Using the Initiative Process to Transform California

The following numbered slides were presented at the CLEO event in San Diego on September 26, 2019.

For much more information check the links in the references section that follows the last slide.


1 – Outline

  • Local Initiative Process
  • Sample Local Initiatives
  • Pitfalls to Avoid
  • State Initiative Process
  • Opportunity: 21st Century Technology
  • Opportunity: A Network of Local Organizations
  • Examples of State Ballot Initiatives

Initiatives engage popular sentiments and bypasses owned politicians.

2 – The Local Initiative Process

  • Draft ballot measure and submit to City Attorney
  • Verify signature petition meets state and local legal requirements
  • Publish legal ad within 10 days of receiving title & summary
  • Gather signatures – typically 10 percent of registered voters
  • Collect 50 percent more signatures than you need (15 percent)
  • Submit signed petitions within 180 days of getting title & summary
  • City has 30 business days to verify signatures
  • If City doesn’t enact measure, it goes before voters in next election

Outnumbered reform politicians can enlist the support of voters.

3 – Sample Local Initiatives

Strategic Issues:

  • Pension reform – court battles (1) outcome of 7507, (2) CA Rule
  • Union membership reform – enforce Janus, enforce “opt-in”

The Potential of Linked Initiatives (Oxnard’s Example)

  • Fiscal Transparency and Accountability
  • Spending Accountability
  • Term Limits
  • Open Meetings
  • Permit Simplicity

There is synergy in qualifying and in campaigning for linked initiatives.

4 – Pitfalls to Avoid

Legal Technicalities

  • San Diego pension reform invalidated because union successfully argued proponents were council members who should have first conducted negotiations.

Counterattack via Initiative to Nullify Voter Approved Reform

  • Unions countered COIN ordinance in Orange County with “CRONEY” which required ALL contracts to be subject to public disclosure

Make sure you have good legal counsel throughout process.

5 – State Initiative Process

  • Draft ballot measure and submit to Attorney General
  • Get title & summary, begin signature gathering period
  • File petition with election officials in all 59 counties
  • Statute or referendum 5% (623,212), amendment 8% (997,139), of votes cast for governor in most recent election
  • Collect 30-50 percent more signatures than you need
  • Submit signed petitions within 180 days of getting title & summary – must be submitted by county
  • Petitions must be submitted six months prior to Nov. election

Minimum of 14 months from filing to election day.

6 – Opportunity: 21st Century Technology

Traditional Process

  • Professional signature gathering firms charge $5/signature (or more)
  • City with where 100,000 people voted (at 10%) = $50,000 cost
  • CA 2020 statute = $3.1M cost, amendment = $5.0M cost

21st Century Process

  • Viral online promotion reaching established memberships
  • Downloadable petitions, YouTube instructional videos
  • Volunteer staffed signature verification process
  • Use professional firms nonexclusively for supplemental help

Skillful use of technology can dramatically lower cost to qualify initiatives.

7 – Opportunity: Networked Organizations

  • Reform California, San Diego – offers working model for how to dramatically lower cost to qualify local or state ballot initiatives
  • Oxnard’s Citizen Activists – working to qualify five local ballot initiatives for November 2020
  • TEA PAC, Pasadena – volunteer organization that has qualified several referendums to repeal local taxes in Los Angeles County
  • Huge potential to enlist support of active memberships – local tax fighting groups, State of Jefferson supporters, HJTA members, GOP grassroots volunteers

There are MILLIONS of Californians who would sign reform initiatives.

8 – Sample of Linked State Ballot Initiatives

  • Education – protect and enable charter schools
  • Education – enforce Vergara reforms (dismissal, layoff, tenure)
  • Law & Order – repeal Prop. 47 (“catch and release”)
  • CEQA Reform – specific reforms and/or selective moratorium
  • Energy – Save Diablo Canyon and have nuclear qualify as renewable energy
  • Infrastructure – water storage, desal, smart roads
  • Pensions – repeal California rule
  • Pensions – require 10% of assets be used to make equity investments in California infrastructure projects

A slate of reform initiatives could transform California politics overnight.


Check the “Sample Reforms” article archive on the CLEO website.

Local and State Initiatives – The Future of Policy in California?, September 18, 2019

A Strategy to Transform California in One Election, June 26, 2019

How AB 195 May Help Restore “Impartiality” to Local Ballot Language, May 30, 2019

Citizen Reformers Set to Transform Oxnard’s Politics, May 8, 2019

Citizen’s Initiatives May Transform Oxnard Politics, May 6, 2019

California’s Voters Approve New Taxes and Reject Tax Repeal, November 8, 2018

This November, Will California Voters Approve $3.6 Billion Per Year in New Taxes?, October 17, 2018

Local Voters Uphold Utility Tax in Sierra Madre, April 12, 2018

Did CalPERS Use Accounting “Gimmicks” to Enable Financially Unsustainable Pensions?, January 24, 2018

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