SMC BROAD STAGE — What started as an opinion piece has sparked a movement to reform state government.
Last August, CEO Jim Wunderman published an opinion in the San Francisco Chronicle calling for a state constitutional convention to be held in order to rectify some of California’s many economic issues he felt the government was not handling properly.
“The Bay Area Council, which is a group of bay area CEOs — they did an op-ed last fall when last year’s budget came in late … saying we need a convention, this isn’t working. They were swarmed by input,” former Santa Monica Mayor Michael Feinstein said.
In California, the last citizen-called convention was held in 1879.
“That was the last time there was a comprehensive look at how our constitution is designed,” Feinstein said, adding that because no one in 1879 could have known what California would be today, the constitution is ill-equipped to deal with modern issues.
Tonight, Feinstein and locally-elected officials are holding a public meeting to educate residents about and gather support for two new measures going on the 2010 ballot. One measure would create an amendment allowing the people to call a convention. The second would set that convention in motion.
“If that first initiative would pass, the second one would call a convention and it would specifically set a scope of what the convention would cover,” Feinstein said. “If the convention wasn’t going to be focused, then there would be no guarantee that any of the issues that need to be addressed would be addressed.”
The meeting, held at Santa Monica College’s Broad Stage, will feature several speakers to inform the public both about the convention and why it needs to happen — what programs and institutions have been neglected and harmed due to the government’s way of dealing with the economic downturn.
“I’m talking about improving the initiative process,” said Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. Stern is speaking at the meeting.
“I think it’s really important to discuss,” he said. “It’s important that we have a convention.”
Stern is highly in favor of holding the convention to get laws passed into effect more easily and efficiently. He cited requirement of a two-thirds vote in order to pass measures and a budget as an issue stopping many effective solutions from being used. The convention would solve that issue, among others.
“I imagine there will be a lot of Westside activists and people just interested in state government — a lot of people on there discussing the different aspects of the convention,” Stern said. “We have to restore confidence; we have to make people feel better” about their government.
Most people at the convention will be listeners, however — people who are ready to take action but are searching for the best ways to do so.
“I’m a learner as many others are, and I believe that we have a tremendous problem in our state that needs to be fixed,” said SMC trustee Nancy Greenstein, who is introducing the program’s speakers.
Similar meetings will be held across the state.
“It’s an educational event where people can first hear in more detail about this process and the possibilities,” Feinstein said. “It’s also a venue to solicit input.”
Speakers will introduce models for the convention, ways of deciding who will attend the one-time gathering and what will be covered if it meets in the next few years.
“The difference [from the government] is these people will be chosen for a specific task,” Feinstein said. “They’re not running to be re-elected; they’re not raising campaign funds. It’s very much in our interest locally for our government to be restructured on the state level. Now that the people are moving, the leaders are following.”
The meeting is free and open to the public, however those wishing to attend need to register online. Some of the speakers include Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council; Pam O’Connor, Santa Monica City Council member; Julia Brownley, state Assembly member; and Bill Rosendahl, Los Angeles City Council member. The meeting will also feature a video presentation, a panel and a question and answer portion, followed by a community reception. The Broad Stage is located at 1310 11th St. Find more information and register online at www.repaircalifornia.org/santamonica.