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The City of San Luis Obispo’s Measures A and B- A Look at How the City’s Charter May be Amended

The City of San Luis Obispo is governed by a Charter adopted by the local voters. The provisions of the city’s Charter may be amended from time to time or repealed by subsequent votes of the voters. An amendment to the Charter may be proposed either by the City Council or by an initiative submitted to the City Council by the voters.

The recently decided Measures A and B are examples of ballot measures proposing to amend the City’s Charter proposed by the City Council. In May of 2011, the City Council voted to submit Measures A and B to the City’s voters at an all mailed ballot special election held on August 30, 2011. Measure A asked voters to amend Charter Section 1105 (“Retirement”) to eliminate a requirement that the City Council hold an election to obtain voter approval to terminate its contract with CalPERS or negotiate another contract to reduce employee benefits. (CalPERS is the statewide retirement system used by San Luis Obispo.) Measure B asked voters to repeal Charter Section 1107 (“Impartial and Binding Arbitration for San Luis Obispo Police Officers Association and San Luis Obispo Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 3523, Employee Disputes”) establishing binding arbitration for the public safety unions.

San Luis Obispo voters had until August 30, 2011 to submit their ballot to the County Clerk-Recorder. Both measures passed with more than 70% of voters in favor of them.

In addition to the City Council placing a measure on the ballot to amend or repeal a Charter provision, the registered voters of the City may propose to amend or repeal the Charter by way of an initiative petition. This process is governed by the California Constitution, the California Elections Code, the San Luis Obispo City Charter and the San Luis Obispo Municipal Code.

The first step in the process is for the proponents of the amendment to draft the language of the proposed amendment to the Charter. They must then file with the City Clerk a Notice of Intent to Circulate the Petition, accompanied by the text of the amendment and, if desired, a written statement, stating the reasons for the amendment. The Notice must be signed by at least one but not more than three proponents. The proponents must also file a written request that the City Attorney prepare a ballot title and summary of the proposed amendment.

Upon receipt of the ballot title and summary, the proponents must publish a notice of intent to circulate the Charter amendment initiative petition, the title and the summary of the proposed measure at least once in a newspaper of general circulation in the City.

Once the notice of intent has been published, the proponents may begin circulating the petition for signatures. There are specific rules governing the form of the petition and the manner of signing the petition, which are contained in the Elections Code. Only registered voters of the City may sign the petition.

In order for a Charter amendment initiative petition to qualify for submittal to the voters, it must be signed by 15% of the total number of registered voters in the City. The petition must be filed with the City Clerk by the proponents, or by any person authorized in writing by the proponents within 180 days following the date of receipt of the title and summary from the City.

Once the petition is filed, the City Clerk will determine from voter registration records whether or not the petition is signed by the requisite number of voters. If the petition is determined to be valid, it is presented to the City Council. If the petition is lawful and procedurally in compliance with the law, the City Council has a ministerial duty to place the measure on the ballot.

This information is only a general summary of the complex laws governing charter amendments using the initiative petition process. Interested parties should research the California Elections Code and other applicable state and local law for further detail. In addition, at Carmel & Naccasha we have attorneys proficient in this area of the law.

Heather K. Whitham

hwhitham@carnaclaw.com