How is it that I can awaken one fine morning in early October and find that the Palm Springs City Council, on an Unfinished Business Agenda, with no public hearing, and little fanfare, made a 4-1 decision to disband the City Charter of the City of Palm Springs and its directives on the time, manner, and method of electing city officials?

We no longer vote for our mayor and we have been split into districts that may or may not be gerrymandered behind the scenes – things
have moved quickly and quietly. So, what is the context here? Is there anything to protect us? Now you may understand my passion for civil rights. It matters!

The City Charter explicitly provides that citizens shall elect the Mayor at large and the City Council at large (at-large means citywide elections rather than district elections). Rather than introduce a ballot initiative for District Elections, the City Council claimed supreme authority by Ordinance (due in draft December 5th) – despite the charter language
specifying the City Council cannot use Ordinances to defeat Charter powers! This Council cannot preempt its own Authorizing Power – the Charter. A City Council is created by Charter and governed by Charter, not the opposite. A public meeting is set for October 18, 2018, and the city ordinance that will instill this topple-upside-down reversal of
power is set for Dec. 5, 2018.

What is the Palm Springs City Charter, this trivial thing that has gotten in the way of political agendas? It embodies the civil rights of the electorate and the People of Palm Springs on the vote. It is Constitutional Home Rule, Municipal Governance, a Constitutional Grant of Authority under Article XI of the California Constitution. Its authority supersedes
the Ordinances, Resolutions and Acts of a City Council and even preempts the legislative powers of the State of California on home rule issues. Municipal elections are expressly deemed municipal matters of local charter authority in California. And that Charter determines our voting rights.

If citizens exercising home rule want district elections, they or their Council can initiate a ballot vote. But under the California Constitution, where a City Charter specifies the form and content of at-large elections, a change to district elections must be by vote, not by local ordinance.
No law, ordinance, resolution, or act of government, whether local or statewide, can operate to dilute the legitimate exercise of Charter Rule Powers in Municipal Affairs, and the Palm Springs City Charter has clear and undisputed terms – (1) “All powers of the City shall be vested in the City Council except as otherwise provided in this Charter.” Palm Springs
City Charter, Section 300, Powers Vested in the City Council.

(2) “The members of the City Council shall be elected from the City at large at the time and in the manner provided in
this Chapter.” Palm Springs City Charter, Section 301, Elective Officers.

(3) “The office of the mayor shall be filled by district at large election of the voters of the City.” Palm Springs City
Charter, Section 302, The Mayor.

The City Council used a Code Section (Government Code Section 34886) that gives general law cities an option to waive public elections when they change to District Voting. A simple background check of Section 34886 would have revealed the Senate Rules Committee discussion – GC 34886 and its waiver does not extend to Charter Cities.

Please attend City Hall on Oct. 18, 2018, when this matter will be open for public discussion

Image Sources

  • Palm Springs City Hall: Shutterstock