Half of California’s 10 Biggest Cities Are Choosing a New Mayor
In a month the California legislature will consider a bill that would bring municipal elections into the state. It would not only require cities, counties and school districts to draw and hold elections, but also make them an important part of the political process. Local governing has evolved from a relatively ad hoc affair to a more formalized and predictable process that is less dependent on the whims of state government.
The state legislature has given cities a role in local government that they had never had before: one set of voters who get to decide who runs their city. It is a change that many California cities have embraced.
There are several big reasons cities have adopted the measure that gives them municipal elections.
1. A vote on all the mayor’s issues
Since the passage of Proposition 13 (Proposition 1) in 1978, there has been a push to democratize the way that voters make decisions about the city council and the mayor. Under the initiative, local governments can no longer use their taxing power to keep property taxes low. Local voters are now allowed to vote on the amount of the city’s tax levy, and this can mean major differences in what is set as the tax base. (The tax base is the total city tax assessment and includes a small amount for property tax that is paid by developers.)
Proposition 13 also prohibited the city from having property taxes collected from developers in excess of their income generated on that land. This was done to prevent the city from receiving more tax revenue than it actually needed to raise revenue to spend. Prop. 13 had the effect of making many large cities, including those in California, very wealthy and very tax-friendly.
What Prop. 13 did not do, however, was mandate that voters actually approve the decisions made by city councils. Prop. 13 required that the tax levy approved by votes of voters must be greater than the tax levy approved by the county tax assessor. Voters never did have the power to vote on the amount of the tax levy.
The power to pass over an elected official is now held by the voters: voters, and only the voters.
This is one of the most important aspects of the voting change in California cities. California was a blue state, and even though it has its share of liberal-leaning cities, like Palo Alto, they are not all liberal. A big reason for this is because the