(April 9, 2012)

SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego City Council's Rules Committee unanimously refused Wednesday to forward Councilman Carl DeMaio's proposed street repair initiative to the full council.

DeMaio, who is running for mayor against Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, in the November general election, wanted to place on the same ballot a measure to put increases in revenue over that projected in the budget of the next fiscal year toward infrastructure improvements. He described it as putting the extra funds into a "lock box.''

DeMaio has repeatedly said San Diego's roads will continue to deteriorate under the maintenance spending set for the fiscal year that begins July 1, and is backed up by the city's Independent Budget Analyst. However, other city officials say the level of infrastructure spending was determined by what could realistically be accomplished during the year.

DeMaio said his proposal would have brought "innovative, creative and accountable measures'' designed to finish the job of clearing the city's backlog of infrastructure projects, estimated to be around $800 million, without raising taxes.

Filner appeared to oppose the proposal.

"A lock box? I thought in the Gore-Bush race we gave up lock boxes, but here we are again,'' Filner said. Instead of getting a majority of council members to agree, you get a "tantrum,'' he said.

Committee members said the problem with the measure was that it would tie their hands in deciding how to spend surplus funds.

"We have to have confidence in ourselves to make decisions on behalf of the people we represent,'' council President Tony Young said. He added that the council should be able to adjust to changing conditions.

The panel also listed public safety as a higher spending priority, while recognizing the importance of maintaining streets.

"I'll tell you, if we're going to have a lock box, I'd rather have a lock box on police than potholes,'' Councilwoman Marti Emerald said. "A citizen who picks up a phone to dial 911 (reaches police); a pothole, whether it's fixed or not, isn't going to answer the call.''

Emerald went further called the proposed measure "a campaign ploy'' by DeMaio designed to help his mayoral bid, since it would appear on the same ballot.

The panel also voted down a proposal to have the IBA analyze the impact of setting aside various portions of increased revenues.

After the decision, DeMaio said that, if elected, he'll propose a budget that includes his proposed use of surplus funds. He said he would collect signatures later if the City Council doesn't "buy in'' to his plans. He pointed out that he could have five allies on the panel by December, which would give him a majority.

None of the proposed initiatives considered by the Rules Committee, including one to raise the hotel room tax to 15.5 percent, were forwarded to the full City Council. Two others were rejected outright, one on having the city create its own solar energy utility was referred to the Natural Resources and Culture Committee, and another was withdrawn.