Progressive guide to county ballot measures

People voted on June 7, 2016 -- kind'a -- as some said they left local election ballots blank for various reasons. (KUSI screenshot)

As presently constituted, San Diego County’s Board of Supervisors is a dying breed.

Decades of a status quo determined by mostly white, Republican, and male overlords are coming to an end. Term limits, a less homogenous population, and the decline of the Grand Old Party’s base in California mean a change is coming.

This is the lens through which Measures A thru D–to be voted on by all San Diego County voters–must be viewed through.

Measure A is a puzzler. Is it simply housekeeping, a blank check, or a Trojan House? San Diego’s Democratic Party says vote No on A. I spent days trying to get an explanation of why “cleaning up the County Charter to assure compliance with state and federal laws” was a bad thing. I never found a satisfactory answer.

The current batch of County Supervisors is concerned with their legacy. Two of the measures (B&C) voters will see on their November ballots are driven by the need to stem the incoming swell driven by unions, the dispossessed, and environmentally conscious humans.

Measure D is a manifestation of that inbound swell, changing the dynamic of elections to allow fuller participation of the electorate. Important decisions about who will serve in county office will be decided in future November elections, when as many as 80% of people vote, rather than in June primary elections when as few as 30% do.


Let’s do the nuts and bolts.

Measure A

Placed on the ballot by the County Board of Supervisors

Official Name & Text: Proposed “Clean” Up Amendments to the San Diego County Charter – Shall the Charter of the County of San Diego be amended for purposes of making “clean-up” amendments including amendments necessary to assure compliance with state and federal laws?

”This measure will change timelines respecting elections which may be held in filling vacancies on the Board of Supervisors. The changes will bring the timelines into compliance with Federal and State laws setting forth timing requirements for the mailing of military and overseas ballots. This measure will also amend the Charter to recognize the Fire Authority as an organizational unit within the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer.”– County Counsel

My research into the minutes of the board meetings leading up to the adoption of the resolution placing this measure on the ballot revealed the revisions on elections concerning County Charter section 401.4.

I found nothing, zero, zip, nada in the way of memos and supporting documents to supporting the presumption that something nefarious was going on. I emailed more than a dozen local sources looking to figure out what I wasn’t seeing. So…

Unless there’s somebody out there who can set me straight on this, it looks to me like the San Diego Democratic Party’s opposition was based on paranoia (…the County GOP endorsed it, so it must be bad…) or a lack of research (as a couple of local insiders suggested).

There are, as is true with most measures placed on the ballot by local governments, no formal proponents or opponents.

UPDATE: Some folks who not actually read the language of the measure–as opposed to the condensed description– are spreading the rumor that “We’d have to follow federal laws unquestioningly if it is passed.”

PULEESE folks. I did my homework, You listened to rumors. The exact language of the “clean up” is in the comments below. The ordinance had to be changed to accommodate military mail-in ballots for special elections. Period. End of story.

So I say “go for it.” Keeping our laws up to date is a good thing.


Measure B

Placed on the ballot by the County Board of Supervisors

Official Name & Text: Proposed Amendment to the County Charter entitled “Preserving Balanced Representation in Unincorporated Areas of San Diego County.” Should the Charter of San Diego County be amended to direct a redistricting commission to maintain the current practice of establishing representative boundaries where at least three Board of Supervisor districts include unincorporated territory, with two of the districts having area predominantly outside incorporated cities, as population will permit?

This, my friends, is what a legal Trojan Horse looks like. Measure B gives more conservative rural areas an advantage in at least two future districts after the 2020 census.

Normally a rule preserving voting blocks would be subject to public hearings, perhaps even some debate. I’m sure if the language was worded in a manner unfavorable to white voters we’d hear the howling loud and clear.

Needless to say, public discussion of what the impact of Measure B would actually do was minimal.

So what we have here is a proposal designed to force the redistricting commission to draw gerrymandered County Supervisor district lines after the 2020 census. In the past, Supervisors were allowed to draw their own boundaries. Now faced with the mandate of a nominally independent redistricting commission, they’d like to set limits on what it can do.

I’m sure it’s just a coincidence there’s no consideration of whether such designated districts would dilute the vote of racial and ethnic minorities, split communities and neighborhoods into pieces, dilute their influence and create disillusionment with local government in those communities.

The bottom line is that some people would be more equal than others when it comes to choosing the entity with administrative, legislative, and (some) judicial power over their lives.

If we ever get a Justice Department interested once again in enforcing Federal voting rights laws, it’s not a big leap to think they’d find the provisions of Measure B violate the rights of some (mostly non-white) San Diegans.

Help me for a second here: What political organization has been actively engaged in imposing voting restrictions, gerrymandering, and voter suppression lately?

Oh, yeah. That would be the Republican Party. Which is why San Diego’s flavor of the GOP has endorsed Measure B.

There are no formal groups with funding backing Measure B. The Supes and their friends are just hoping folks aren’t paying attention.


Measure C

Placed on the ballot by the County Board of Supervisors

Official Name & Text: Proposed County Charter Amendment Entitled “Protecting Good Government Through Sound Fiscal Practices.” Should the Charter of San Diego County be amended to require pension stabilization funds be used solely for pension-related liabilities and prohibit using long-term obligations to finance current operations or recurring needs?

If the voters can’t be persuaded to put a bunch of Duncan Hunter/Darrell Issa wannabes on the Board of Supervisors, then the next best step is to make sure the next generation of officials can’t spend money.

In order to package this to sound responsible, it was necessary to drop the words “pension-related” into the ordinance. Because ‘everybody knows’ paying for people’s retirements is going to be the downfall of civilization.

During times of emergencies, governments sometimes chose to borrow funds from an account to cover the cost of crucial services. In most instances, the loans are repaid.

New restrictions on budgeting mean today’s officials can tie up future funding and increases the risk that health, public safety, protective services for children and seniors and other county priorities could be shuttered to pay back past debts.

The Board of Supervisors has almost $2 billion in cash reserves but has systematically underfunded vital services.  According to a recent study, this underinvestment has cost the local economy more than $900 million dollars.  We are literally among the worst in the country on funding vital services.

For example, a state audit found that San Diego County public health nurses are understaffed, which contributed to the hepatitis-A crisis where 20 people died.  The last thing that the County needs is more restrictions on spending money.

The county retirement system, SDCERA, receives monthly payments from employees as part of their compensation package.  As of June of this year, its assets were at a robust $12.3 billion, an all-time high.

The point with Measure C is to keep the figurative straw that county money flows through as small as possible. This current bunch of supervisors has no way of knowing the future needs of the county. But they know they don’t want money spent on it.

This is another under-the-radar effort. The Republican Party has, of course, endorsed it. The Democrats, unsurprisingly, recommended a No vote. But there are no formal groups supporting or opposing Measure C.

Measure D

This was placed on the ballot by public petition, sponsored and organized by the Service Employees International Union (Local 221), which represents many county employees.

Official Name & Text: Initiative Measure Proposing Charter Amendments Requiring All Elections for San Diego County Elective Offices to be Held at a General Election And Requiring Adoption of Local Regulations Relating to Write-In Candidates for County Elective Office. Shall this initiative measure, proposing county charter amendments requiring all elections for San Diego County elective Offices to be held at a general election and requiring adoption of local regulations relating to write-in candidates for county elective office, be adopted?

County employees directly involved in serving the public’s needs have long advocated for policies enabling them to do their jobs in a more efficent and humane manner.

It’s the kind of human interest story that often flies under the radar. As should be obvious by now, the rule of thumb in most workplaces (public or private) for our gilded age is to ‘go along to get along.’ So it’s not like too many public servants wil go outside the chain of command to talk up their grievances.

The SEIU got smart about this problem and tried to include provisions addresing the manner in which county services are delivered in their last round of negotiations. To nobody’s surprise, it didn’t go very far. The County was couldn’t grasp the concept of including advocates for various underserved constituencies at the negotiating table.

Another step in the process of creating a more humane and responsive government agency was to change the manner in which its top officials were selected. Thus, the signature drive for the Full Voter Participation Act began, what we now called Measure D.

The County tried its best to find a way out of putting Measure D on the ballot, helped by some poor legislative language. Ultimately, the courts ruled in favor of the measure’s supporters.

The County’s current election system allows the status quo to have more influence in the June election, and leaves many voters out of the process. Many San Diego County politicians stay in office for decades because they get re-elected in low-turnout primary elections.

Many folks still don’t realize that 4 of the 6 top spots in the County have already been decided.

Measure D uses the same top-two runoff process used to elect the Governor, state legislators, and members of Congress, eliminating confusion caused by using a different process for city elections.

There is a committee (Yes on D / More Voters, Better Decisions) advocating for passage of the Full Voter Participation Act. Website | Facebook | Supporters

The San Diego Republican Party is opposing the measure.


Published by permission of The San Diego Free Press. To see all their coverage for the 2018 elections, go here.

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