Jess Haro's eloquent plea for district elections as a remedy for Latino disenfranchisement ("San Diego Minority Representation Hinges on End to At-Large Voting," Jan. 10) is not just another minority voice crying in the wilderness of San Diego politics. A change to district elections for San Diego City Council has never been more relevant or full of promise for improved standards of civic life--for everyone in this city, regardless of ethnic or economic pigeon hole.
Times readers undoubtedly know there is widespread popular discontent with the quality of San Diego City Council.
Council decisions in recent years on growth, development, parks, housing, jobs, air quality, traffic, sewage, water and refuse disposal--to name a few of the most pressing problems--have often reflected an attitude of the-public-be-damned.
In response, citizens from all over town--from Rancho Bernardo to San Ysidro--have formed a nonpartisan grass-roots coalition called Neighborhoods for District Elections (NDE). NDE has launched a ballot initiative to change San Diego's City Charter so that City Council members will be more responsive to constituents and City Council elections will be more fair and representative.
NDE wants City Council candidates to run only in their districts and to be elected only by voters who live there. Present City Council elections are based on rules established in 1931 for a city of only 150,000 people. Though San Diego's population now exceeds 1 million, today's council candidate still runs in a district primary in September, then winner and runner-up face each other again in a city-wide campaign with election in November.
Unfortunately, what worked in 1931 has pernicious results in the 1980s. Half of the present City Council is not the first choice of voters in their districts. Citywide council races--heavily dependent on name-recognition and television for success--now cost between $200,000 and $300,000 per seat. In the last election, nearly half of all money raised by council candidates came from land development, real estate and banking interests. Community plans and the Interim Development Ordinance have been riddled with "exceptions," as City Council listens to its big-money backers. Citizens wring their hands.
District election for City Council is a first step toward reform. It will increase ordinary voters' power and will improve council members' accountability to constituents.
Co-Chairs, Neighborhood for District Elections