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Opinion: Flawed Measure H passed but San Diego council approval still crucial for child-care leases

San Diego Union-Tribune - 11/11/2022

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If there is a single issue affecting millions of Americans that doesn't get the attention it plainly deserves, it is the lack of any child care in large swaths of the nation — including in poor and rural areas of San Diego County. But Measure H — approved easily by city voters on Tuesday — is far from the tidy, obvious response that sponsor Chris Cate, the termed-out council member, used to claim. It amends the City Charter in sweeping fashion to authorize the "city manager" — i.e., the mayor — to unilaterally allow installation of child care centers with sweetheart lease terms on city parkland. This is in keeping with City Hall's appalling, decades-long reputation for not sweating the details.

When The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board opposed the measure for its lack of safeguards and cited the analysis of retired San Diego Chief Deputy City Attorney Hal Valderhaug — an authority on charter land-use provisions — Cate called this view "ridiculous" on Twitter. Within days, however, he backpedaled. As KPBS reported, Cate "acknowledged some could read the language as granting full autonomy to the mayor." KPBS also underscored our concerns when it noted that Councilmember Raul Campillo said that he believed the municipal code gave the council approval power — but only for leases of three years or more. Campillo, a lawyer, suggests that is reassuring. Really? In our view, it underscores Valderhaug's point that no one at City Hall did more than cursory vetting of this proposal. Campillo never mentioned the extent of the mayor's authority in a Sept. 27 essay outlining his support for the measure in our opinion section.

Some may take solace in the belief that current Mayor Todd Gloria won't abuse this power. But if you don't think the risks are obvious, we have two words for you: Bob Filner. Trusting future mayors to show good faith in using charter-guaranteed unilateral authority over valuable city assets is, well, ridiculous. Going forward, any lease backed by the mayor should only proceed with City Council approval — whether the charter requires it or not.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

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