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Jonathan Kraut: Petitions are the people’s remedy

Posted: May 13, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: May 13, 2014 2:00 a.m.

One of the most profound rights we have as citizens is the right to petition. The First Amendment of our Constitution “prohibits Congress from abridging or prohibiting the right of the people ... to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

In California, a petition endorsed by 10 percent of verified registered voters in a specific jurisdiction is a legal document.

Basically, if enough registered voters living in a geographic area sign a petition, the government must react.
Petitions can either place a measure on a ballot or require a referendum, which suspends an already-enacted measure, pending voter approval at a later election.

Petitions are the people’s remedy. They defend against the influence of lobbyists, big money, exchanges for re-election support, public official cowardice, and even stupid elected officials who make bad decisions.
Petitions are essential to our political sanity, as they are our way to veto newly enacted bills.

Voters need to be cautious about just signing any petition or voting for any bill that sounds good on the surface because many are intentionally misleading. The “Patriot Act” actually removed measures of personal privacy, which seems unpatriotic. “The No Child Left Behind Act” has left children behind.

You have to really read any measure through to be sure it would actually accomplish what is promoted in the petition title. Fortunately, most petitions are short.

When a petition pertains to a newly passed law, it is called a “referendum,” which suspends the law until the voters have a chance to vote for or against it.

Yes, even bone-headed attempts to change the rules can be halted.

The Santa Clarita City Council voted March 25 for a bill that would remove 62 small billboards in the city — in exchange for a 50-year lease for three new electronic billboards. The bill on the face of it sounds not too bad.

The “aye” votes were cast by recently re-elected Marsha McLean, the outgoing Frank Ferry (who left office the next month), and Bob Kellar.
But Councilman TimBen Boydston and Canyon Country activist Al Ferdman, along with other local notables, rightfully oppose the measure.

Councilwoman Laurene Weste properly recused herself from the vote, citing conflict-of-interest issues.

The idea was first peddled as a “beautification project.” But the three mega-signs would be placed on Highway 14 and Interstate 5, casting a halo in the haze at night and outshining the sun on cloudy mornings.

In fact, these electronic signs would project enough light to be seen by the International Space Station (I kid you not).

A few days ago local residents got together 18,000 signatures to stop this bone-headed law from going into effect.

Although 11,000 locally registered voter signatures were needed to call for a referendum, typically about one-third of signatures gathered are duplicates, those of non-residents, those of people not registered to vote or those of convicted felons, and therefore invalid.

Validating the signatures is now in the hands of Los Angeles County election officials. It looks like the petition should meet the number required. In time we can all decide to enact it or not.

Getting 18,000 signatures was no small feat, by the way. Some business interest or agency apparently hired an independent contracting firm to staff signature-gathering sites with “blockers.”

A blocker is a person, often making up to $1,000 a week, whose job it is to disrupt, distract and intimidate potential signatories and signature gatherers.

It’s like someone hired to tackle you as you swing at a golf ball.

Beneficiaries of the city’s contract for the electronic billboard deal have a lot to gain if the law stands: a 50-year rent deal, access to millions of cars and flashing signs that rotate their ads every 10 seconds.

Local candidates for City Council have benefited by placing low-cost, effective messages using our local billboards.

Imagine the sense of safety for incumbents if the little guy can’t wage an effective political campaign to unseat them by using inexpensive media in future elections.

While moths and sunglass retailers might also appreciate the extra illumination, it seems that stripping low-cost signage in exchange for building mega-signs favors only big money and incumbency.

Jonathan Kraut serves in the Democratic Party of the SCV, on the SCV Human Relations Forum and SCV Interfaith Council.



ricketzz: Posted: May 13, 2014 6:51 a.m.

A giant TV set sends the wrong message to the kids. 6 of them is insane. Unless they are 100% carbon neutral, of course (we'd have to plant quite a few trees to offset that much video; how bright will they have to be to show up in the daytime? How many Kilo-Watts?)

therightstuff: Posted: May 13, 2014 9:27 a.m.

Petitions are the people's remedy? Tell that to the millions of California petitioners who voted to define marriage between one man and one woman - TWICE - only to have one gay judge overturn their majority votes. Tell that to all the other states who also voted only to have the chief law enforcement official in the country tell these states that they don't have to obey these laws if it conflicts with their personal ideology. In today's America, citizen petitions mean nothing.

Lotus8: Posted: May 13, 2014 11:26 a.m.

Thank you, Mr. Kraut, for also acknowledging in your piece that petitions have also done quite a bit of harm. They can be crafted by special interests to have alluring titles and summaries that will garner enough signatures out in front of grocery stores to get questionable measures on a ballot. Once on the ballot, money is spent promoting the measure through advertising that is very slanted and filled with half truths. When the average American is barely able to handle balancing his checkbook, we ask them to decide on spending, debt and taxation measures that really should be handled by our elected officials. Then again, we the people don't really require their leaders to understand finance when electing them to positions where most of the important decisions related to spending and budgets all circle around finance. So we end up with all of these tax and bond measures where we agree to pay 3 times the principal amount in interest over decades in order to spend money today on things that should have been paid for through taxes collected over the past decades with proper planning.

I agree with you that the petition process is a valuable one, but it has been relied upon more and more in California as our legislators are increasingly out to lunch or finding ways to prevent us from bagging our groceries or driving our cars.

stevehw: Posted: May 14, 2014 11:16 p.m.

"Petitions are the people's remedy? Tell that to the millions of California petitioners who voted to define marriage between one man and one woman - TWICE - only to have one gay judge overturn their majority votes. "

"The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, ******and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.*****"

W. Va. St. Board of Ed v Barnette

stevehw: Posted: May 14, 2014 11:21 p.m.

The implication that the judge overturned Prop 8 because he was gay is insulting.

Do you think that black judges should not hear cases involving blacks? or whites, for that matter? Or that female judges should not hear cases about gender discrimination?

And how do you explain the dozens of other cases in other courts where other judges found the same result?

Your bigotry is showing again.

lars1: Posted: May 14, 2014 9:30 a.m.

"half truths" are what our city council and city employees believe is the basis of the billboard opposition.

the people know that the city council and city government are not acting in the interests of the citizens. the citizens know big business and developers will benefit substantially from this 50 year deal. assuming a cost of 50 cents per ad, that's almost $500 Million in the 50 years of the billboard "deal". that money buys a lot of politicians, blockers, and political opposition disruption. these are facts. not "half truths".

the city stated that the "deal" was not about the money, but about beautification. really, $500 million is $500 million.

the city has become very unethical and dishonest in recent decisions.
they decided a chloride scam property tax for a new water treatment plant should be paid by the taxpayers. the plant is needed for water for newhall land and farms 20,000+ home development "newhall ranch". big developer!
they have such disregard for the citizens, that council member weste gave $1 million to a private company that she was a director. that money was used to convince us that the tax was justified, and we should PAY IT.

stevehw: Posted: May 19, 2014 12:20 p.m.

"Petitions are the people's remedy? Tell that to the millions of California petitioners who voted to define marriage between one man and one woman - TWICE - only to have one gay judge overturn their majority votes."

UH OH! Yet another judge overturned a gay marriage ban, this time in Oregon.

Who would have thought the judiciary was practically *crawling* with gay judges (since apparently, it's gay judges who overturn anti-gay laws)?

LOL! How many states is it now? 18?

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