The playbook worked for Republican City Councilman Carl DeMaio in the primary: Find a big issue and run it as a ballot measure alongside your mayoral campaign.

It won’t work in November.

A council committee on Wednesday unanimously swatted away DeMaio’s attempt to put his road repair financing plan on the November ballot. After the hearing, DeMaio said he won’t collect signatures to try to force the issue in time for the general election. Instead, he said he’d incorporate the proposal into his first budget as mayor and go to the ballot afterward.

“In terms of the timing I think I’m going to pursue a budget that has it, and then pursue the accountability mechanisms if we can’t get council buy-in,” DeMaio said.

All of this means that DeMaio won’t be able to do with potholes what he did with pensions. In spring 2011, DeMaio turned the pension issue into Proposition B, a successful initiative that will give most new city employees 401(k)s instead of pensions. Prop. B became so ingrained with DeMaio’s mayoral campaign that he promoted it on the bottom of his yard signs. One of his opponents cited Prop. B in DeMaio’s victory in last week’s mayoral primary.

DeMaio’s streets financing plan calls for sequestering new tax revenues for road, storm drain, building and other infrastructure repairs for the next five years. It was going to be DeMaio’s ballot partner for his November runoff against Democratic Congressman Bob Filner.

But the council wasn’t having it. Committee members expressed concern that the plan would tie the council’s hands come budget time, limiting its ability to fund public safety and unforeseen emergencies.

Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who has endorsed Filner, gave another reason for her rejection of the measure.

“This is a blatant attempt by Mr. DeMaio to secure public funds to help him define and run his mayoral campaign,” Emerald said. “Pure and simple.”

Emerald and her two Democratic colleagues on the committee also shot down an effort from their two Republican counterparts to have the city’s independent budget analyst study DeMaio’s proposal further.

While council members at the hearing patted themselves on the back for their road repair efforts, DeMaio is highlighting streets’ shoddy condition for a reason. City residents have said they needed improvement more than any other service. Next year’s budget, which passed Monday, remains $29.9 million short of the money needed to keep the city’s infrastructure from worsening. The current financing plan doesn’t anticipate spending enough to stop annual deterioration until 2017.

DeMaio said the committee rejected the measure because they don’t want to be held responsible for repair failures.

“Politicians don’t like ballot measures,” he said. “They don’t like accountability because they really want more flexibility to continue to pander to different groups.”

Filner attended the meeting to blast DeMaio’s plan. He called it “an aspiration for mediocrity.”

“This is a startling lack of vision for the future of our city,” Filner said.

Filner did concede that the city needs to do a better job of patching potholes. He pointed to his pension plan as his way to pay for repairs. He wants to borrow money to pay down the city’s pension debt, a move he contends will save hundreds of millions of dollars. But any short-term savings comes in exchange for long-term costs and increased fiscal risk.

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at or 619.550.5663.

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Please contact him directly at or 619.550.5663.

Like VOSD on Facebook.

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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