During Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s efforts to persuade the City Council to hold a special election last month, a drastic power shift was realized.

The City Council was in the process of approving a new budget for the incoming year, which included $5 million to fund a special election so voters could weigh in on the SoccerCity plan and the mayor’s proposed hotel tax hike to pay for a Convention Center expansion, road repairs and homeless services.

But when the City Council decided to cut the $5 million, one member mentioned that the mayor might veto the cut. Councilman David Alvarez asked city attorney Mara Elliott whether the mayor could change the budget as he liked.

“The mayor can change whatever he wants,” Elliott said.

And with that answer, a drastic power shift toward the mayor was realized. But it wasn’t just the extent of the mayor’s power we learned something about.

“It was the city attorney who made that interpretation,” Voice of San Diego’s Scott Lewis explains.


We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

City Attorney Mara Elliott has been in her position for just seven months, but she’s already become a powerful force in local politics.

On this week’s San Diego Explained, Lewis and NBC7’s Monica Dean break down the role of city attorney and how it has changed over the years.

    This article relates to: City Attorney, Government, San Diego Explained

    Written by Adriana Heldiz

    Adriana Heldiz is Voice of San Diego’s Assistant Digital Manager. She makes videos and helps manage the organization’s online presence. Adriana can be reached at adriana.heldiz@voiceofsandiego.org.

    2 comments
    Jeff Sanders
    Jeff Sanders subscriber

    Are you asserting that the city attorney's interpretations are the law, exempt from the ability to be challenged in court?

    Carl Starrett
    Carl Starrett

    @Jeff Sanders The City Council is free to disregard the advice of the City Attorney. The City Attorney is just another elected official and serves in an advisory role to the Mayor, the Council and all City departments. The City Attorney's office is also defends the City in civil actions. So challenging the City Attorney's interpretation in court would certainly be interesting. If a third party sued the City, the Council would seemingly need to hire an outside law firm. if the Mayor and the Council got into a dispute, the City Attorney probably would have to bow out completely.