City’s rules committee approves 2020 ballot measures

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego City Council’s Rules Committee voted Wednesday to send roughly a half dozen proposed March and November 2020 ballot measures to a second committee review session.

The committee considered 16 proposed initiatives during the meeting. Approved proposals will be drafted by the city attorney’s office and then brought back to the Rules Committee, save for one, and then sent to the full council for final approval to place them on the ballot.

The committee voted 3-2 in favor of one of the highest-profile proposals, a $900 million bond proposed by the San Diego Housing Federation to build affordable housing for military veterans, homeless families, seniors and disabled people.

The housing federation initially planned to put the bond on the 2018 ballot but elected that June to push it 2020. The proposed bond initiative as approved by the committee would be placed on the November ballot.

“The only way we can effectively address homelessness is to build more supportive housing,” said City Councilwoman Barbara Bry, who voted in favor of the initiative. “This is housing the private sector can’t build, doesn’t make economic sense for them. This is housing the public has to build.”

Councilman Mark Kersey opposed putting the proposal on the ballot because of his prior support of a hotel tax increase to fund a convention center expansion, homeless services and infrastructure improvements and argued it would be bad politics to hold public votes on both in the same calendar year. The council voted 5-4 in April to place the hotel tax hike initiative on the March 2020 ballot.

The committee unanimously approved a proposal from City Attorney Mara Elliott to allow the city’s Community Review Board on Police Practices to retain its own independent legal counsel. Currently, the city attorney’s office is the board’s chief legal counsel. The committee chose to send the proposal to the council’s Public Safety and Land Use Committee instead of bringing it back to the Rules Committee for a second review.

The committee also unanimously approved two changes to the way in which San Diego Unified School District board members are elected and how they can be removed.

Currently, board members participate in a by-district election during the primary. The top-two finishers in each district then compete in a citywide general election that can result in the board not always including representatives from each district.

The ballot measure would change the general election to a by-district system to mirror the primary election system. The committee supported putting the proposal on the November 2020 ballot.

“This is not a partisan issue, this is just an equity issue,” said Councilman Chris Cate, noting support from Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego. “This is how we treat elected officials in this region: no better or worse than each other.”

The second change would allow the council to remove district board members if they are convicted of a felony or serious crime, if they are determined to be physically or mentally incapacitated, or if they are found to be in dereliction of official duties.

Currently, the council can only take such an action for the mayor, council members and the city attorney under the city charter. The proposal is expected to be placed on the March 2020 ballot.

The proposal is something of a response to the scandal surrounding district board member Kevin Beiser. In March, four men accused Beiser of sexual misconduct and abuse.

Although Beiser has maintained his innocence, he has not returned to his job as a teacher at Castle Park Middle School and remains in his position due to the board’s inability to vote for his removal. The board could only vote in favor of a resolution calling for his resignation, which it did in April.

The committee also approved a proposal from Councilman Scott Sherman to move the responsibility for the city auditor appointment process from the mayor’s office to the council’s Audit Committee. Currently, the mayor appoints a city auditor candidate to serve a 10-year term.

Under the proposed initiative, the Audit Committee would recruit and choose three candidates for the city auditor position. The council would then choose one of the three candidates to serve as the city auditor.

“I am thankful to my colleagues on the Rules Committee for supporting this common sense solution to a flawed process,” Sherman said in a statement. “I look forward to working with all stakeholders to draft an acceptable charter amendment for the March ballot.”

Proposals that are approved in committee a second time are scheduled to go before the full council in October and November. The city attorney’s office must file approved ballot measures with the county Registrar of Voters by Dec. 6 to be placed on the March 3, 2020, ballot.

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