La Jolla’s Sherri Lightner takes reins as City Council President

San Diego City charter update, economic development among Lightner’s stated priorities as Council President

La Jolla’s own Sherri Lightner received an early holiday gift Dec. 10 when the District 1 city council representative was elected by her colleagues to replace fellow Democrat and District 3 Councilmember Todd Gloria as City Council President — a post conveyed in one-year installments (Gloria served two years as president).

“I’m very excited to be the first woman council president and hope that can be used to make young women aware of what they can achieve in their lives,” Lightner told La Jolla Light Dec. 12. “I look forward to working and collaborating with my council colleagues. We have a lot of work to do here at the city.”

Lightner said she is not certain whether the post will lighten or increase her workload at city hall.

“Right now it’s pretty crazy, but that’s just the transition,” said the former engineer and one-time La Jolla Town Council president.

While Lightner will serve on fewer committees, as president she decides which of her colleagues serve on those committees — a list she had completed by Friday, and which the council was set to vote on Monday, Dec. 15.

Lighter will continue as a member of the Committee on Economic Development and International Relations (on which she recently served as vice-chair), and will chair the newly formed Special Issues Committee on Charter Review. The latter committee will be tasked with analyzing, studying and evaluating San Diego’s City Charter.

Lightner said there are a variety of issues that warrant revising in the document approved by voters in 1931, which has had various amendments made to it through the years.

“There’s some portions of the charter that, essentially, every year we take action to waive,” she said. “We have had lists (of proposed revisions) provided by the city clerk’s office and the city attorneys’ office. We know that some of the departments have issues where there’s conflicting portions and so it requires what the (city) attorney calls ‘harmonization.’ We will be taking a very hard look at all parts of the charter. We are asking for input from the various departments — the city attorney, the mayor’s office, the city council, and, of course, the public.”

As council president, Lightner will also set the city council’s legislative agenda, deciding which items are docketed, discussed and voted on during meetings — a fairly powerful assignment.

Although Lightner said her position as council president doesn’t dramatically increase her ability to tackle specific issues in La Jolla, she said it will provide more opportunity to focus on the things she wants to accomplish overall.

“I wanted to be council president to advance my agenda with respect to economic development, the water policy and, I do have an interest in infrastructure and public safety going forward. ...

“I think as a city council we’ve been quite clear about our commitment to infrastructure and public safety, with respect to police, fire and lifeguards, assuring their retention and attracting some folks for those (positions). The police are in the most desperate need right now. We have an attrition rate that’s a lot higher than we’ve seen in a very, very long time. We want to keep our officers, so we’re in the process of hiring a bunch more, but they have to be the best of the best.”

Lightner said she expects most of the ongoing assessments of the city’s sidewalks, public buildings and park and recreation facilities will be complete this year, adding District 5 Councilmember Mark Kersey — who on Friday she listed as chair of the Committee on Infrastructure — “is very anxious to get the five-year plan developed for the CIP (Capital Improvement Program) and get some costs out there so we can (determine) how we will go about financing those.”

Lightner also stressed her focus on highlighting the role of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in San Diego’s workforce development, and in highlighting binational relations and economic development.

“We have been working since the formation of the Committee (on Economic Development and International Relations), at my urging, to get the economic development strategy complete. That is done and we look forward to now implementing it. There are various parts of that strategy that can be implemented relatively quickly, as far as regulatory relief, but then we also want to be looking at economic incentives for our businesses here to encourage manufacturing and onshoring” (relocating a business process or department to an area of the same country or region where the cost of labor or operations are lower).

Although the position of council president could offer Lightner a future political boost (she is termed out in 2016), when asked if she will seek another office in the future, Lightner maintained, “No, I’m not. … My interest in being council president is in serving my colleagues the way that I’ve served my community and to help us achieve all we can for the greater good of the City of San Diego.”

Before the city council could vote to elect Lightner as president, it had to vote to replace Gloria — a vote in which Lightner joined with the four Republican members of the nine-member city council (the other four Democrats initially voted to retain Gloria). Although some have speculated the Republicans preferred Lightner as president because she might be easier to sway on their agenda than the more liberal-leaning Gloria, Lightner called the implication “absolutely baseless.”

“I am known for not being easily swayed on anything,” she said. “My engineering background is fact-based and solution-oriented. … I make fact-based decisions.”

Lightner credited Gloria for working “very extensively on homelessness and family housing” issues during his two terms as council president. “I know that will continue to be an issue,” she said.

Steve Haskins, current president of the La Jolla Town Council, noted his work with Lightner through the years, as a fellow town council trustee and “as a resident supporting her efforts on the city council to preserve La Jolla’s small town atmosphere and our cultural and historical heritage.

“I cannot think of a better person to serve as council president,” Haskins said. “Sherri is a down-to-earth person, who really cares about doing the right thing. She is also quite smart and uses her background in engineering to make informed decisions on land use matters.”

Editor’s Note: Lightner was voted as Council President for a second time on Tuesday, Dec.16, because of concerns that the first vote last week might have been tainted by violations of the state’s open meetings law, known as the Brown Act. Read U-T San Diego’s story on the re-vote here.