Will These Be on the November Ballot? Thirty Foot Height Limit, Ranked Choice Voting, Clean Elections, Project Labor Agreements

by on May 15, 2020 · 0 comments

in Election, San Diego

By Doug Porter / WordsandDeeds / May 14, 2020

The San Diego City Council’s Rules Committee met on Wednesday and advanced six ballot measures under consideration for the November 2020 general election.

A measure making San Diego Unified School District board elections district only affairs will be considered by the full council.. Currently, school district voters make their choices in a primary; the entire city gets to vote on those choices in the general election.

Five other measures will get a second hearing before the rules committee in June after further analysis and preparation.

  • Authorizing outside legal counsel for the city auditor
  • Public campaign financing for city offices
  • Ranked choice voting for city offices
  • Removing a ban on Project Labor Agreements
  • Removing the 30 foot height-limit in the Midway District.

All these potential measures are controversial in some respect. And there are other measures under consideration for the November ballot.

San Diego’s City Auditor has become something of a political football. 

The Mayor is supposed to appoint (the council confirms) the person entrusted with looking over the city’s operations and practices to make sure they are serving the public interest. Sometimes that person delivers bad news not in line with the aspirations of their boss.

Former City Auditor Eduardo Luna stepped down in 2018 after learning that he would not be asked to serve a second 10-year term. Kyle Elser was named to the job on an acting basis.

A long-time city employee who had not worked as an auditor in 10 years was nominated by the Mayor, but was withdrawn following questions about whether the mayor should be nominating the person charged with providing oversight of his administration.

Now the acting City Auditor is asking the council to have the office be represented by an independent lawyer rather than the City Attorney’s Office.

From the Union-Tribune:

  • In a recent four-page memo to the audit committee of the City Council, Elser said the office needs its own lawyer to protect its independence and to best serve the public interest. He requests a measure be placed before voters in November 2020 to pay for the legal help.
  • “The city attorney advises both the city auditor and city officials whom the city auditor is responsible for auditing and investigating,” Elser wrote in his Jan. 24 memo.
  • “Therefore, we believe that providing our office with the authority to obtain independent legal counsel is necessary to prevent potential perceived or actual conflicts of interest that arise due to the city attorney’s client relationship with the city,” the memo states.

Incumbent City Attorney, Mara Elliott is up for re-election this year, and criticism of her performance has been centered around the politicization of the advice the office provides.


The San Diego Clean Elections Initiative under consideration is sponsored by Neighborhoods for Clean Elections, a coalition originally formed to place the measure on the 2016 ballot.

The initiative, which is also supported by Common Cause, will provide public funding for candidates for mayor and City Council who agree to a Clean Elections Pledge: The pledge requires that they refrain from soliciting any campaign contributions from private sources and that they further agree to refrain from spending any of their own money for their campaign.

A candidate who agrees not to accept private contributions or use his or her own money would receive a limited amount (75 cents per resident) of public funding to be used exclusively to campaign. This would cost every San Diegan about $4 per year.

In San Diego a “Clean” candidate would be required to collect $5 from 500 voters in his or her district to qualify for funding, and those proceeds would go into the city’s Clean Elections fund.

For more information, go to www.sdcleanelections.org


There may be a Trojan Horse hidden amid the reformist language of the proposed ballot measure for ranked choice voting.

The idea, also known as instant runoff voting, is being used in localities around the country, and gives voters the opportunity to rank candidates by order of preference.

A candidate garnering a majority of first-choice votes is the winner.

But… if no one has a majority of first-choice votes after the first round, the person with the lowest number of first-choice votes is eliminated. Those votes are redistributed to the second-choice candidate on the ballots.

The process can be repeated for each round – the person with the lowest number of votes gets eliminated and their votes get redistributed to other candidates that have been ranked on the ballot – until only two candidates are left. The person with the most votes is the winner.

Localities using ranked choice voting are seeing an increased opportunities for candidates with a diversity of political viewpoints, backgrounds, and demographics.

Ranked choice elections in cities like Minneapolis have seen a reduction in mud-slinging campaigns, since candidates are more likely to focus on getting voters to the polls as opposed to discouraging opposition ballots.

This all sounds well and good. Except that the San Diego version of this has what some consider to be a poison bill within.

One of the major benefits of this reform is supposed to be saving us the hassle and cost of a primary. This particular measure as it stands now (it could be changed) includes a primary choosing four candidates who then go on to November.

This isn’t ranked choice voting as it is being used in San Francisco, which is how proponents are selling it. What it does do is allow candidates to be selected in low voter turnout primaries, which skew conservative.

One advocate reportedly is selling the idea as an opportunity for an “I support building a border wall” candidate to make the November ballot as a “Democrat,” when in fact they’ve gamed the system using voters who don’t ascribe to the Democratic Party’s values..

Nah. I don’t think so. As it stands, this is more of that “Third Way” crap, which is essentially right wing economic ideas sans the KKK outfits.


Getting rid of the city’s “ban” on Project Labor Agreements (PLA) is overdue.

Carl DeMaio and his merry band of grifters sold San Diego voters on this idea as Proposition A back in 2012 as part of their “government employees and unions are bad” effort.

Times have changed, San Diego’s electorate has changed, and the State of California is not too keen on doling out money for projects without a PLA. The city stands to lose big time money. So now, even some taxpayer advocates who supported the ban have switched sides.

What this really comes down to, once you get past dubious claims of less cost to the taxpayer, is the question of fair wages and benefits for hard work. Cheap contractors cut corners and end up costing the community, whether it’s in the form of public assistance for low wage earners or poorly run projects.

You get what you pay for.

Put another way, people bought the budget-priced Yugo cars in the 1980s only to discover they owned the most poorly made automobile ever. The spare tire was kept in the engine compartment, which is why 65 miles per hour was mostly a downhill dream.


San Diego’s voter approved 30 foot height limit for construction west of Interstate 5 has long been considered the third rail of local politics.

Now voters may be asked to remove that constraint as part of the grand revision of the new community plan for the Midway district, which is undoubtedly one of the ugliest parts of San Diego.

As far as I’m concerned, if you had the choice to pick a landscape for a destructo space ray to level, the Midway, along with the Sports Arena would be a top choice. I’d say burn that sh*t down, except that’s it’s all concrete.

The promise of more affordable housing is driving this cause, though I’m dubious such promises will pencil out in the end.

The opposition will likely come from community advocates like my good buddy at the OB Rag, Frank Gormlie, who fought to keep our local shoreline from becoming Miami Beach-style towers.

Is it really going to be “care for the home-challenged” vs “tree huggers” come November? I hope not. The devil will be in the details, and those haven’t made it through the legislative sausage making process yet.

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