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With Veto, Faulconer Targets Political Opposition

Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced a series of budget cuts [1] Friday aimed at the districts represented by Council members who earlier this week stymied his wishes to hold a special election in November.

It’s the type of rough-and-tumble – or vindictive – move we rarely see in San Diego politics.

Let’s recap.

On Monday, the City Council passed a budget without funding for a special election. Faulconer wanted voters to approve two measures this November, one to increase hotel taxes to expand the San Diego Convention Center, fund some homelessness programs and repair streets, the other to greenlight the SoccerCity redevelopment plan for Qualcomm Stadium.

Faulconer quickly announced he would veto specific pieces of the Council’s budget, and restore funding for a special election. Few in City Hall realized he had the authority [2] to do so. It appears he has the votes to survive a Council attempt to override his changes.

Late Friday, Faulconer announced what he was cutting from the city’s budget to restore the $5 million for a special election.

He cut more than $300,000 in funding for District 1 (the La Jolla, Carmel Valley area), and more than $350,000 from District 3 (the downtown, Uptown, North Park area) as part of the cuts. The representatives for those areas, Councilwoman Barbary Bry [3] and Councilman Chris Ward [4], respectively, oppose holding a special election. Faulconer also cut $66,000 for a staffer dedicated to a special committee on homelessness [5]; Ward is the committee’s chairman.

He also cut $413,000 for a new roof for the Bay Bridge Community Center in Barrio Logan. The councilman for that area, David Alvarez, also opposes a special election [6].

He eliminated funding toward a community choice energy program, a Democratic priority intended to get the city to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. Funding for it was specifically proposed by Councilwoman Georgette Gomez, the representative for District 9 who also opposes holding a special election.

Faulconer’s cuts sent a clear message.

But it’s still not at all clear that he’ll prevail in holding his special election, which is up for a vote on Monday. Here are a few things to watch as that unfolds.

The mayor found the money to hold a special election, but he still needs five Council members to vote to schedule it. Based on the public statements the Council made last week, he appears to have just four votes.

Faulconer needs to flip one of the five Democrats who oppose the idea. Council President Myrtle Cole, notably, was spared of any budget cuts targeted at her district, unlike the other four Democratic Council members. Cole tweeted late Friday that she would stand with her colleagues whose budgets were cut. “When they go low, I will go high,” she wrote [7]. Still, Cole did not seem to say definitively Friday that she would oppose the special election, although she said earlier in the week that she would “not change” her vote [8].

This all means that the mayor may have wielded an authority no one knew he had, in order to slash the budgets of his political opponents in a way few in San Diego have ever seen and end up with nothing at all to show for it in the end.

The City Council will vote on two items Monday. One would call a special election for Nov. 7. The other would place the mayor’s hotel tax and convention center expansion measure on the ballot of that special election.

By rule, the Council will first need to vote on whether to schedule a special election, in order to vote on whether to put the Convention Center expansion on said ballot.

If the votes fall as expected and the Council shoots down the special election, the Convention Center expansion’s fate would be academic. The Council wouldn’t have the option of sending the plan to the 2018 ballot, though it could send it back to staff and they could decide to do so at a later date.

Notice what’s missing? The city won’t vote on what to do with SoccerCity until a week later.

By then, the city will already know if there’s a special election. If there isn’t, the City Council will have just two options, since SoccerCity qualified for the ballot through citizen initiative: It could approve the project outright, or schedule it for the next city election, which would be in either June or November 2018.

The investment group behind SoccerCity has said it needs an answer on the project by the end of the year, when MLS will determine which two cities will receive expansion teams.

That means SoccerCity’s fate – if that timeline is accurate – will likely be decided Monday, at a meeting in which its name doesn’t even appear on the Council agenda.

The City Council could potentially hold another vote for a special election just for SoccerCity, but it’s possible that could be interpreted as a re-vote on the same issue, which would need to be approved by a supermajority of Council members instead of a simple majority.