Democracy in Action at City Council Rules Committee

by on June 16, 2016 · 0 comments

in Organizing, Politics, San Diego

By John Lawrence

City Council Rules CommitteeOn Wednesday, June 15, 2016, there was a well-attended meeting of the Rules Committee of the San Diego City Council.

Many diverse topics were covered, some at exhaustive lengths. The meeting lasted over three hours with a dozen or more speakers pleading their causes.

Most were asking the Rules Committee to take issues to the full City Council for consideration on the November ballot.

There was a discussion of the nature of the voting system.

The way it is right now someone running for office who gets 50% of the vote plus one in the June primary is considered elected. Any less than that and there is a run-off on the November ballot between the top two vote-getters. Jeff Marston of the Independent Voter Project maintained that, since more voters vote in the November election than in the primary, all final votes should be in that election in which more voters would have a say. A new voter Marissa Gomez, 19, favored that approach.

Will San Diego Adopt Instant Run-off Voting?

Councilman Mark Kersey said that this would only lengthen the voting process and make the November ballot that much more unfathomable with options and propositions so numerous as to boggle the average voter’s mind. Better to get some things out of the way on the June ballot, he said.

Kersey suggested that perhaps Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) was a better way to go. IRV is an electoral system whereby voters rank candidates in order of preference. In the event that one candidate fails to achieve a sufficient majority, the candidate with the fewest number of first preference rankings is eliminated and these votes redistributed, the process being repeated until one candidate achieves the required majority. Talk about getting down to the nuts and bolts of voting! A motion was made and carried 3 to 2 to bring the proposal, that the 50% + 1 rule be eliminated, to the full City Council and have them vote on it.

City Council Rules CommitteeNext came the Public Health and Social Welfare Ballot Proposal. Stephanie Johnson made a slide presentation about the many homeless people she had met and what their problems were. Those problems included Tammy– who couldn’t afford lodging despite getting around $1000 from Social Security each month. With the average rent for a studio apartment more than $1000, Social Security would have to pay about twice that before a person could afford a roof over their head and food too.

Stuck in a System With No Exit

Melissa and Jason had their children taken away from them, and were “stuck in a system and cannot get out”. Minor fines added up, jobs were not forthcoming because of outstanding fines and prior criminal records. Homeless people are fined for sitting. That comes under the heading of loitering, and so homelessness becomes criminalized.

The Colonel had his social security check withheld because he can’t pay his fines for being homeless.

Ms. Johnson talked about how some of the homeless she encountered were “incredibly high” off of Spice, which is sold legally in Hillcrest. Another homeless woman had been raped since childhood and was presently pregnant with twins. It was a veritable litany of hard luck stories that she pleaded with the City to do something about.

John Stump added, “We’re measured on how we treat the least of these, and we’re not doing enough.” He noted that we had an Arts and Culture Commission that made sure arts and culture prospered in the City but there was no Human Services Commission that would provide oversight and look out for the interests of the less fortunate. The City was hoarding money, as Katheryn Rhodes has also repeatedly pointed out, in the LMIHAF fund and other places, and a City Commission could possibly force this money out the door and point it in the right direction – to help those who needed help.

Speaker addressing the Rules Committee meeting, 2016-06-15Is Compassion a Civic Virtue?

Rodney Hodges, a homeless man, spoke very eloquently about his situation and about the one civic virtue we lack – compassion, caring for someone other than ourselves. He said the City has vacant facilities all over town, and the point that the City has money that it is hoarding has been made repeatedly with no counter-arguments from any of the members of the Rules Committee.

I think a lot of the detail that Katheryn Rhodes has dug up is really too deep for most of them. I think they are incapable of comprehending it, but maybe upon repeated exposure some of it will sink in.

Her presentation included the fact that online hoteliers such as Expedia and Trivago pay no TOT taxes, representing money the City could use if it wanted to solve the homelessness problem… …which evidently it does not. It just wants to tinker around the edges to show that it is doing something while not doing very much.

A spokeswoman for the Democratic Women’s Club (DWC) wanted the City to reinstate charter sections 60 and 61. Section 60 had to do with the establishment of a Public Health Commission and a Director of Public Health. This section of the City Charter was repealed in 1963. Section 61 had to do with the establishment of a Department of Social Welfare and a Director of Social Welfare. This section was also repealed in 1963.

Do Poor People Need a New Football Stadium?

The DWC representative said that poor people have needs that aren’t being served by building a new stadium. While there’s always money available for rich people’s needs, poor people are left in the unenviable position of sucking hind teat (my words, not hers). The City cannot make the excuse that the County will deal with the homeless situation and the needs of poor people because the County gets its funds from HUD, and those funds do not serve the needs of homeless women and children.

Jeeni Criscenzo has made the point many times that homeless women and children numbering some 22,000 (which can be ascertained from official school records) are routinely left out of the Point In Time count.

Councilwoman Marti Emerald said that she’s engaged in this issue and that the City was spending millions of dollars to help the homeless. I guess that’s not enough since the homeless population gets larger every day. She mentioned the Continuum of Care meetings. The Regional Continuum of Care Council (RCCC) is a community-based association focused on ending homelessness in San Diego and charged with overseeing millions of dollars in federal funding under the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Continuum of Care (CoC) program. I guess this HUD funding is what the Democratic Women’s Club spokeswoman referred to as being unavailable for women and children.

San Diego City Council Rules Committee meeting, 2016-06-15Ms. Emerald mentioned Girls Think Tank which is doing admirable work with the homeless. Girls Think Tank is now called Think Dignity so I guess the well-intentioned Ms. Emerald is a little bit behind the times. She said, “I believe that together we can find new solutions.” She said that they are pushing the County to “do better.” She wants to establish more senior centers.

Councilman Chris Cate chimed in that he and other City Councilpersons were volunteering their time working with non-profits. Well, that is not exactly what San Diego citizens were asking them to do. Whether or not they are personally involved in activities outside the purview of the City Council is not the issue. The issue is, in their role as City Council persons, how can they best contribute to getting the job done.

Their position does give them considerable leverage. Councilman Cate mentioned, “how do we get the most bang for our buck?” Simple: release the hoarded money and earmark it for affordable housing! He said, “we’re working hard to do more with the dollars we do have.” I don’t think so. They always plead poverty when it comes to helping the impoverished. But they don’t have a problem with slinging around billions of dollars for a new convadium, for instance. They don’t bat an eyelash over borrowing $1.15 billion for that. Poverty indeed!!

Let the People Pay for Trash!

The League of Women Voters (LWV) wants the City to get rid of the Peoples’ Ordinance which lets single family homeowners in the City get free trash disposal. Those that don’t live in single-family homes, which is the majority of City residents, don’t get this benefit.

The LWV wants this ordinance recalled. It should be. It would add another $47 million to the General Fund. The City wouldn’t have to borrow as much for the new Convadium or it could almost pay off the $60 million on Qualcomm Stadium that it still owes. Still the City does nothing. They don’t want to piss off a lot of their constituents who are attached to their freebies. There was no second to Marti Emerald’s motion to bring this proposal to the full City Council for a vote to place it on the November ballot.

Speaker addressing the Rules Committee, 2016-06-15Next, it was Women Occupy San Diego’s (WOSD) turn to take the floor. Notice a trend here? Most if not all of these groups are women.

The WOSD want a reform of the Citizen’s Review Board to include a review of all police shootings and in-custody deaths. They want police accountability. Right now the police review themselves. What could go wrong there? Women Occupy wants 3 things: independent investigators, independent legal counsel and subpoena power. She said, “The police shouldn’t be in charge of investigating their own misconduct.”

What struck me is that there are people of all ranks and abilities involved in civil discourse, from the WOSD attorney who spoke, to those demonstrating in the streets. The level of civic involvement in particular for social justice issues is impressive.

Of course, the rich corporate lobbyists do their work behind the scenes. The Chamber of Commerce types weren’t present at the Rules Committee meeting.

A Smorgasbord of Issues

The ever-present citizen advocate, John Stump, brought up a smorgasbord of other issues from the subsidy the City gives to the zoo that it doesn’t need (it is very profitable, thank you) to the fact that the “Council has the authority to own and operate a public utility” whether this be the internet, energy or something else. They said we need “community choice aggregation” in order to get to the City’s “Climate Action Plan” goal.

Speaker addressing the Rules Committee, 2016-06-15Finally, Katheryn Rhodes spoke about the need to redefine what a hotel operator was in order to tax online hotel operators. Since the number one complaint of tourists is the downtown homeless population (it sort of takes the fun out of visiting San Diego when you have to step over turds in the street), it makes sense to have part of the TOT tax go to clean up the streets by housing the homeless.

As Katheryn has pointed out repeatedly, there is money available if only the City would stop hoarding it. We need more CAFRs (Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports).

I don’t think the acronym-challenged City Council can get their heads around Katheryn’s work. She also advocated for Tiny Homes for the homeless and pointed out the mismatch between City Ordinances and State Laws.

What needs to take place is a lawsuit a la Cory Briggs against the City to spring loose those hoarded funds in the LMIHAF and other equally abstruse funds and get the ball rolling. San Diego residents want it. Tourists want it. The Chamber of Commerce wants it. The only people who don’t want it are the compassionless- those people who think every resident should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, even those entrapped in a cycle of poverty.

Let’s Hope It Does Some Good

Today was a heartening exercise in civic democracy. Let’s hope it is to some avail. The Democratic Women’s Club, the League of Women Voters, Women Occupy San Diego, Stephanie Johnson, Katheryn Rhodes and many other women – all were there. Where were the men’s groups or the LGBTQ groups for that matter? It’s clear that women are among the most compassionate members of society. The only men there were John Stump, Rodney Hodges and a few others. Men are clearly not as advanced in the compassion index as are women.

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