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A Vote for Initiatives

March 08, 1987

As mayor of the City of San Diego, I have an obligation to uphold the democratic process and to protect the taxpayers' money.

I believe that I am carrying out both of these duties by voting against issuing permits to destroy Mission Beach Plunge and develop Belmont Park.

Over 80,000 people have signed a petition to stop the development of Belmont Park. As elected representatives, the City Council and the mayor have both the obligation and the duty to honor the initiative process.

In our democracy, qualified initiatives (and the Save Belmont Park Initiative has qualified) supersede other considerations.

State law requires that the initiative be placed on the November ballot and that the people decide the fate of the Plunge and the park. That is the purpose of the initiative process--to permit the people to overrule their elected representatives if they disagree, or at least, to permit a full and public debate on the issue.

By ordering the city manager to issue the permits to the developers of Belmont Park, the council has subverted the initiative process. The council has rendered the November debate meaningless because if the developer begins the project (which these permits guarantee), then no one--not the mayor, the council or even the people--can preserve the Plunge building. They can only be stopped in advance of demolition and construction. That is why the petition was circulated.

To have ordered the city manager to issue the development and demolition permits six days prior to a public hearing and behind closed doors was wrong.

The law requires that the people have an open and unprejudiced public hearing on a petition that has qualified for the ballot. That hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m. Monday. At that time, the council could have voted to issue the permits. There was no need to instruct the city manager to issue them ahead of the public hearing. To do so violated the integrity of the democratic process. Why the rush? And why the need to conduct the vote behind closed doors?

Only Councilwoman Abbe Wolfsheimer and I objected to the vote. It is possible that both Councilwoman Wolfsheimer and I are wrong in opposing the development of Belmont Park, but that is not for my colleagues on the council to decide. That is for the people to decide--through the proper political process--by a vote in November on the Belmont Park Initiative. Issuing permits makes that vote moot.

In addition to protecting the democratic process I, as mayor, must also protect the taxpayers' money. Some on the council have sided with the developers' arguments that we might be sued for delaying the project. In fact, we are already being sued for permitting the project in the first place. An heir to John D. Spreckels, who originally donated the land as park land, is challenging the council's right to develop it.

To allow the developers to begin construction and then have the people vote in November (possibly to save the park) would only dig the council into deeper financial liability.

Clearly, this project deserves full, open and robust debate. Eighty thousand people have asked for one. We owe it to them to provide one. The council's decision to issue the permits has prematurely silenced that debate.

MAUREEN O'CONNOR

Mayor

City of San Diego

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