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City Attorney Makes Pitch For Community Bill Of Rights

With patriotic fervor, City attorney Michael Aguirre roused La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) and audience members July 5, exhorting them to support a proposal to change the city of San Diego’s charter to include a community bill of rights guaranteeing public participation in municipal government.

“I want to congratulate you on freedom: not being decertified,” said Aguirre, referring to the LJCPA’s recent skirmish with the city over its bylaws in which group decertification was threatened but averted. “It’s good to know, one day after the Fourth of July, that freedom is still free in La Jolla.”

Aguirre touched on a number of subjects - water shortages, global warming, democracy, campaign financing and overdevelopment - during his half-hour speech to the planning group.

His oft-repeated message was simple: City government, and the municipal bureaucracy which supports it, are broke and need to be reformed.

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Much like the Declaration of Independence, Aguirre asserted the new proposed community Bill of Rights would declare that power in a democracy flows from the people.

“The Declaration of Independence was an argument about why it was OK for the 13 colonies to break away from the government they’d been part of,” Aguirre said. “Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin basically said government is established in order to enable us, as a community, to achieve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our government, the way it’s been structured, the way the municipal code has been drafted, the way in which the (city’s) charter has been interpreted, the way the bureaucracy has been organized, gets further and further away from that basic principle. Right now it is life, liberty and the pursuit of profit for a relatively small group of people.”

Aguirre said community planning groups like the LJCPA are the very embodiment of democracy. “A community planning group is the absolute poster child for why we need to write into the charter an absolute right for the community to participate in planning,” he said, adding a community bill of rights would serve multiple purposes. “We can organize a change in our city charter to create a neighborhood bill of rights that absolutely guarantees that you have the right to participate in the government of your city; not just vote, not just go to meetings, but participate in the governance of this city. That will be drafted right into it and we will put that on the ballot.

“The other thing we want to write into the charter is that there’s an absolute mandatory duty for the City Council to provide adequate funding to update community plans on at least a 10-year basis.”

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Aguirre claims San Diego is, has been and likely will continue to be overdeveloped, a situation further exacerbating the city’s ongoing financial crisis while depleting dwindling resources, like water. “San Diego is long on development and short on infrastructure,” he said. “We don’t have enough water for the people who are already here, and we’re going to grow by another 300,000 homes in San Diego. We have been a city that is committed to growth. Now we need to transform ourselves, become a city committed to sustainability.”

Global warming, said Aguirre, is going to further complicate the situation by bringing warmer temperatures further drawing down the water supply and eroding coastal shorelines as sea levels rise. He added the city should bring Scripps Institution of Oceanography based in La Jolla, into the planning mix in order to get their invaluable input on what can be done to deal with global warming and make San Diego’s economy more efficient, less polluting and more sustainable.

Said Aguirre: “I’d like to see us make use of Scripps Institution of Oceanography to help us review our current general plan. I’d like to see us change our Development Services Department into something called Planning and Environmental Protection.”

Aguirre also charged that developers, through campaign contributions, “have been running the city for a long period of time.”

Regarding the citing of cell phone towers in residential areas and public opposition to that, which was an item on the LJCPA’s July 5 agenda, Aguirre said, “The general trend of the law is not good: I’m disturbed by the case law that’s been coming down.”

Concerning water availability, Aguirre pointed out the city is going to have to return to recycling as one answer to that growing dilemma. “We import 80 percent of our water,” he said. “We have to get into recycling. That doesn’t mean you have to drink it. It means you water your lawn and car with it, irrigate with it. Since we’re short on water, we need to be the pioneers and really push recycled water. Water will get more and more expensive to buy, and we’re going to end up buying recycled water, so we might as well recycle.”