Viewpoint - May 26, 2010

Letter: Initiative process is over-used, counterproductive

My problem with the pension reform initiative is that it subverts our representative democracy and ties the hands of those we elect to represent us.

I think we all agree that the initiative process has become over-used in this state and is, in great part, responsible for the fiscal and political mess the state finds itself in. Even the California Supreme Court has criticized the state's reliance on the referendum process, arguing that it has "rendered our state government dysfunctional."

I think Menlo Park's pension reform initiative is just a local version of the same thing and I oppose it, not because I disagree with it's stated goal (which the recent council decision has rendered moot anyhow) but because I believe the initiative process should be used only very rarely, if at all. We always have the option to "vote the bums out" if they don't do what the majority of us want.

Steve Walter, Mills Court, Menlo Park


Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiņa, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 25, 2010 at 11:21 pm

Roy Thiele-Sardiņa is a registered user.


You bring up a good point. The initiative process has at times been abused.

However without the iniative process the Menlo Park City Council simply could not be FORCED to lower the pensions. a clarification on your point about the intitiave being moot. The council simply īmposed the conditions on the union. They can withdraw it at anytime, and they can raise pensions again at their chosing. Once raised those pension benefits can NEVER be lowered.

That is PRECISELY what got us to this point.

Also, as the City Attorney pointed out. The city council could NOT have added the most important clasue themselves. The requirement that they seek voter approval before rasing pensions EVER again. Their labor contracts prohibit them from voting that in themselves. It could ONLY be done by the residents via an initiative process.

So for those reasons alone the process is valid.

The California Supreme Courts ire has been at using the initiative for revenue enhancements (read taxes)

Roy Thiele-Sardina

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 26, 2010 at 7:24 am

I agree the initiative process has been abused, however in this case it is being used for precisely what it was meant. "Throwing the bums out" doesn't work because it is almost impossible to unseat an incumbent. Unless, of course, you have union money behind it. The unions have control of the process right now. This initiative puts control back in the hands of the citizens.

Posted by Virginia Chang Kiraly, 2008-2009 Foreperson, SMCCGJ, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 26, 2010 at 8:13 am

While I agree with you that the initiative process has been badly abused, unfortunately, this process may be the last resort for the people's voices to be heard. That is the reason so many Menlo Park residents were eager and willing to sign the petition and volunteer to help with the signature drive.

The bottom line is when people feel hopeless about the political process, they take matters into their own hands. By doing so, it potentially damages a politician's "political career." Therefore, it is understandable and regrettable that Kelly Fergusson publicly exhibited hysteria and outrage toward the Grand Jury's report (which recommended many of the initiative's terms) about reversing the upward trajectory of employee costs in San Mateo County cities and that Heyward Robinson has been hostile to parts of the pension reform, as well. Their embarrassing behavior and flip-flopping on the issues that concern the citizens of Menlo Park are exhibited in City Council meetings, their campaigns, and in the press.

Thanks to the initiative process, the people are taking back their government, and their voices are making the necessary changes that their "elected representatives" did not until this initiative. Maybe, Ms. Fergusson and Mr. Robinson will finally see that government is "by the people, of the people, and for the people."

Congratulations to the citizens of Menlo Park for voicing their concerns and doing something about making Ms. Fergusson and Mr. Robinson accountable. You are a great example to all Californians!

Link to the 2008-2009 San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report about pension reform:

Web Link

Posted by it's too late..., a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 26, 2010 at 10:07 pm

Don't you get it? It's too late to throw out the incumbents. This council has already done the damage and it can't be fixed by a future council! The current employees finagled themselves an unearned 1/3 increase worth millions in future benefits. It's no different than the Bushies leading us down the path to an unnecessary war that we can't get out of. We have to pay the price of this council's folly and throwing them out of office is small comfort indeed! Fine sentiment you have!

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