Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Be nice. Play nice. A public interest message

Maybe you missed the story in the NYT a couple of months ago that characterized certain San Diegans as “aggressively bland…scrubbed of their character… command(ing) so little attention…”

Yes, the description is a dead ringer for our current mayor Kevin Faulconer.  But no, the story wasn't about him.

It was about a new No.1 starter for our  hometown baseball team– left in the lurch three years ago by a wily real estate developer who amassed mega-millions through canny downtown redevelopment deals with obliging city officials and then headed off to Texas with his publicly-subsidized loot.  For former Padres owner John Moores, the public good was hardly the point of his business plan.   

Turns out that the public good was not in the business plan of that other wily profiteer, the one with an equally-practiced eye for lucrative real estate investments.  Doug Manchester gobbled up the city’s sole daily newspaper and macerated it into a silly small-town rag, decimating the stock of local and regional professional reporters in cynical contempt of the public interest.  In the process he'll personally come off many $millions in the black.

How is it that the city of San Diego routinely gets fleeced by real estate developers, by hotelier/ tourism/ hospitality entrepreneurs, by Chamber of Commerce hacks, by well-heeled businessmen and sports team owners and self-promoting downtown partnerships and upwardly-mobile politicians?   

How is it that over the past couple of decades the civic notion of the public good has been trounced and buried in the pileup of downtown money, unsmart growth, and vacuous leadership?  Instead of community benefits we get bland, scrubbed clichés about civility: Be nice.  Play nice.  Don't rock the boat.

Now here's the latest civil warning: The free-for-all massacre of our previous mayor was A-OK but don't mess with our current mayor Kevin Faulconer – the evasive, ever-so-nice guy who's being powdered and groomed as a potential candidate for higher office, maybe even (gulp) California governor.   Haven't you noticed how our public-minded reformers, intelligent thinkers, and anyone else uncivil enough to challenge the status quo get harassed, discredited, and hounded out of town?

So who will risk challenging the policies of civil-tongued mayor Faulconer, one of the most airbrushed, remote-controlled, public relations-created marshmallow fellows our city has yet produced?  San Diego is definitely at a political low point.

Which brings us full circle to an important public-interest message about the San Diego City Charter: There are meetings underway at City Hall to modify our City Charter.  

While it's true that our City Charter is in bad need of cleanup and reorganization,  much of that work can be taken care of by the City Attorney's office.  But if major and substantive changes to the Charter are in the works, we will need an appointed or elected Citizens Charter Commission to do the job, not just a Council Charter Committee.  It may be expensive and time consuming, but to avoid the mischief that's inevitable without open and informed public participation, there's no way around it.

Our City Charter is akin to a government constitution.  It's the fundamental law of the city.  To address the fact that hardly anyone knows why the Charter exists, I recently sent a suggestion to the City Council Charter Review Committee to add a preamble to the Charter.  A preamble?  What's that?  

A preamble is simply a public interest message spelling out the purpose and intent of our city government / City Charter.  It enumerates the guiding principles that underlie San Diego city government and clarifies for people living and doing business in the city what the public good entails.  A preamble could help our city identify its better self and dig itself out from under.

Here’s my stab at what the San Diego City Charter preamble could and should say:

City government is the steward of the public good.  The purpose and intent of the San Diego City Charter is to provide for government effectiveness, efficiency, and fiscal responsibility; ensure government responsiveness to local needs; enable equitable development and environmental justice in our communities; foster transparency, ethics, and accountability in government functions; assure fair citizen participation in the affairs of the City; improve the safety, quality of life, and standard of living of all San Diegans; engage in long-term conservation and sustainable management of our natural resources; protect the integrity of government decision-making; and promote public confidence in city government.

We, the people of the City of San Diego, have established this City Charter under the home-rule provision of the Constitution of the State of California and ordain it as the fundamental law of the City.


(FYI: The next City Council Charter Review Committee is scheduled for Thursday, April 16, 2015 at 2pm in the City Council Committee Room, 12th Floor, City Administration Building (aka City Hall).   The Committee Consultant is Steve Hadley (619) 533-5906 or charterreview@sandiego.gov)




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