Of all the recommended changes to the city charter that the San Diego City Council is preparing to consider, the biggest is not the expansion of the City Council from eight seats to 11.
Sure the expansion would be stressful. Drawing the new district boundaries will cause enormous angst. And you never hear anyone demanding that the city spend more money on offices and staffs for the politicians.
But the biggest issue, I think, among the recommendations is the push to strengthen the mayoral veto. Right now, the mayor has the right to veto actions by the City Council. But the council can override him by simply getting the same number of votes together.
To our surprise, however, the mayor was actually able to successfully veto something twice this year. For example, he vetoed the City Council’s proposed ban on Wal-Mart Supercenters within city limits and it actually held. The City Council couldn’t muster the same number of votes it had to pass it.
The veto may not be completely toothless but it’s pretty gummy. The mayor’s Charter Review Committee has recommended that the City Council be comprised of 11 members. So, six of them would be needed to pass a bill. If the mayor vetoed the measure, the committee recommended that it take eight votes to override him.
Of all the changes proposed to the city charter, there is nothing that would more dramatically change the way things worked at City Hall. The mayor would have power not only over the management of city personnel and the budget, but he’d have a direct, unavoidable say in legislation.
The City Council has effectively sidelined the mayor on major votes, proud of its ability to do as it pleases. Now the mayor could turn into the gatekeeper, forcing the body to work things out with him before going forward.
This isn’t necessarily bad. The Charter Review Committee didn’t even consider recommending that new members of the City Council be elected from the city at large. District elections have made City Council members unbearably district-centric. They measure their accomplishments by what happens in their neighborhoods not in what the city achieves.
That means this historic chance to put some more general perspective on the City Council has pretty much slipped away. The mayor will be the only elected official (except for the city attorney) who will have the city’s interest as a whole in mind.
Yes, if this passes, things will change dramatically.
My prediction: The City Council aims at this and forges a compromise with the mayor. The compromise? They will lower the burden, making it so the council only needs seven votes to override his veto.
The council will think they got something but their job will effectively be less important from that moment forward.
Of course, I’m the absolute worst predictor around.