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On the campaign trail two years ago, Jan Goldsmith tried to distinguish himself from incumbent City Attorney Mike Aguirre by declaring he would be apolitical. He has referred to that stance often since his Nov. 2008 election.

But last week Goldsmith embarked on one of the most political plays of his tenure: laying out a charter amendment to privatize city trash collection.

The proposal comes just three weeks before a deadline to place propositions before voters in November. Further, Goldsmith’s legal analysis talked the dollars and cents of trash privatization, an issue typically at the center of policy makers’ decisions. Goldsmith said the city could save $34 million and that some of the savings could go toward funding public safety services.

Goldsmith’s proposal would allow private companies to charge single family homeowners for trash collection, something the city is prohibiting from doing based on a 1919 city law. He denied his opinion was political. Instead, Goldsmith said he was giving the city options for financial reform.

“It is not inconsistent for lawyers to throw out ideas that are legally available,” Goldsmith said. “I’ve said that I will do that. The question will I go out there and go in front of the council and go in front of the public and say they ought to do this they ought to do that, that’s where there’s got to be a line.”

Goldsmith said he would take policy positions on matters that came directly under his purview. Like a ballot proposition on the employment classification of deputy city attorneys or law enforcement issues.

He compared his trash privatization analysis to the position he took on city outsourcing last October. Goldsmith challenged conventional wisdom by arguing a 2006 voter approved ballot proposition allowed the city to directly outsource services rather than force city departments to compete with outside companies.

“I’ve been at the table fighting for the opportunity to outsource,” Goldsmith said. “But who makes the decision on outsourcing? Not me, the City Council.”

But when he first released that outsourcing opinion Goldsmith faced criticism for playing politics. Lorena Gonzalez, head of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, called that analysis “political bullshit.”

Goldsmith conceded the line between analysis and advocacy was thin. He called having his own a political agenda a “trap.”

“Will I ever fall into that trap?” he said. “Probably. Will I pull back? Absolutely.”

♦♦♦

Meantime, Goldsmith’s privatization proposal doesn’t seem to be gaining much traction. Gonzalez and April Boling, a conservative pension hawk, already have panned the plan.

Councilman Carl DeMaio, the council’s most consistent proponent of privatization, also said he wouldn’t support Goldsmith’s measure. DeMaio said Goldsmith’s idea could be part of a larger package, but doesn’t address the three issues he said were at the root of the city’s financial problems: pension, retiree health care and lack of broad-based outsourcing.

“As a standalone plan, it’s just the elimination of a key service and the imposition of an increased cost of living on working families in San Diego,” DeMaio said.

— LIAM DILLON

Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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