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Fresh Off Lost Chairmanship and Vacation Rental Debacle, Sherman Unloads

City Councilman Scott Sherman, who this week lost his post as chair of the City Council’s land use committee, says unions are increasingly running the show at City Hall – and he’s not happy about it.

Scott Sherman

City Councilman Scott Sherman / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

It’s been a long week at City Hall for Republican City Councilman Scott Sherman.

First, a deal he helped broker to pass vacation rental regulations crumbled. Then he lost his post as chair of a committee he’d hoped could push forward major housing affordability reforms.

Sherman’s exasperated, and he blames unions.

In an interview with Voice of San Diego on Thursday, the two-term councilman said he thinks increasing union pressure at City Hall led Councilman David Alvarez to torpedo a bipartisan vacation-rental compromise and City Council President Myrtle Cole to oust Sherman as head of the Smart Growth and Land Use Committee.

In both cases, Sherman believed he had his fellow Council members’ word. Both had signed memos pledging to do something, he says, only to abandon them.

“We’re at a point where people sign onto measures and then don’t support the measures they signed onto. People’s words don’t really mean much,” Sherman said. “There’s a ton of union influence and unions trying to make their influence felt around here.”

San Diego labor leaders aren’t hiding the fact that they’re now pushing Democrats to take more aggressive stances.

Sherman’s not happy about it.

Sherman had especially harsh words for Cole, who he says shared a memo with his office prior to her re-election as City Council president indicating he’d continue to lead the committee.

Union leaders rallied for Cole’s re-election at a City Council meeting last week, where she refused to promise Sherman he’d keep his committee post. A few days later, she picked Councilwoman Georgette Gómez to chair the group.

“They’re the puppet-master and she’s the puppet,” Sherman said, referring to unions’ influence on Cole.

Sherman claimed Cole’s switch is the latest example of her breaking promises and succumbing to union influence. He said she’d previously promised him she’d support putting a SoccerCity measure on the ballot this year and to allow the Town and County project in Mission Valley to move forward, only to change her mind on both issues following pressure from unions.

Cole declined to comment on Sherman’s contention that she’s bowed to unions.

“If these false accusations were stated, then they are not worth responding to,” she said in a written statement provided by a spokeswoman.

Sherman’s also frustrated with Alvarez, a onetime ally.

Until earlier this week, Sherman and others assumed Alvarez would support a compromise measure that would allow short-term vacation rentals to operate in the city with some restrictions. After all, he’d signed a memo in September with Sherman and fellow City Councilmen Chris Ward and Mark Kersey.

Sherman learned Alvarez’s vote wasn’t a sure thing the eve of the Tuesday City Council meeting. Sherman said Alvarez told him he was “starting to have concerns about a few things.”

Come Tuesday, the concerns Alvarez voiced on the dais were often unclear to Sherman and others on the City Council who tried to accommodate him. Ultimately, they couldn’t get his vote.

Sherman suspects union leaders, who weighed in at the last minute, were behind the switch.

“I think something happened that David did not want this to pass,” said Sherman, who said Alvarez seemed to be “grasping at straws at anything to not vote for it.”

Alvarez has said constituents, not labor unions, raised concerns he felt weren’t fully addressed in his colleagues’ amendments or in the memo he signed in September.

“You have to listen to the public. You have to take into consideration their testimony and you need to listen to your colleagues’ deliberations and that’s how you make your decisions,” Alvarez told me shortly after Tuesday’s 10-hour hearing.

Alvarez’s spokeswoman referred to that interview when I asked for his response to Sherman’s claims.

Sherman was skeptical of Alvarez’s statements about his decision not to support the vacation-rental deal.

“Obviously, his written word doesn’t mean much, so I don’t know that his spoken word is worth much,” said Sherman, who made headlines for partnering with Alvarez on housing issues this year.

Sherman said the latest developments don’t bode well for bipartisan progress at City Hall. He’s counting down the days he has left at City Hall – 1,087 as of Thursday.

City Councilman Scott Sherman / Photo by Lisa Halverstadt

Republican City Councilman Chris Cate, who on Tuesday supported the failed vacation-rental compromise, shared similar sentiments this week.

“Much has been said about dysfunctional D.C.-style politics, however, it’s happening in our own backyard,” Cate wrote in a statement shortly after Tuesday’s vacation-rental debacle.

Tom Lemmon, business manager of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council, has a different take on the state of City Hall. He believes it’s running on all cylinders.

“Poor Scott (Sherman). It’s simple math,” Lemmon said. “The City Council is divided along party lines and as it sits right now, the Democrats have five and the Republicans have four. It’s not that complicated.”

Sherman’s hoping the situation improves. He said he’s already working on a memo to propose that the City Council overhaul its approach to selecting the City Council president. The City Council president sets the agenda for the City Council, giving that person significant sway over issues the City Council takes up. Sherman wants it to be a post that rotates annually based on seniority.

“It just takes away all this horse-trading and political gamesmanship and everything else,” Sherman said. “I want San Diego to function like a good, non-partisan government. If you want to bring partisan politics into it, then run for state and federal office.”

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