EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second of two stories on Newport Beach's Measure V.
NEWPORT BEACH — If voters here approve Measure V, they would not only modernize the city's charter, but also repeal an obscure law that limits the amount of funds the City Council may give to the Chamber of Commerce.
Past and present chamber board members shepherded this 55-year-old restriction onto the ballot. Through their positions on the city's Charter Update Commission, the chamber leaders avoided the voter initiative process, which would require a petition.
The way it landed on the charter ballot measure appears to show the influence of some Chamber of Commerce officials. Four current or past members of the chamber's board of directors, including three of its chairmen, sat on the seven-member Charter Update Commission.
Community activists have protested their connections, and have questioned if public dollars would ultimately be funneled to the chamber's political advocacy.
The funding limit caps at $2,400 the amount the City Council may give to the business group each year.
Commissioners say the limit unfairly restricts the chamber, and that they were transparent about their ties to the organization when they advised the city about charter reforms.
"This is not to give more money to the chamber," said Commissioner Rush Hill, who is running for City Council. "This is for the chamber to be treated like any other nonprofit in the community."
"Some people would like to make this a political issue," he added.
The City Council had appointed seven prominent citizens in December — including Hill and former state Sen. Marian Bergeson — to study a specific list of issues with the charter and to recommend changes for voters to decide.
The list covered a variety of issues, from redistricting guidelines to rules on oil drilling.
While charged with a defined scope, the commission also had the ability to request that the City Council add to its issues. At least two proposals other than the chamber's went before the commission, including one introduced by a community association, but they did not receive a motion for a vote.
At least one commissioner questioned the chamber proposal, but the chamber directors advocated for the idea, and the City Council ultimately voted to include it in Measure V, according to meeting minutes.
The chamber limit was the only law the commissioners asked the council add to the ballot measure.
"We did so on the recommendation of the blue ribbon citizen's commission," said Councilman Mike Henn, who was the City Council's liaison to the charter reform commission. "We put a lot of weight behind the Charter Update Commission."
Because the City Council bundled the charter ordinance into Measure V, voters cannot decide on that rule alone. It is part of an up-or-down measure with 12 actions intended to reform the city's charter, which is effectively its constitution.
According to commission meeting minutes, the chamber idea was first introduced by one of the commissioners, Paul Watkins, who at that time was the chairman of the chamber board.
Watkins referred to the funding limit as a "charter amendment" in a letter to the commission, but it is actually a city ordinance and is not part of the charter, according to City Atty. David Hunt.
In an interview this week, Hill, who was on the chamber board, said that he thought the ordinance was part of the charter.