August 13, 1996
Honorable William Gordon
Presiding Judge, Superior Court Courthouse
Santa Barbara, CA
Dear Judge Gordon,
Enclosed herewith are my responses to findings and recommendations Nos. 9, 10 & 11 of the Grand Jury's interim final report entitled "The City of Solvang & State Water" released June 17, 1996.
I found this report replete with intellectual content and supporting documentation. It seriously recognizes the vital importance of an informed citizenry deciding complex issues by way of the voting process.
I appreciate the opportunity to respond and congratulate the 1995-96 Grand Jury's sub-committee for its authorship of an important document.
Kenneth A. Pettit
c: Grand Jury
The County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor recognizes and supports open and fair elections wherein citizens are fully and timely informed of issues to be decided on election day.
Society is well served where its citizens have unrestrained access to the ballot box. To permit and facilitate this process citizens must be properly registered and have made available information in plain language in order to cast an informed vote.
The information made available should not be so abridged as to leave the voter ignorant, nor written so technically as to leave the voter in utter confusion. Both extremes serve only to frustrate the voter to the probable extent that the voter will not exercise his or her franchise.
FINDING 9: According to the legal ad published in the Santa Ynez Valley News, the "reasonable" time allowed by the County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor for submission of opposing arguments was from the publication date of March 21, 1991 to 5 PM March 22. No direct opposing or rebuttal arguments were submitted. Allowing but one day after the publication of the Legal Notice is not sufficient time for residents to develop an Argument to a ballot measure.
RESPONSE TO FINDING 9:
The department concurs with the proposition that sufficient time must be allowed for publications of legal notice in order to invite counter arguments and permit a 10 day public examination period of the proposed measure.
RECOMMENDATION 9: The County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor should arrange "the time necessary to prepare and print the Arguments" so that there is more than one day's notice. Five business days would be a reasonable time for a voter to research, prepare and deliver to the Santa Barbara Elections office an Argument against a ballot measure.
RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION 9:
In all elections the department has endeavored to submit documentation for publication a full ten days prior to due dates. This standard comports with the spirit and intent of public notice.
Measure K91 was published in the Santa Ynez Valley News, an adjudicated newspaper. This newspaper was the logical place of publication because its circulation was most likely to be read by affected voters. While Measure K91 was properly and timely noticed, its once-a-week publication restricted the time frame for counter arguments to be submitted.
FINDING 10: K91 referred to both Ordinance No. 91-1 and the 1963 Water Supply Retention Agreement. The Ordinance in its entirety was not part of the K91 ballot measure. The Water Supply Retention Agreement was not reasonably obtainable by the average voter. Even if the Agreement had been obtained, it is unlikely that it would have been understood by anyone other than a lawyer.
RESPONSE TO FINDING 10:
The department has no comment with respect to this finding.
RECOMMENDATION 10: Ordinances that are referred to in the ballot measure should accompany the ballot measure in the voting materials provided prior to the election. Contracts that are referred to in the ballot measure should be available for reference at City Halls and the polling places.
RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION 10:
The California Elections Code provides that wherever any ordinance is required to be submitted to the voters of any election, such ordinance shall be printed and be made available to any voter upon request and without cost.
In the absence of the full text of the proposed ordinance from the voter's sample ballot, a written impartial analysis is provided within the sample ballot mailed to every registered voter.
While the department supports full disclosure and availability of written information to the voter, the department likewise is concerned about the readability of such written information as well as the cost of printing, distributing and mailing written materials to the voter.
The department supports the law as pertaining to measures presently written. However, the department recognizes that measures and contracts are written in "legalese", not readily comprehendible to the voter. Accordingly, the department supports and urges that local measures be written in clear and concise terms, so as to be easily understood by the average voter and avoid the use of technical terms wherever possible.
FINDING 11: Ballot measure K91 did not disclose the fact that the revenue bond measure would trigger an additional DWR indebtedness that is more than one half of the total annual amount due by Solvang ratepayers. Including management and operating costs with the rising DWR costs means that the voters incurred a debt that is much more then what was described by a Solvang official to be "all-inclusive" costs of $13.8 million, seventy-five percent of $18.4 million, the revenue bond number stated in K91.
RESPONSE TO FINDING 11:
The department has no response with respect to this finding.
RECOMMENDATION 11: All Santa Barbara County and Special District revenue bond measures should be analyzed by the Santa Barbara County Elections Division in consultation with the Santa Barbara County Counsel's office (and the above-mentioned Recommendation 8 suggested commission) to determine if all necessary information, including estimated projected costs, is given for the votes to make an informed decision.
RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION 11:
The department concurs with this recommendation and avers that it acts in concert with other county agencies; i.e. County Counsel and the Auditor-Controller. The California Elections Code, specifically Sections 9314 and 9401 prescribe responsibilities for water district measures and revenue for bond measures respectively.
The role of the county elections office is to ensure that administrative issues are met; e.g. timelines, formatting, publishing, posting, printing and mailing.
The role of County Counsel is to prepare the impartial analysis showing the effect of the measure on existing law and the operations of the measure. In addition, County Counsel must represent the responsible governmental agency in the event legal action is required.
With respect to bond measures, the estimate for the tax rate is performed by legal counsel. Bond counsel prepares a statement of the estimate of the tax rate to be levied to fund the bond issue. The statement is included in the sample ballot mailed to every voter.
In light of the above roles and responsibilities a special commission is unnecessary and would add another layer of bureaucracy whose sources of information would likely come from the same group of experts mentioned previously.