Next year, 2011, brings the 100th anniversary of statewide initiative, referendum and recall. And the city of Los Angeles adopted direct democracy a decade before it was adopted statewide.
But referendum may be even older than that in California -a century older.
Michael Warnken, a reader who has been engaged in the question of whether California's legislature is of sufficient size, unearthed a passage from a 1912 history of Solano and Napa Counties that shows the referendum being used in California in the first half of the 19th century-before statehood. Here's the passage, with one note (an ayuntamiento is a term used to refer to the council of a municipality, or sometimes the municipality itself).
"The jurisdiction of an ayuntamiento might be confined to a small village or a county, and its authority was often as extensive as its jurisdiction.
Its members, serving without pay, were liable to fine for non-attendance, and resignations were difficult. Even under the government of the Spanish king, three-quarters of a century ago, California had the referendum. When a question of importance was before the ayuntamiento, and there was a division of opinion, the alarma publica bell was rung and every citizen gathered immediately at the assembly hall. Those who failed without reason were fined $3. Then and there the public by the simple raising of hands, voted and decided the question."
- Tom Gregory, History of Solano and Napa Counties California, 1912, Pg. 32