What’s the Difference?
Ordinance vs. Charter Amendment
With a pair of dueling measures on the Nov. 8 ballot, the city and the Alameda Renters Coalition (ARC) are asking Alameda voters to either adopt an ordinance already on the books or amend the city’s charter. The city’s Measure L1 would affirm Ordinance 3148 that took effect on March 31. ARC’s Measure M1 would amend the City Charter to (in ARC’s words) “put in place stronger renter protections than provided by Ordinance 3148.”
California has both general law and charter cities. General law cities have not adopted charters and are governed by state law. According to the League of California Cities, the state has 478 cities and only 113 of them are charter cities. Alameda is one of them. The Island City began life on March 7, 1872, as an amalgam of three small towns — Alameda, Encinal and Woodstock. The city adopted its first charter on Dec. 27, 1884. This allowed Alameda to have more say on how it governed its own affairs. The city later embraced new charters, the first on April 15, 1907, and the second, the current charter, on April 29, 1937.
The City Charter is akin to the Unites States Constitution. The National League of Cities calls a City Charter “the basic document that defines the organization, powers, functions and essential procedures of the city government.”
In fact, ordinances are subordinate to a city’s charter. Alameda’s City Charter spells out every detail as to how the City Council must act to pass an ordinance, including just how the ordinance should read. The City Council scrutinizes a potential ordinance following a strict procedure laid out in the City Charter. If an ordinance passes it becomes part of the Municipal Code.
The City Council can change ordinances as it sees fit. The City Charter, on the other hand, can only be changed by a majority of the city’s voters. The City Charter would lend strength and permanence to Measure M1. If ARC’s measure passes and is added to the charter, the City Council would have no say about it. Only the vote of the people could amend or remove the measure.
Ordinance 3148, on the other hand, lacks this durability. It would only take a vote of the City Council to amend or remove it. The City Council wrote Ordinance’s 3148 endgame right into the bill. “This legislation is effective until December 2019, unless the Council takes action otherwise,” it states.