Choosing a City Attorney
by Carolyn Chase
hy do we have a City Attorney?
The four declared candidates for San Diego City Attorney (Mike Aguirre, Deborah Berger, Leslie Devaney, Howard Wayne) will answer questions about their approaches to being City Attorney on Tuesday, September 30th, 7-9pm with a pre-event reception beginning at 6:15pm at Otto Center Auditorium in Balboa Park (just south of zoo entrance).
This event is free to the public and will be emceed by John Mattes, FOX6News. It is co-hosted by the San Diego Sierra Club Political Committee, Public Policy Strategies, local attorneys David Watson and Courtney Coyle.
The City Attorney's Office is low profile but high impact, having the legal authority to affect nearly every decision of the City Council. The office has a civil and criminal division. The civil includes: Trial, Real Property, Public Works, and Employment and Safety Services-and a Public Policy Team. The criminal includes: Consumer and Environmental Protection, Code Enforcement, Child Abuse and Domestic Violence, and Neighborhood Prosecution. They also have "Special Projects" which includes a role in the ballpark and Chargers negotiations - as well as other land use deals. What that role is and the types of both negotiating and legal advice is of utmost importance to all issues coming before City Council with tremendous policy, fiscal and environmental ramifications.
What is the City Attorney's role in the review of the City's CEQA documents and "Development Agreements"? How is the City Attorney involved in deals being negotiated behind the scenes between Development Services, Real Estate Assets and project proponents? The infamous Rocque de la Fuente case involved one of those DAs gone bad. Recently, community activists prevailed as part of a community lawsuit in Torrey Hills where the Judge cited over and over again, "arbitrary and capricious conduct" in bending over backwards to prevent any public hearing on a large expansion of a project. The City lost before a judge over their CEQA process of the relocation of the Rescue Mission.
Not only do all these situations cost activists time and taxpayers money, but there is a growing concern that the conduct of this office compels the public to have to litigate rather than having a fair and just process to begin with. Whether or not citizens are compelled to sue in order to get a fair process is something that activists are constantly battling. Sometimes we win in court - but why should citizens have to sue to begin with?
The City Attorney is elected in theory, so as to provide the public an independent check and balance on the use of power and authority and due process by City staff and City Council. But does the public really know this? Does the media report on this? Does the record reflect independence and the public good?
This evening is designed to give the public an opportunity to meet, hear and ask questions of the candidates for City Attorney and is part of the Sierra Club's endorsement process which includes this public forum, a lengthy written questionnaire, and in-person interviews. Below are the candidates' 100-word summary statement provided to the Sierra Club for consideration.
I have spent 17 years in the office and have worked on the groundwater program, waste management, waste water and energy issues. I understand where the problems are and have the skill and determination to fix them!
Leslie is currently "Executive Assistant City Attorney."
I chaired the Assembly's premier environmental committee and had a 100% environmental voting record. I authored the first law in the country for regular, state-wide coastal monitoring and obtained funding for non-point source pollution clean-up. I funded San Diego-wide curbside recycling and wrote conservation easement protection legislation.
As City Attorney I will use that office's independent litigation authority to represent the public and protect the environment.
While the media is content to fan the flames of higher profile races and issues, in the local trenches the race for City Attorney is the most important competitive race on what will be a very lengthy March 2, 2004 ballot.