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Endorsement: Child care is badly needed, but San Diego's Measure H is a well-intentioned nightmare

San Diego Union-Tribune - 10/21/2022

The editorial board operates independently from the U-T newsroom but holds itself to similar ethical standards. We base our editorials and endorsements on reporting, interviews and rigorous debate, and strive for accuracy, fairness and civility in our section. Disagree? Let us know.

The lack of child care is an issue of profound national importance. An Oct. 12Associated Press report depicted the shortages as being so extreme in some communities that families sign up for wait lists well before pregnancy, much less childbirth. The Center for American Progress think tank says fully half of U.S. residents live in areas where only about 30 percent of children can be cared for at a licensed facility. The center's interactive map shows daunting shortages across the San Diego region, especially in poor and rural areas. More than 74,000 local children under 5 lack access to licensed care.

Given this backdrop, it pains The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board to point out that a proposed solution that the San Diego City Council has put on the Nov. 8 ballot — Measure H — amounts to a well-intentioned nightmare. It would amend the City Charter to empower the "city manager" — effectively, the mayor — to unilaterally place child care centers on city parkland. The proposal seems to respond to an obvious need in such a basic way that no ballot argument against it was even filed with the city. But this gives a single official vast power over extremely valuable parkland. As retired San Diego Chief Deputy City Attorney Hal Valderhaug has noted, the mayor would be "the one and only decider about rent, if any; size; location; and terms and duration of use." As Valderhaug wrote, this raises obvious questions about the potential for open corruption that could lead to a long-term, free lease without any public involvement in Balboa Park. Or in any other valuable, dedicated city park.

Why would the council give away, permanently, its power to fight future changes to public parkland? If questionable, poorly thought-out decisions on big issues weren't a staple of the City Council going back decades, Measure H would look like a blatant scam meant to enable mayoral looting. If it passes, safeguards must be added to the parkland decision-making process. But it shouldn't pass. After decades of civic cluelessness — from intentionally underfunding the pension system beginning in 1996 to the Ash Street debacle in more recent years — city leaders have shown they need more oversight, not less. City Hall must act quickly and equitably to boost child care, but in a much smarter way.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

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