Council miffed about money measure

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North County Times

A state group that is tackling campaign finance reform one city at a time has succeeded in forcing Vista to put its initiative on the November ballot —- and City Council members aren’t happy about it.

"These people are just using Vista … it’s Ralph Nader running for president," said Mayor Gloria McClellan. "I don’t give it credence. I don’t think it’s needed."

Vista was one of six cities in the state targeted in January by the Oaks Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group founded by consumer advocate Nader that has about 60 local volunteers.

Those volunteers gathered enough signatures in town to put the group’s Taxpayer Protection Amendment of 2000 on the city ballot. The initiative would limit campaign contributions from those affected by a political vote, according to Ted Cahill, the San Diego organizer for the Oaks Project.

"The 5,400 registered voters and taxpayers (in Vista who signed the petition) are the ones responsible for this being on the ballot," Cahill said. "That is the way the Constitution works. If these city officials want to scoff at the desire of 5,400 taxpayers, then they are foolish."

Now the council has three choices: adopt the initiative, approve it for the November ballot, or ask for a cost report before making a decision. The issue will be discussed when the council meets at 2 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 600 Eucalyptus Ave.

The estimated cost of adding the measure to the ballot is about $3,200, city staff members said.

"We’ll have to put it on the November ballot," the mayor said. "I support governing by initiative but the state law governs campaign contributions. I just don’t think this is needed. I don’t know why these people have come in (from) out of town to do this."

Councilman Richard Cooke agreed.

"I don’t know how in the world they picked Vista," he said.

Cahill said the Oaks Project chose Vista because it was trying to get a good cross section of cities based on demographics and location, and Vista fit the bill. Other cities that were targeted include San Francisco, Santa Monica, Pasadena, Irvine and Claremont.

"Vista was the city where the Oaks Project had a strong membership in the North County area," he said "And why not Vista? It is a privilege to have the opportunity to enact this groundbreaking reform."

The initiative would prohibit an elected official from receiving any campaign contributions, gifts or employment worth more than $50 for five years after he or she approves a "public benefit" project. A public benefit is defined as a project or service worth $25,000 or more which involves personal services, sale of property, lease agreements or exclusive franchises.

Cooke said the initiative is unnecessary because elected officials already report their contributions in accordance with the state’s California’s Political Reform Act.

According to that law, city officials must report any amount over $100 that is spent and any gifts of over $300.

Cooke added that if the measure is approved in November, he fears it will deter high-quality people from running for office.

"It’s bad enough now to get people to run for a political office," Cooke said. "If there are more conditions added, none of the good people will run."

In other news, at a 4 p.m. public hearing, the council will consider changing the city’s existing sign ordinance to avoid challenges to the constitutionality of the ordinance.

In recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that signs are a form of speech that are protected under the First Amendment, according to Assistant City Attorney Karen Hirata in the council’s report.

She wrote that the city normally classifies signs as commercial or political, which requires a city staff member to evaluate each sign’s message and infringes on the right to free speech. The council will considering a request that the city only evaluate a sign based on its appearance and location, but not on content.

The city would still be able to regulate how a sign looks, including height, design and colors, and could specify where signs are placed and for how long, according to the proposed ordinance.

Consumer Watchdog
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