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Initiative Sponsors View Pasadena Task Force as Model for Santa Monica

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

Friday -- A report released Tuesday in Pasadena could step up the pressure on Santa Monica officials to enforce a voter-approved conflict of interest election law approved by voters in 2000, according to consumer advocates.

After losing a four-year battle in the courts to hold off on key provisions of the initiative -- which bars politicians from taking campaign cash, gifts or jobs from companies they award city business to -- Pasadena put together a task force to review the law and how to best implement it.

“Santa Monica and Claremont, where city officials have stonewalled implementation of the conflict of interest rules, now have Pasadena’s proven model to fully enact reform,” said Carmen Balber, a consumer advocate with the Foundation for Taxpayers and Consumer Rights (FTCR).

“Californians who want strong ethics rules to keep politicians’ personal interests out of public decisions can look to Pasadena’s law to do the job," Balber said.

Chaired by former attorney general John Van de Kamp, the task force recommended this week tightening ethics laws limiting campaign contributions when there could be a conflict of interest.

It also recommended expanding the Oaks Initiative’s ban on payoffs from public beneficiaries to create a "blackout period" for campaign contributions during the application process for city contracts. The recommendations must be placed on the ballot by the city council for final approval.

Sponsors of the Oaks Initiative -- which was approved overwhelmingly in half a dozen California cities in 2000 and 2001-- see the task force's findings as a move in the right direction by cities that have, until now, fought the measure in the courts.

"I think it’s a pretty big step forward," Balber said. "What this change means is Pasadena has jumped leaps and bounds beyond Santa Monica in enacting the initiative."

Both cities were "extremely hostile" to enacting the law, and the report could be a watershed in changing attitudes, Balber said.

If approved in Pasadena the FTCR will turn its attentions to Santa Monica, where there is currently no monitoring to ensure that the law is carried out.

"We know that Santa Monica had been in contact with Pasadena to see how the task force came back," Balber said said. "And there has been some interest from Council member (Bobby) Shriver in bringing something similar to Santa Monica."

The initiative was placed on the November 2000 ballot in San Francisco and Santa Monica, and the March 2001 ballot in Pasadena and Claremont, through an all-volunteer effort that gathered nearly 70,000 signatures statewide.

The City of Pasadena attempted to invalidate the law by refusing to report election results to the Secretary of State. A private Pasadena citizen and the initiative’s proponent brought a suit to compel the city to report the election results and place the initiative on the books.

The city responded by suing FTCR to overturn the initiative. The Court of Appeal ruled that Pasadena had violated the proponents’ first amendment rights by suing to overturn the measure.

In Santa Monica, the city attorney advised the city clerk to refuse to implement the initiative. When the city clerk acted as directed, the city sued the City Clerk to attempt to overturn the ballot measure, which City officials argued was unconstitutional.

The trial court and the Court of Appeal agreed with FTCR that there was no actual disagreement between the City of Santa Monica and the city clerk, and ruled that the City could not sue itself to get rid of a voter-approved initiative.

Santa Monica appealed the decision, but the California Supreme Court declined to take up Santa Monica’s challenge (see story)

Under the initiative, which became an amendment to the City Charter, officials cannot receive gifts from public benefit recipients for two years after the expiration of their terms, two years after the official's departure from office, or six years from the date the official acted to approve the allocation, whichever comes first.

Citizens would be authorized to bring civil enforcement actions under the law. Civil remedies would include penalties, restitution to the City, injunctive relief and disqualification from future public office.

A resident prevailing in a civil action would be entitled to attorney's fees, costs and 10 percent of any civil penalty, with the balance going to the City's general fund.

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