Apparently, we’re not the only ones to whom City Council President Ben Hueso has floated his idea that the city and county of San Diego might need to be one entity.

But Hueso’s making a serious error in presenting this. He’s somehow managed to let Supervisor Bill Horn legitimately criticize him. I swear getting insulted by Bill Horn must be like getting stepped on by a cockroach.

Bill Horn: A management wizard.

Here’s Horn’s comments in the Union-Tribune. He took Hueso’s idea as a plea for help with the city’s financial crisis. Watching the county supervisors, who have to make a tough decision every decade, rain derision down on the city is perhaps the most irritating activity in town.

Supervisor Bill Horn saw nothing promising, however, calling Hueso’s idea “totally bizarre.”

“We’re willing to send over a management team to show the city how to manage,” he said. “It’s not that hard.”

Let’s leave Horn’s own hysterical history alone for a moment and get to Hueso’s basic mistake: He’s sowing confusion about his idea by not having a ready, easy-to-understand answer for what his new city/county would look like.

Exhibit A: The confusion.

… turf wars could kill the consolidation before it even starts. Would the current governing bodies — the Board of Supervisors and City Council — simply combine and, if not, who would be left out?

From what I understood, Hueso doesn’t necessarily want to combine the county and city, he wants the city to secede from the county. In other words, nobody needs to be left out of the musical chairs. The county can still survive — it’s just that it won’t deal with anything inside of the city of San Diego’s limits.

Hueso’s point is fueled by the money San Diegans send to the county. What for? Most San Diego residents can’t explain what the county actually does. Our writer, Rob Davis, explored this phenomenon in 2007.

The key passage is here:

… at its heart, the county is an agent of the state government, said Donald Steuer, the county’s chief financial officer. About 75 percent of its $4.3 billion budget comes from the state and funds major state-imposed mandates such as health and welfare programs.

So while the county operates as a local government, particularly for the 400,000 residents who live in unincorporated areas, for others it is primarily an arm of the state, Steuer said. And 2.6 million of the county’s 3 million residents live in incorporated cities, meaning they hold their local city councils and mayors responsible for land-use decisions and municipal services.

So Hueso’s point boils down to this. If such a large portion of what the county does is mandated by — and funded by — the state, why do residents of the city of San Diego need to help support the supervisors and the rest of the overhead that goes into keeping them operational?

County and city efforts to manage the jail system, for instance, overlap, Hueso claims. If much of the rest of what the county does has to do with managing the backcountry and providing support for other cities, let them continue to do that but on their own dime.

Isn’t it at least worthy of talking about?

Hueso’s saying the city should secede from the county and take on the funding and responsibilities that would entail.

Horn can still have his job and his ranch and his ways but city residents would neither have to deal with his bloviating nonsense nor his vote, anymore.

I don’t know if it’s a great idea or not. But I’m excited about the discussion. Times of crisis provide the opportunity for major reforms and re-examinations of the way we operate.

Hueso’s not saying it right, but he should just say San Diegans may want to secede from the county. And if Bill Horn is the only reason to talk about it, it’s still enough of one.


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