California Primary – Part 5: Local Ballot Measures – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

by on May 20, 2010 · 2 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Election, Labor, Organizing, San Diego

democracy1There are four local ballot measures up for your consideration on June 8th. Two of these are non-controversial, meaning that no formal opposition exists. They are:

Measure A

(East Otay Mesa Recycling Collection Center and Landfill Ordinance)

This asks voters to approve a new site for a county landfill near the prison in Otay Mesa.

Your trash has to go somewhere and this is the site that’s been picked. While other cities around the state are doing much more in reducing their “landfill foot print”, San Diego’s politicians have yet to make that commitment. They’re promising that this effort will comply with all the jillions of regulations on the book designed to make this unpleasant task palatable for the environment.

Measure C

(San Diego Preference in Hiring Veterans)

This expands the preference points given to veterans who apply for city employment to include post Vietnam conflicts like the Gulf War and Afghanistan. Given that there are no city jobs, this is a nice gesture and little more.

Now, we get to the fun stuff. Welcome to the world of San Diego politics, where up is down, the Gods have descended from Mt. Olympus to rule over us mortals, and land developers are a protected species.

Measure B

(San Diego County Supervisor Term Limits)

The County of San Diego is ruled over by five white republicans, who have learned to wield the powers of incumbency in a manner that seems to make them untouchable. Along the way, they’ve made a few enemies, especially among the folks who actually do the work involved administering services to the good citizens of San Diego. So it’s no surprise that the labor unions representing these workers have a bone to pick with the Supes.

What is surprising is the method they chosen to express their madness: term limits.

The concept of limiting the amount of time that elected officials can remain in office goes back to the dawn of western democracy. Ancient Greece and Rome, two early civilizations which had elected offices, both imposed limits on some positions. Our forefathers seriously considered the idea in the early days of the Continental Congress.

The original Articles of Confederation contained language written by Thomas Jefferson, “to prevent every danger which might arise to American freedom by continuing too long in office the members of the Continental Congress….”. By the time the actual Constitution of the US got proposed, the language concerning term limits was consigned to the dust bins of history.

In modern times, the idea of term limits has re-emerged as a cause near and dear to some flavors of conservatives, libertarians and (more recently) Tea Party followers. The emergence of full-time elected and legislative officials—something never envisioned by the founding fathers—convinced many voters that the powers and perks of incumbency was creating a class of career politicians who insulated themselves from the public will and were growing less and less representative of the people.

So it has come to pass over the past few decades that many states and local jurisdictions around the country have passed legislation (often via ballot initiatives) that have imposed term limits on elected officials. I would argue that “term limits” have failed to make politicians more responsive to the voters. One only need look at the California legislature to conclude that term limits have had no perceptible effect on governance.

So, with this ballot measure we’re being asked to impose term limits on the County Supervisors as a way of voicing our frustration with their policies. Never mind that the offending supes can serve for another eight or ten years. We’re just being asked to send a “message”.

I, for one, think San Diego would be a far better County without the current bunch of cronies running the place. But this measure just doesn’t make sense to me.

UPAC Gala, 051806Measure D

(Revises the City Charter Relating to the Strong Mayor Form of Governance)

Measure D consists of three questions bundled in an all-or-nothing package. Voters are not permitted to pick and choose but must support or reject the entire proposal.

The three questions are:

1) Shall the Charter be revised to make permanent the Strong Mayor form of governance? 2) Shall the Charter be revised to add a ninth Council seat?

3) Shall the Charter be revised to increase the Council votes required to override a mayoral veto to a two-thirds vote?”

For purposes of this posting I’m going to pass on questions two and three, since it’s an all or nothing deal. Let’s talk frankly about the “Strong Mayor” system, which has been touted as an experiment to see if things could be improved in local government.

The concept of the non-partisan, City Manager form of government (along with the initiative, referendums, and recall, plus a woman’s right to vote) hails back to Progressive movement of the early 20th century. The corruption in cities and the state legislatures around the country was legendary. Progressives knew the ease with which corporations and powerful franchises could control governments–outside the public’s view—and wanted to guarantee the people could remedy the problem.

San Diego adopted the City Manager form of government back in 1931 and it was, for many years, something that civic boosters liked to brag about. Back in the late 1990’s, so the legend goes, a shadowy City Manager colluded with a shadowy Mayor (who, back in those days, headed up the City Council) and cut a series of deals involving pensions that, today, are responsible for San Diego’s current financial problems.

The fact that lots of similar deals regarding pensions were cut in cities and states with differing forms of governance seems to have escaped proponents of a Strong Mayoralty in San Diego. They also seem to have forgotten the copious promises inherent in deregulatory madness that swept the nation during the Clinton and Bush eras that unlimited growth and prosperity were at hand. As we now know, this unlimited prosperity turned out to be a giant ponzi scheme, and the pension funds of thousands of unions, companies and cities were left holding the bag.

The Strong Mayor system has ended up costing taxpayers more than twice as much as previous Council-Manager system, even as there have been deep cuts in fire, police, parks, libraries, and other neighborhood services.

Combined budget of the Mayor and City Manager:

Before Strong Mayor $ 3.1 million

After 5 Years of Strong Mayor $ 8.4 million

bribeThe other thing that you should find alarming about Prop D is the list of developers and big business interests who’ve dug deep into their pockets to support Mayor Saunders’ legacy. Here are the first names of the list.

Corky McMillian Co. / Real Estate Investment, Land Development & Home-Building Company $ 10,000

Sudberry Properties /Commercial Real Estate $ 10,500

San Diego Association of Realtors $ 10,000

Allied Waste /Contract for mayor’s privatized recycling program $ 10,000

For the rest of the list go to:

Here’s what the non-partisan League of Women Voters thinks of this measure:

Prop D would establish a system of governance in which the Strong Mayor routinely works behind closed doors with the highest-ranking non-elected city official, the city manager (now called chief operating officer or COO), a political appointee answerable only to the mayor .In other words, it appears that Prop D would permanently install the same conditions that created the crisis we are in today.

I haven’t even touched on the layers of secrecy that the Saunders administration has imposed on local government over the last five years. The fact is that Prop D is snake oil designed to fool the voters into thinking they’re getting better government while, in reality, it’s opening the doors for a long term cozy relationship between developers and government that will serve to line the pockets of a few.

Next Up: The School Board and more.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar nunya June 3, 2010 at 5:16 pm

“Welcome to the world of San Diego politics, where up is down, the Gods have descended from Mt. Olympus to rule over us mortals, and land developers are a protected species.”

roflmao. thanks, I needed a laugh ( you’re absolutely correct)


avatar Frank Gormlie June 8, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Just to show you that the OB Rag does not have a litmus test in order to be one of our bloggers, I disagree with Doug on his analysis of Prop B. I say show them the door proverbially.


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