Currently, El Cerrito is what is known as a General Law city. A General Law City has the authority to act locally but its acts must be consistent with the California Constitution, state statutes, and state administrative regulations. A Charter City adopts a Charter, which is a document that outlines how a city is governed. A Charter City has the additional authority to adopt laws regarding "municipal affairs" that are different from state statutes, while still being consistent with the US and California Constitutions. Municipal affairs may include the form of city government, elections, some aspects of zoning and land use, the process of contracting for public works, and the scope of authority related to taxes and assessments. A city may only become a Charter City with voter approval. In our area, local charter cities include Albany, Emeryville, Berkeley, Richmond, Oakland, Alameda, Piedmont, San Francisco, San Leandro and San Rafael.
Why a Charter City?
The City of El Cerrito was incorporated as a general law city in 1917 by residents seeking the right to manage local affairs. Since then, the authority of general law cities over local affairs has diminished. Furthermore, the State has continually added mandates for cities that require local resources to address State concerns, increased its control over local matters, and redirected much needed local revenue for its own purposes.
Changes in State law have limited the ability of El Cerrito to decide how to use local dollars for local needs. The power of home rule, granted by the California Constitution, makes available to charter cities a variety of tools to use to construct local policy and address local concerns. The voters of each charter city get to decide which tools to put in their tool box. With this Charter, El Cerrito will reclaim more local autonomy and expand the economic and fiscal independence of our City government to promote the health, safety, and welfare of all its residents.
Therefore, we do hereby exercise the express right granted by the Constitution of the State of California to enact and adopt this Charter for the City of El Cerrito.