For a week now, we’ve seen the power one San Diego City Council member has to derail a ballot measure that includes a sales tax increase.

With the council’s two Republicans — Kevin Faulconer and Carl DeMaio — staunchly opposed, all six Democrats have to stick together if the proposal will make it onto November’s ballot. (A super majority is required to put a sales tax increase before voters.)

Last week, Councilwoman Donna Frye stunned by rejecting a straight sales tax ballot measure, even though the other five Democrats approved. At Friday’s council meeting, Councilman Tony Young forced Frye to amend her plan by making all the cost-cutting reforms she proposed happen before a tax increase would take effect.

Now Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, always considered a swing vote , is making a move.

She wants City Attorney Jan Goldsmith to prepare a ballot statement that allows the council and mayor to create a commission that could determine if the city had met the reform triggers outlined in proposal. Failing that, she wants the City Clerk’s Office to make the decision.

Goldsmith has counseled that only a city official could decide if the triggers were met and the council then would have to certify it. As the proposal stands, the city auditor has the authority. But Lightner contacted attorney Greg Moser, who has worked on ballot measures in Chula Vista, and he directed her to an appeals court decision that said otherwise.

Her idea is vital, she said, to her final support of the proposal.

“It may, in fact, affect how I may vote for it, or not for it,” Lightner said in an interview.

Keep in mind when evaluating Lightner’s role that this rushed process has been the opposite of her public policy philosophy. She’s one of the most methodical council members. Just this morning, she declined to support a motion to clarify language in the ballot measure because she didn’t like the process.

Here’s how she puts it in her memo:

I am concerned that City Council is not getting timely information to thoroughly vet the proposed “Reform Before Revenue” ballot measure. The ballot measure deadline is rapidly approaching, and I am concerned that if the City Attorney’s office is unable to present Council with an acceptable ballot measure on Wednesday, we will risk not being able to meet the August 6 deadline to place a measure on the ballot. Furthermore, Council needs an opportunity to consider and study the proposals well in advance of Wednesday’s meeting.

Councilman Todd Gloria, who co-authored the final reform package with Frye, said Lightner’s memo was helpful.

“Councilmember Lightner has been invaluable in strengthening reforms,” Gloria said in a statement. “Today’s memo will be helpful in shaping the Council’s decision later this week.”


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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