for several reasons, but primarily I oppose the proposed charter because of the deceptive claim of “home rule.”

There will be no “home rule” as a result of this flawed proposed charter, but there will be rulers. The rulers consist of a three-member council majority that will rule over us.

The ballot summary presents the city’s interpretation of the newly proposed city charter. This document states that “Section 104 gives the city full authority over municipal affairs, regardless of whether the charter addresses that particular issue.” This means that the rulers are not limited by what is in the charter.


In addition, Section 806 of the charter states “… the language contained in this Charter is intended to be permissive rather than limiting and shall be liberally and broadly construed in favor of the exercise of power to govern with respect to any matter which is a municipal affair.”

The combined meaning of Sections 104 and 806 is that the current rulers are asking us to approve a city charter/city constitution that is not limited by what is written in it, and what is written in it is not intended to be limiting. Basically, the rulers can do almost anything.

There is an example of something the rulers can do without it being in the charter. In the ballot argument against the charter it was stated that “Measure O puts our money at risk. Charter cities have unlimited power to increase fines and assessments and to gift public funds.”

There is nothing written in the current charter about gifting of public funds; evidently it doesn’t need to be because it is a foundational aspect of charter cities. According to the Foundational Aspects of Charter Cities document posted on Costa Mesa’s website, the courts have consistently classified making charitable gifts of public funds for public purposes a municipal affair.

It is clear that the gifts must have a public purpose and must not directly or primarily benefit a private person or another entity or organization. However, gifts of public funds or property, which may coincidently benefit a private person, are not gifts within the meaning of the state Constitution, if those gifted funds are for a public purpose.

However, there is a catch. As vague as it seems, if there is a “reasonable basis,” the courts defer to the legislative body’s (rulers) determination of what constitutes a “public purpose” and the concept of public purpose has been “liberally construed by the courts.”

The rulers already have enough power. Should we risk giving them more power with a charter?

My answer is no. I support voting no on Measure O, the newly proposed, power-grabbing charter.

CHARLES MOONEY lives in Costa Mesa.