By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. Supporters of the House of Blues, for example, could argue with good reason that it was the city that was doing the bullying, awarding the contract to the Nederlanders because the family was closely tied to a number of elected officials and had developed a cozy relationship that was not necessarily in the city’s best interest.
In the case of the strip clubs, a First Amendment advocate could argue honestly that the city was spending precious time and resources telling adults what they could and couldn’t do behind closed doors when there were more pressing problems to deal with, like violent crime.
But the referendum is available only to groups that are sufficiently organized and funded to canvass the city for thousands of valid signatures within a very limited 30-day period.
Both City Charter commissions debated with the old referendum, recall and initiative language, but in the end decided to leave it alone. Constitutional law scholar Erwin Chemerinsky, the USC law professor who chaired the elected Charter Commission, has long been opposed to initiatives as a vehicle for lawmaking, but is less troubled by the prospect of more referendum drives.
“This is different,” Chemerinsky said. “It isn’t adopting a law, it’s repealing it. A lot of the concerns about the initiative aren’t present, like review by the legal staff and the committee process. But there are real benefits to letting the Legislature make the law.”
Charter guru Raphael Sonenshein, the Cal State Fullerton political science professor who directed the appointed commission and has written a book about reform in Los Angeles, said it didn’t seem possible that anyone would ever gather the signatures needed to make a referendum work.
“It’s a tool that has been largely dormant and has suddenly come to life,” Sonenshein said. “Now, elected officials when they vote will be looking over their shoulders all the time at referenda.”
Paid signature gatherers, Sonenshein pointed out, are pretty good at getting things on the ballot. Besides, “Consultants love these things. They get a client who pays. And petitions are getting more and more scientific.”
The referendum, of course, is not limited to Los Angeles. Signatures are currently being sought for ballot measures to repeal the car tax, to revoke the law permitting illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses, and a host of other laws signed by Davis in his waning days. Referendum petitions almost never promote a liberal or progressive agenda — at least, not yet.
One drive, emblematic if not typical of the new popularity of the referendum, is the campaign against the driver’s-license bill by KFI radio personalities John and Ken. The duo, who railed against Davis and campaigned on-air for Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger, have held signing parties at restaurants across Southern California. They get signatures, meet their fans and boost their ratings, all at once.
Christi Walden, the energetic Westside resident who helped push the council to pass the lap-dance ban, was nearly at a loss for words last week as she wrestled with whether to ask the council to compromise on the law or wait until 2005.
“Here we thought we had a huge victory with a unanimous council vote,” she said. “Then the industry comes along and spends $400,000 for a ballot measure. What can you do?”
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