Anaheim Blog top commenter Ryan Cantor proposes putting the Anaheim Convention Center expansion on the ballot, echoing Mayor Tom Tait’s position. I have a few thoughts on this approach.

First, I wonder, sincerely, if Ryan and some of his compadres in the commentosphere would advocate for putting the expansion on the ballot if the mayor commanded a council majority could kill it at tat level. call me cynical, but in my experience, calls for putting something to a vote of the people usually emanate from the side unable to stop that something at the council level because it lacks the ability to win elections.

The mayor cited the size of the bond issue as the reason for placing the convention center on the ballot:

“If the people of Anaheim are going to take on that kind of debt for this expansion, they should at least be able to vote on it in November because this is an extremely expensive price to pay for the amount of square footage that we get.”

That position begs the question: what, then, is the debt threshold for placing a bond issue on the ballot? What is “too expensive”? $300 million? $200 million? $119,543,888? Or is it akin to Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography: you know it when you see it?

It also raises the larger issue of progressive government versus traditional representative government. I do not subscribe to the progressive reflex to resort to plebiscites rather than have legislative bodies do the job they were elected to do – and then hold them accountable at regular elections. When a vote of the people is constitutionally or otherwise legally required, then by all means put the issue on the ballot. Generally speaking, however, it ought to be avoided. Calls to “put it to the voters” are implicit admissions that city councils are incompetent to discharge the positions to which the people elected them.

Calls in recent years for requiring a city-wide vote have lacked intellectual coherence. In response to losing the 2012 GardenWalk vote, Mayor Tait, Councilwoman Galloway, the unions and OCCORD responded by demanding the city charter be amended to require a popular vote on any future economic subsidy for hotel development (the ill-fated “Take Back Anaheim” campaign). Not economic assistance agreements per se — just ones for hotel development.

No principled or coherent reason was ever for singling out a particular application of such economic assistance for mandatory voter approval, while leaving other forms at the discretion of the mayor and city council.  Perhaps the opposition is more political than philosophical in nature?

On a related note, the mayor’s criticism that Anaheim cannot afford the proposed expansion prompted a reader to e-mail me:

Interesting discussion in the your Blog today. The discussion seems to beg the question to the Mayor: what does he propose as an alternative to the regular upgrades of the Convention Center? Does he proposed selling it to a private company? Would advocating the privatization of the Convention Center alienate that segment of his supporters who want to protect government jobs and oppose privatization and outsourcing?

If privatization is the solution, as the Mayor’s allies on the Register editorial page suggest, than the same should be true for the stadium, the Honda Center, the Grove, Anaheim Public Utilities, the fire department and anything else the city does. The extension of this argument is very interesting.

Indeed, it is.