A charter amendment and an ordinance differ in the following ways:
1. Measure P places before the voters an Amendment to the City Charter. The Amendment to the City Charter will be on the November 2012 ballot. If the voters approve Measure P, then the Charter Amendment will become part of the City Charter (which is like our local constitution).
The Charter Amendment has two advantages over an Ordinance adopted by the City Council.
First, the Amendment states specifically that the City Council cannot permit the construction, operation, acquisition of a desalination project or incur debt for the project unless the voters give prior approval for those actions at a regularly scheduled election.
Second, once the Charter Amendment is approved by the voters, it can be changed only by the voters, at another election. The City Council cannot change the City Charter on its own.
2. In an effort to forestall Measure P, the City Council adopted an Ordinance that requires the City to seek voters’ approval of the desalination plant’s construction. The Ordinance has two major shortcomings:
First, like any other Ordinance, it can be totally repealed or changed at any time by the present City Council or any future Council, without voters’ input.
Second, the Ordinance addresses only the question of the “desalination plant’s construction.” The Ordinance does not have any specific limitations to prevent the City Council from incurring debt and from starting (before voters’ approval) the many activities which are above and beyond the construction of the actual desalination plant, such as the construction of the extensive infrastructure which is necessary to take in the seawater, transport it to the desalination plant, and build the related distribution infrastructure and brine disposal system. The single, clearly stated limitation in the Ordinance relates only to the plant construction. In summary, the Charter Amendment addresses the entire “desalination project,” while the Ordinance addresses only the “construction of the desalination plant.”
While the Santa Cruz city council approved an ordinance to put desal on the ballot (after the Right-to-Vote-on-Desal Coalition began its campaign for a charter amendment), how democratic is it if the powers-that-be have the legal right to withdraw the ordinance before it’s voted on?
Approval of Measure P would put the decision inalienably in the voters’ hands.