When San Diego residents have an idea they think could improve their local government, Council Policy 21 tells how they can get the proposal before voters.
The policy directs them to the rules committee, a group of five City Council members who decide whether the idea should be sent to the full council. The council considers putting the question to voters.
Since 2004, the city clerk’s office says, 56 proposals have been brought to the committee, and none of them have been sent on.
Critics say the panel’s reluctance to endorse potential ballot measures undermines the democratic process. Committee Chairman Tony Young, who is also the council president, said that is not true. Although the full ballot proposals may not get sent on by the committee, he said, ideas are picked up elsewhere in city policies.
“Sometimes you hear ideas during that process that might not get sent to the council at that time, but in future committees or voting cycles it actually gets in,” Young said. “I’m not ready to concede that those ideas don’t ever get put on the ballot or become policy.”
Activists such as Mel Shapiro are troubled by the city’s history of rejecting citizen-generated ideas.
“There seems to be a tradition of ignoring the public,” said Shapiro, who recommended the committee consider amending the city charter to allow redevelopment funds be used for purposes other than capital improvements. “All these proposals over all these years and not one could ever be forwarded to the City Council? It’s sort of insulting to the public, really.”
Political activists are able to qualify measures for a city ballot by collecting a certain number of signatures from registered voters, but that process can be expensive and time-consuming.
Medical pot supporters, for example, are working to place an initiative on the November ballot to regulate dispensaries. To succeed, they need more than 62,000 valid signatures before the end of this month.
Late last year, Cynara Velazquez filed paperwork at City Hall to get a similar measure before voters. In January, she said, members of the rules committee listened for two or three minutes, then did nothing.
“We never heard anything,” Velazquez said. “We were never asked any questions. It’s disappointing, obviously. It would be nice if we were able to debate these things.”
Attorney Frederic Schultz wanted city voters to approve or reject a host of issues ranging from regulating home foreclosures and expanding the amount of time the public can speak at council meetings to electing the police chief and prohibiting arrests for certain crimes.
Schultz gave the committee a detailed request outlining the ideas and his justification supporting them. The committee declined his request.
“This shows the process was instituted to give people false hope and the appearance that our concerns are being considered and addressed,” he said. “Really, it’s a system designed to shut us up.”
The council policy allowing citizens to propose ballot measures dates back to 1976, when Pete Wilson was mayor and citizens were still digesting the effects of the Watergate scandal.
Good-government groups said San Diego gets credit for creating a way for residents to get their ideas before voters without going through the initiative process. They chided city officials for failing to embrace even one plan over the years.
“If it’s a process that is supposed to promote citizen solutions and none of them are successful, then it appears the process itself may need to be reformed,” said Phillip Ung of California Common Cause. “Based on its record, it seems to be a lot of window dressing.”
Young said motions and ordinances that reach the council often originate from citizen input.
“They’re not things that come out of thin air,” he said. “There are a lot of examples of how we use ideas from the public that ultimately become policies or budgetary priorities.”
Anyone trying to place a measure on the November ballot must file their proposal with the city clerk’s office before 10 a.m. June 8.
|Title||Requests for ballot measures go nowhere -- None of 56 proposals by public forwarded|
|Author||Jeff Mc Donald|
|Keywords||Encroachment Law, Freedom Of Speech, Local Politics, Occupy San Diego, Police Dept Oversight|
|Media Type||Linked Article|
|Author Name Sortable|