Clarity Blog

Clarity Blog

Posts Tagged ‘city council’

The Rise of the Referendum

City councils in Azusa, San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente each approved major land use projects over the past few months.  All three of these projects are now in a battle for survival as voters attempt to overturn project approvals through the referendum process.

These three incidents should serve as a cautionary tale for property owners:  You don’t just need the support of decision-makers; you need the support of more than 50 percent of the voters.  This support should be secured prior to a vote of a city council or board of supervisors because referendum signature gathering begins immediately after project approval.

As Orange County’s leading public affairs firm, we’ve helped clients defeat referendum drives. In one instance, our efforts helped give Yorba Linda its own high school, as our YLHS YES! campaign for Shapell Homes turned back opponents.

Here’s a review of the basic process under state law (municipalities may alter this process by ordinance, so be sure to check):

  • Proponents have 30 days from approval of the ordinance to circulate a petition calling for repeal.
  • There is no title and summary or publication requirement.  Proponents may commence circulating the petition as soon as the ordinance is adopted.
  • The referendum must contain the full text of the ordinance or legislative act the proponents are challenging.
  • Proponents must gather signatures from not less than 10 percent of the registered voters in the city according to the last report of registration.
  • Any voter who has signed a petition may withdraw his or her signature by filing a written request with the elections officer at least one day before the petition is filed.
  • The ordinance that is subject of a referendum is automatically suspended once the referendum petition qualifies [NOTE – this stops any activity on your property related to the approvals you just received].
  • Once the city election official certifies the referendum has the requisite number of signatures, Council must either repeal the ordinance, or place the measure on the next regular municipal election, or call a special election to consider the ordinance.
  • If a special election is called, it must be held no later than 88 days from the date the election is called.
  • The City attorney prepares an impartial summary and the proponents and opponents prepare arguments for and against the referendum (and rebuttals) for the ballot statement.

A good reference:  California elections code section 9235-9242.  If you’re facing a referendum, or feel your project may face one upon Council approval, give us a call so we can talk strategy.

In OC at least, incumbents fared well

Nationally, 2010 definitely was a star-crossed political year, as most incumbents did all they could to cross off that little * that noted their incumbency.  And, it turned out, they had good reason to, as the roll call in both the House and the Senate and the names on the door of many Governors’ offices will change dramatically, come January.

Not so in Orange County.

In our city council races, 63 incumbents were on the ballot, and 48 will be staying on their respective councils – roughly three-quarters of them.  Just 15 lost their re-election bids, including several LP&A friends – Joel Bishop in Dana Point, Toni Iseman in Laguna Beach (once a great Coastal Commission member), Craig Scott in Laguna Niguel, Richard Dixon in Lake Forest and Neil Blaise in Rancho Santa Margarita.

It was much the same with OC’s water and special district races, as 78 percent of the incumbents held their seats, including all the incumbents at the water districts on the LP&A client list – Irvine Ranch, Moulton Niguel and Mesa Consolidated (with the possible exception of Jim Fisler for the short-term seat at Mesa, which currently remains too close to call).  We have some friends among the incumbents who will be leaving: Richard Dietmeier at South Coast and John Summerfield and Bill Mills at Yorba Linda, but were most surprised to see Arlene Schafer voted off the Mesa Sanitary Board.  Arlene is a star who has given tirelessly of herself to promote and protect the interests of Special Districts.

All members of the OC Congressional delegation survived their challenges, most by margins of 30 points or more, although Loretta Sanchez didn’t know until late in the evening that she had defeated her Republican challenger, Van Tran.  The same incumbent-friendly aura covered our Sacramento delegation, except perhaps Democrat incumbent Tony Mendoza in the 56th, who leads his GOP challenger Henry Bestwick by just 96 votes out of 12,247 ballots counted thus far.

Our congrats go to all the winners, and to those who lost, our thanks for their public service and our best wishes to them in their next endeavors.

Campaign Contributions: Many Theories and Many Risks

(Ed. Note: This post summarizes commentary written by Laer for the June 2010 issue of Builder News Magazine. You can read the full version here.)

The filing date for city council candidates across Southern California is fast approaching and campaign contribution requests will come just as fast.

As a public affairs consultant who has been involved in the approval of more than 400,000 homes, I’ve participated in many strategy sessions during election seasons, and have identified four fundamental ways our clients approach corporate campaign contributions:

  • The pragmatists, who contribute to those considered most likely to get elected, so only “winning” investments are made
  • The idealists, who contribute only to those who are likely to support building, even if it’s unlikely they’ll win
  • The navel-gazers, who balance electability against support for the industry, and make highly nuanced contributions
  • The deniers, who don’t make any campaign contributions at all, ever.

We’ve had clients take each of these approaches and subsequently get projects approvedSo which approach is best?  You can click here to read our full story on this topic featured in Builder News.

But the bottom line is campaign contributions are just a form of communications.  You are communicating through your money, and you are hoping your money will lead to access – the opportunity to communicate – after the election.  Consequently, the same rules apply to contributions as apply to all communications:

  • Prepare your messages, and update them as circumstances change
  • Seek to listen, not just to talk
  • Act only after you’re fully prepared to respond to negative questions.

Lastly, be sure to make a contribution to the building industry PAC – even if you’re contributing separately, because the industry’s voice needs to be heard, too.