The city of San Diego City Charter - Article V, Section 40 - carries the heading of “City Attorney.” It reads: “The City Attorney shall be the chief legal adviser of, and attorney for, the City and all Departments and offices thereof in matters relating to their official powers and duties... .”
The section continues, specifying the length of the City Attorney’s term, his salary and other specifics about the office.
Nowhere does it mention “Town Forum Moderator” as one of the City Attorney’s duties. So what in the world was Mike Aguirre doing on the evening of Oct. 3, just hours after the landslide that devastated so many homes on the eastern slope of Mount Soledad, holding court at La Jolla Recreation Center as a roomful of La Jollans speculated about the city’s culpability in the landslide?
It seems that a catastrophic event that, from the moment it happened, was certain to spur litigation would immediately send a prudent legal advisor into deep deliberation and private consultation with both city officials and the affected homeowners. Aguirre chose to do roughly the opposite of that.
Aguirre should have spent that night talking with city engineers, trying to get to the truth about the landslide, asking questions: How long have we known about water main leaks in the area? How bad were they? Bad enough to cause a landslide? Any truth to the rumors that fire hydrants on the hill were leaking, too?
The truth about the landslide must come out, and if the city is in fact at fault, then it must pay. But Aguirre’s grandstanding at the Recreation Center didn’t bring anyone any closer to the truth. Instead, it got him kicked off the case by the City Council, a move that may have been excessive but, considering his antagonistic relationship with the council, was hardly surprising.
We think the City Attorney’s main duty, especially in a city as broke as ours, should be to protect the city from paying out millions of dollars in legal judgments. As we said, fairness should rule the day. If the experts conclude that city water caused the slide, the city should pay. That has not yet been determined, but we already know the city will be spending millions on outside legal counsel. And that’s not fair to anybody.