As Californians we all have the power to make law. The initiative process gives us that power. It was adopted at the turn of the last century and it served to break the railroads’ monopoly at a time when elected politicians were firmly in the railroads’ pockets. Recent “citizen initiatives” — petitions by regular folks who have hit the streets to get signatures for various causes including saving our cable cars, raising the minimum wage, protecting neighborhood firehouses, limiting campaign contributions, bringing Sunshine to the backrooms of City Hall and stopping the growing height limits on the waterfront.
Now Supervisor Scott Wiener, another politician firmly placed among the powers that swing the purse, has taken it upon himself to “improve” the citizen initiative process. We’re not sure if he’s sore that his pet projects, like 8 Washington went down to ignominious defeat or that height limits on the waterfront were adopted — both via citizen initiative. Whatever it is, Supervisor Wiener wants to water down the process and make the signature gathering so difficult that only his wealthy special interests can participate, and ordinary citizens will have to go before the Board of Supervisors, hat in hand, to beg for the right to exercise their civic duty.
The City is changing fast, and monied interests are at the front of the line. The sway that highly capitalized campaigns have to persuade voters was very apparent in the last several elections. With local politicians dancing to the tunes that high-priced lobbyists and contributors play, it has never been more valuable to have the citizen initiative process available to solve the problems that elected officials refuse to confront.
As Quentin Kopp put it in last month’s Westside Observer column: “Wiener will undoubtedly persuade power-loving colleagues to present his anti-democratic measure to November 2015 voters; I invite all readers to join efforts to stop the silencing of voters by voting ‘No’ on Wiener’s sly scheme this November.” This is important.
Doug Comstock is the editor of Westside Observer in the city.