Sacramento: Vote no on Measure L

Mayor Kevin Johnson, powerful local business interests and developers, and even out-of-town billionaires like Michael Bloomberg and Steve Jobs’ widow want you to vote for Measure L. That’s some pressure. But has this Yes on L contingent made its case? Do we really need to grant our current and future mayors unprecedented new power?

Measure L critics say this is all about the powerful wanting even more. The “L No” team argues that the system is working great now—and better than it has in years. That there are healthy checks-and-balances between Johnson and city council. And Johnson’s pet projects still get done (such as the arena, which passed even though Sacto’s never been able to greenlight a public subsidy for a sports complex in its history).

The Yes on L team agrees, actually, too. But things could be better, they contend.

We say things would be worse if Measure L passes.

Our city council of today, the one that keeps our visionary mayor in check? Forget it. Under Measure L, the mayor would be able to line-item veto the budget, reject any council votes and drive the agenda. The mayor would no longer attend council meetings or vote on items, and would be working on issues behind the scenes, with even less public access—unless maybe you can afford a donation to grab the mayor’s attention. The mayor would be able to fire the current city manager—you know, the guy who brokered the arena deal—and essentially command the hiring-and-firing of many staff. And, in what many view as a ridiculous oversight, Measure L would allow only eight members on council—hello tie votes!

Why take a system that both sides agree is “working great” and introduce this mess?

And that’s the least of it: Measure L could be dangerous.

During his first six years in office, Johnson has demonstrated that he doesn’t really care about transparency in government. He created a handful of private groups and nonprofits outside City Hall that raise millions of dollars in “behests” or donations. This money is not disclosed and the public does not know how it’s spent. For those instances where we discover the donors, many of them—such as the Kings and the Walton family, which owns Walmart—have business in front of council. But the mayor never recused himself when voting on issues that involve these businesses. He’s told SN&R he doesn’t see the conflict of interest. He’s not accountable.

The mayor’s wife, Michelle Rhee, said at a recent strong-mayor forum in Oak Park that sometimes her husband has to work “outside the system” to get things done. Under Measure L, and as Johnson told SN&R in last week’s Q-and-A, he wants to take these private groups and their secret money and bring them inside City Hall.

Is this the Sacramento we want? A place where a strong mayor takes money from rich folk and none of us know the better? Where private groups with undisclosed members and hush-hush budgets operate inside the mayoral office?

Measure L isn’t about more jobs, a grown-up city or an efficient government. It’s about money and power for the already rich and powerful. And that’s a no vote every time.