'California is broken and we need a big fix to reboot it,' speaker says
SANTA ROSA – With voters becoming increasingly pessimistic about the direction of California, momentum is building for a new initiative to be placed on the November 2010 ballot to authorize a constitutional convention.
With voter approval, this would lead to the selection of some 150 delegates (one for each group of 250,000 state residents) who would draft a new constitution by 2011. If all goes as planned, an entirely new constitution could be in place by 2012, paving the way for major reforms in the state’s failed governance system.
“California is broken and we need a big fix to reboot it,” according to Russell Hancock, president and CEO of Joint Ventures Silicon Valley and a member of Repair California, a broad-based coalition of Californians for a state constitutional convention initiated by the Bay Area Council dedicated to achieving reforms needed to get the state functioning again. “Everyone needs a more sophisticated understanding of our state’s problems.”
Some 18 months of work have already gone into preparations for a convention ballot initiative. On Oct. 28, Repair California sent two proposed ballot initiatives to Attorney General Jerry Brown for title and summary. One would authorize a constitutional convention, and another would call a convention, select delegates and begin the debate leading to a new document.
John Grubb, senior vice president for public affairs for Repair California, expects to obtain approval from the attorney general in December so the signature-gathering process can begin. About 1.5 million signatures are needed to place measures on the ballot.
Speaking at the Nov. 4 meeting of the Sonoma County Alliance, Mr. Hancock reviewed challenges facing California and possible solutions that could result from a complete overhaul of the current 140-year-old, 75,000-word state constitution that has been amended more than 500 times. “To continue to incrementally change this document won’t remedy the current crisis or serve as a long-term solution.”
He contrasted the state’s post-World War II prosperity and unprecedented growth up to the 1980s with today’s economic and fiscal woes. “In those days – fueled by defense spending, Silicon Valley and Hollywood – California’s economy was the envy of the nation, and we were our country’s dominant cultural and social trend setter," Mr. Hancock said. "This period of rapid growth built public schools, the U.C. system, parks, libraries, freeways and rapid transit plus a 70-mile waterway network. Land was cheap, and people had access to affordable housing.”
Today, he said, we are being overwhelmed by population growth that tripled from 10 million in 1900 to 37 million now, with projections for up to 60 million residents by 2060. He cited several examples of a failed governance system, including an overcrowded prison system with 150,000 inmates, a "weak" transportation infrastructure with few new roads that is failing to serve residents who now log more than 150 billion vehicle miles a year, a public school system that has gone from first to the worst in the nation, plus a major lag in improving the state’s water system.
“The real question is does California have good institutions and mechanisms in place to provide thoughtful solutions as well as statesman-like leadership to help take us where we need to go?" Mr. Hancock said. "We are plagued by dysfunction in Sacramento, within California’s regions and among the electorate, making it virtually impossible for lawmakers to reach the supermajority level currently required to pass a state budget.”