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Tuesday looms big for charter changes

(ran Beach edition)

A series of ballot initiatives that would change the city's charter to give voters more power is expected to be approved by the commission Tuesday.

If approved, voters will be asked in March to say "yes" or "no" to seven ballot questions that directly relate to a yearslong controversy over redevelopment and the powers of the people vs. the powers of the commission.

The issue of voter wants vs. commission actions first arose in 2001 when a commission proposed increasing building heights to attract more luxury hotels. If the proposal had gone into effect, new hotels could have been as much as 100 feet tall, nearly double the previously allowed height.

Instead, there were months of controversy, from angry voters to lawsuits and state Ethics Commission investigations. A record voter referendum in 2002 slammed the door on the commission's ability to increase either building heights or densities without first asking voters.

A commission effort just weeks before the election to head off that result by enacting new development regulations was stopped in court.

The citizen revolt eventually resulted in several longtime commissioners being thrown out of office and the resignation of the city manager.

Now a special charter review committee has suggested several more changes that would ensure and strengthen the ability of voters to determine the direction of major policy shifts in the city.

The commission gave its preliminary approval of the proposed charter changes in December.

If enacted Tuesday, here is what voters will be asked to consider in March:

+ Limiting the City Commission's power to sell, lease for more than three years, trade or gift public land including parks, waterfront land and water access. Requires four-fifths vote and approval by voter referendum.

+ Preventing the City Commission from abolishing either the fire or police departments without a three-fifths vote and approval by voter referendum. Voters would be allowed to re-create abolished departments through the referendum process.

+ Prohibiting the City Commission from passing any ordinance that would "defeat or frustrate" a pending voter initiative or referendum.

+ Reducing the number of voter signatures required on a referendum, initiative or recall petition to 20 percent of the electorate, and give voters two more months (total of 90 days) to file a referendum petition, beginning at the date the commission failed to repeal an ordinance.

+ Ensuring that any laws created by voter referendum or initiative cannot be changed by the commission without voter referendum approval.

+ Defining a "simple majority vote" in a referendum as a majority vote of those voters casting ballots, and not requiring approval of more than 50 percent of all eligible voters. This would replace charter language approved by voters in 2002.

Also on the ballot is a referendum question that clarifies commission actions by defining a commission "resolution" as an administrative or temporary action.

The commission will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the City Hall Auditorium, 120 108th Ave.