The Palo Alto City Council debate last Monday night on supporting federal, state and county issues went way over the top for me. The council spent more than an hour debating their views on a myriad of issues not directly related to Palo Alto.
I am changing my mind on whether the council should spend time voting on issues outside of our local jurisdiction. I used to feel that such votes were all right, provided they were limited to critical national issues (like a resolution opposed to going to war) or on issues that directly affected our community (like money from the state for flood prevention).
But Monday night’s potpourri of council votes on such topics as immigration reform and a $2.60 tax on a pack of cigarettes made me feel like this is becoming a free for all – any council member with a strong interest on a given issue can ask the rest of the council to go on record in support – and, if Monday night is any indication, the council does just that.
We did not elect our council members on any partisan platform; Indeed, I am not sure whether some council members are registered Republicans or Democrats. So then why are they voting on partisan issues? And how can they do so – when most of us had no idea what their points of view were when we elected them?
Here is a sampling of what the majority agreed to support Monday night (and subsequently allows others to publicize that the City of Palo Alto officially supports these points of view):
• Proposition 1C — the Housing and Emergency Shelter Trust Fund Act of 2006
• Proposition 1E — Disaster Preparedness and Flood Prevention Bond Act of 2006
• Proposition 84 — Water Quality, Safety and Supply Flood Control, Natural Resource Protection, Parks Improvements measure
• Proposition 86, a $2.60 per pack “Tax on Cigarettes Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute” that would go to health care
• Proposition 89 — “Political Campaigns, Public Financing and Corporate Tax Increase and Contributions and Expenditure Limits. Bonds initiative statute”
• Proposition 90 — “Protect Our Homes Act" — a property-rights initiative that would amend the state Constitution to limit the use of eminent domain.
In addition, the council also approved two national issues, as recommended by the city’s Human Relations Commission.
One dealt with immigration — a resolution in support of immigration reform that “upholds the principles of justice, fairness and equality.” The second was a “Voter Confidence Resolution” that offers an assortment of recommendations, including a voter-verified paper ballot, uniform and inclusive voter registration standards, and reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act now before Congress as H.R. 9.
The council previously agreed to support Santa Clara County Measure C, up for a vote this November. The measure would severely limit the development of 400,000 of the county’s 860,000 acres.
I don’t know about you, but when we get such a plethora of measures and propositions that the council supports, it makes me feel uncomfortable, and makes the council look partisan.
Council members who want to vote on such issues say they are doing their civic duty. But they are doing so as individuals; we never asked them to do so as elected officials.
Those council members that oppose taking stands on state and national issues say this is not local council business. Both Councilmembers Bern Beecham and Dena Mossar fall into this category, as does Larry Klein frequently.
And, as Councilmember John Barton pointed out after more than an hour’s discussion on these items (and I paraphrase), “When do we get to talk about Palo Alto issues tonight?”