Mayor Jerry Sanders' rigged Charter Review Committee

Centralized government, ruled by a mayor, run by developers.

— Imagine what would have happened if our Founding Fathers had made the Casho-cracy concept a part of the U.S. Constitution.

The number of ballots per voter would have been determined by wealth, and corporations would have been eligible to vote. Today, the Forbes 400 (billionaires all), the Standard & Poor's 500 (the largest companies), and Wall Street would have absolute control because they have almost all the money. The people couldn't do anything about it because they would never have the votes to get the Constitution amended.

Something like this is going on in San Diego. The real estate industry, which already has a mayor, bureaucracy, and council dancing on the end of puppet strings, wants to freeze this control in writing in the city charter. Mayor Jerry Sanders' rigged Charter Review Committee, packed with lawyers and lobbyists representing real estate and the downtown establishment, early this month made its final recommendation: a centralized government, ruled by a mayor, who in turn would be run by developers.

This proposal, if enacted, would make it impossible for San Diego to get out of its current predicament: it can't take more residential development until the infrastructure is able to accommodate it. But the new homes and condos shoot up, while water, sewer, transportation, and other facilities remain aged and inadequate. Worst of all, the availability of water is now in question. This and other infrastructure questions are particularly critical as the city and county decide how to rebuild following the fires. There will be pressure from developers to reconstruct homes on dangerous sites. But that is often unsound policy.

The committee's recommendations now go to the council. It should unceremoniously toss most of the ideas in the wastepaper basket. If that doesn't happen, the recommendations will go on the ballot in June and November of next year and in later elections. Tons of money will be thrown into campaigns to get them passed. Don't be surprised if 50 to 100 times more money pours into ramming through these Cashocracy measures than goes into opposing them.

Consider, for example, one change recommended for a later ballot. It would "authorize the mayor to act as chief executive officer of any [italics mine] organization established by federal or state law for which the city council acts as the governing or legislative body." One major meaning of this power seizure: "This would institutionalize the mayor's present position as executive director of the Redevelopment Agency" (italics mine). Such a power seizure would make a whore of the City's Housing Commission and many other entities. The director of the Housing Commission appeared before the committee and argued against the move.

"I don't think the mayor should be [chief executive] of the Redevelopment Agency. It scares me to death," says Barbara Cleves Anderson, a member of the committee. Because of the dominance of Sanders's handpicked real estate lawyers and lobbyists (some of whom do not live in San Diego), "I hated it [serving on the committee]." Whenever members handpicked by the mayor and developer-friendly councilmembers wanted something, "We knew we were going to lose."

"This is an unprecedented power grab," says John Gordon, a committee appointee who was not a member of the pro-development majority clique. "This mayor and certainly others will have enough power without trying to get their tendrils into the Housing Commission and redevelopment. We all know the risk in this town of campaign contributions."

There is a question whether this move would be legal under state law. "The Redevelopment Agency is a corporation established by state law," says committee member Marc Sorensen. "There is a role the mayor should play, but I think it should be studied. This is centralizing power; there is nothing wrong with that in some cases, but are checks and balances maintained?"

The development industry came to dominate the committee by sleight of hand. The mayor named seven of his buddies. Councilmember Scott Peters nominated Donna Jones, lobbyist for Sunroad. The mayor enthusiastically named Jones. That gave real estate interests the majority. Jones "voted with the mayor's representatives on every occasion," says Gordon. The mayor's crew voted as a bloc.

"The mayor wants to increase his power radically," says Jim Mills, former president pro tem of the California Senate. "He wants to be directly in charge of [Centre City Development Corporation] instead of the council. The developers feel they have a patsy for mayor, and they clearly do. They put him in office, want him to have more power to do what they want him to do." Mills agrees that the City should concentrate on rebuilding the infrastructure and curtail residential development.

There are other disturbing power seizures that will assist the developers in extracting subsidies from government. The committee wants the city attorney to represent the politicians and bureaucrats and not the people. The current city attorney, Mike Aguirre, has been trying to end the developers' financial bleeding of the City, and this is an attempt -- accompanied by more media-coordinated smear campaigns -- to let the corruption go unchecked.

"They intend to bury the emasculation of Mike Aguirre in so much other stuff that they think it won't be noticed, but I assume Mike will make it an issue," says Mills. "Some consider Mike a loose cannon, but he is shooting at all the right targets. This city council and this mayor are not in good odor, and the public will not like them putting a tight leash on the city attorney." The committee decided this time not to recommend that the city attorney be appointed rather than elected, although the lawyer/lobbyist lackeys appointed by Sanders clearly wanted that. There is a rumor that Councilmember Scott Peters, the pro-developer toady, will try the ploy anyway. It was Aguirre who forced into the open the City's concealment of its weak financial state in bond filings. Aguirre particularly fingered Peters for his role in this deceit.

The committee wants to expand council districts from 8 to 11. Overriding the mayor's veto would require 8 votes, or 73 percent. "That is really high," says Sorensen.

The stacked committee would have the mayor appoint the chief financial officer and the city auditor. Both jobs should be independent of the mayor. The mayor could also hire and fire the personnel director at will.

The centralized controls "will weaken the council's ability to respond to community planning groups," says Norma Damashek, president of the League of Women Voters. The mayor is already "trying through the Planning Department and the Development Services Department to standardize development [rules] in communities throughout the City." The winners will be "the developers, the whole business establishment, whoever makes money off the City. This is the way the City has been traditionally, but now they are casting it in cement."

"Jerry Sanders is the darling of the development industry, and the committee's recommendations will strengthen the hand of the developers and keep the GOP juggernaut in power," says Steve Erie, professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, and author of an upcoming book, Paradise Plundered: Fiscal Crisis and Political Turmoil in San Diego.

Throughout the committee meetings, the stacked majority feigned an interest in the people. "They said they cared about democracy, but if you look, the majority of votes came down for the unitary executive concept," says Gordon. On the federal level, the unitary executive theory argues for hamstringing Congress's ability to take power from the president. In San Diego, the words "unitary executive" are a polite way to describe a mayor-centered Cashocracy.

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