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San Diego’s Measure H would open city facilities to child care, but includes confusing language

Measure H gives San Diego voters a chance to approve a change to the city’s charter that would allow the city to lease out parks and recreation centers to child care businesses.

Currently, the charter only allows city properties to be used as parks, recreation centers and cemeteries. Measure H adds language to the charter that would allow child care at recreation facilities and city-owned buildings.

Supporters of the measure say it will help alleviate San Diego’s severe shortage of child care providers because it will make it possible for the city to lease space to providers. Skyrocketing rents are among the reasons why providers have gone out of business in recent years.

City leaders have identified 42 sites they say could be permitted for child care.

However, an odd word choice in the ballot language has fueled some opposition to the measure. The intention, according to the measure’s supporters, is for the City Council to have the power to authorize child care at city-owned facilities. But the text of the measure gives the “city manager,” not the City Council, this authority.

San Diego no longer has a city manager but the City Attorney’s Office says whenever the charter uses the term, the power is bestowed upon the mayor. So, if passed, Measure H would give Mayor Todd Gloria and any future mayor power to authorize child care at city-owned facilities.

City Councilmember Raul Campillo says that power is still limited by the city’s municipal code, which states that all leases for three years or more have to be approved by the City Council. But no child care provider would want such a short lease, Campillo said.

“I would be shocked to see any child care provider wanting to do a lease of three years or less, given the infrastructure investments,” Campillo said. “So the idea that the mayor has unfettered discretion over city park leases, it just flies in the face of municipal code.”

Campillo added that the charter states the City Council has control over park spaces because it includes this language: “The City Council shall by ordinance adopt regulations for the proper use and protection of said park property, cemeteries, playgrounds, and recreation facilities, and provide penalties for violations thereof.”

Still, the language of Measure H doesn’t sit well with some local election watchers, including the Union-Tribune’s editorial board. In a recent editorial, the newspaper endorsed a “no” vote on the measure because it “gives a single official vast power over extremely valuable parkland.”

Councilman Chris Cate, who sponsored the measure, acknowledged some could read the language as granting full autonomy to the mayor.

“I would support any language that reflects the current processes we have in place to approve leases at the city,” Cate said. “I don't think this language strays from that, but I understand why some may view this as conflicting with the current process.”

Neither Cate nor Campillo say they want to change the language of the measure. Once a measure is put on the ballot by the City Council, its language cannot be changed, according to the San Diego County Registrar of Voters.

San Diego’s Measure H would open city facilities to childcare, but includes confusing language

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