City blocks taxpayers’ measure; mulls stance

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Pasadena Star-News

The city is blocking the implementation of a voter-approved political initiative while the City Council decides whether it wants to enforce the initiative or fight it in court.

Dubbed the “Taxpayer Protection Amendment” by its sponsors, Measure B is an amendment to the City Charter that aims to prevent city officials from taking financial kickbacks.

It passed with 60 percent approval in the March 6 election.

But the City Clerk’s Office has yet to file the charter amendment with the California secretary of state, which is necessary for the law to go into effect, according to Craig Steele, an attorney hired by the city to advise it on the measure.

The council decided Monday to delay filing the amendment for at least two to three weeks longer — perhaps more — so it can hold a closed session and decide whether it wants to implement the measure.

“I would hope I and the entire council would yield to no one in our support of sunshine and openness and integrity,” said Councilman Steve Madison, a lawyer who believes Measure B is unconstitutional. “I’ve always felt this measure was flawed legally, and it really does our community a disservice.”

Madison said later that he supported meeting in closed session on the matter. Such a meeting would be possible under the litigation exception in the Brown Act, the state’s open-meetings law, because the city is considering legal action.

Officials say there’s no deadline mandated for filing the charter amendment with the secretary of state.

But a Measure B supporter called the decision to delay filing “absolutely ridiculous.”

“It’s clear it’s simply a stalling tactic,” said Carmen Balber, an organizer with The Oaks Project, Measure B’s sponsor. “It’s not their position to decide whether or not they think it’s constitutional.”

Measure B forbids council members, staff and various city commissioners from taking jobs, campaign donations or gifts from anyone to whom they’ve awarded a publicly financed benefit, such as a contract for city services.

Enforcing the law requires keeping track of everyone who has received a so-called “public benefit” from the city, as defined by the initiative. That could mean anyone from a contractor who provides $25,000 or more worth of services in a 12-month period to a resident remodeling a home who receives a variance estimated to be worth $25,000 or more.

Council members opposed the initiative before it passed. They believe the charter amendment is unconstitutional because it’s too broad and discriminates against certain types of political donors while posing no restrictions on others.

For example, if a council member were to oppose a variance, the measure wouldn’t prevent opponents of that variance from donating to the council member’s campaign. The measure only applies to city officials who act affirmatively to award public benefits.

Council members also say the initiative would require a cumbersome, perhaps costly system of tracking recipients of public benefits.

“For a taxpayer protection initiative to be dinging the taxpayers for a substantial amount of money I find interesting,” Councilman Paul Little said.

On Monday, Steele briefed the council on how it could implement the measure — and how it could avoid implementing the initiative.

The council could file suit against Measure B, although Steele said he’s not sure whether the city can challenge a law passed by its own voters.

“I don’t think it’s a great option,” Steele said.

Another possibility is that Pasadena could join a lawsuit filed by another city. Similar initiatives have passed in a handful of other cities, and City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris said one of them may sue to overturn theirs.

Yet another option would be to simply not enforce it — possibly prompting a lawsuit from initiative supporters. But Councilman Bill Crowfoot, also a lawyer, said that was a bad idea.

“The decision ought to be, ‘Well, we’re not just going to sit here on our butts and not do it,’ ” he said.

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