San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith voices support for Sen. Ted Cruz at a rally in Sa Diego. Photo by Chris Stone
San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. Photo by Chris Stone

By Colleen O’Connor

Jan Goldsmith’s tenure as San Diego’s City Attorney can best be described as tumultuous and controversial.

However, now that term limits are forcing him out the door, Goldsmith is going for the gold with two new popular decisions.

The first, and easiest to comprehend, was an announcement last week that the competing Charger stadium initiatives on the ballot this November must garner two-thirds voter approval—not a simple majority. Taxes are taxes are taxes. Two-thirds voter approval is needed.

Goldsmith is seeking an expedited hearing from the state Supreme Court, but stands by his legal research. Since few see either competing plan garnering even 50 percent, Goldsmith has secured a winning position.

The second, more popular stance, is his decision to seek enforcement of a 22-year old charter amendment—supported by over 86 percent of the voters—to require transparency with entities doing business with the city.

Hardly, a tough call. But, then no other city attorney has managed to get the mayor and city council to clarify and/or enforce this law. Why?

According to Brad Racino, senior reporter for inewsource, in a must-read piece of investigative journalism:

“Section 225 requires every company doing business with the city to disclose the name and identity of everyone involved in the transaction — whether directly or indirectly — along with the “precise nature” of those interests…

“The concern is that the city may be engaging in business with entities — such as organized crime, foreign governments, or even local politicians — who can take advantage of corporate laws that allow anonymity, essentially masking their involvement. It wouldn’t be the first time that has happened in a city known for backroom deals and hidden interests.”

At the time Section 225 was enacted, San Diego had been so mired in multiple abuses of power that the New York Times dubbed the scandal-ridden city “Enron-By-The-Sea.”

Pensions scandals, shady real estate practices, and possible mob connections all surfaced in a public demand for transparency. This in a city with $3 billion in contracts and more than 1,000 companies involved — many listed as Delaware LLC companies and cloaked in secrecy.

Some of the largest land transfers and purchases in San Diego have involved Delaware-based LLCs: Lane Field hotels property, Liberty Station, Petco Park, and the Navy Broadway Complex.

Still at risk: other much sought after properties in San Diego—in or near parks, water, beaches and bays.

Sherri Lightner, chair of the council’s Rules Committee, has scheduled a hearing on Section 225—the transparency section of the San Diego City Charter that has been ignored for more that two decades—for Oct. 22.

Should the city’s representatives still refuse to clarify and enforce this popular mandate, I doubt that either they, or Mayor Kevin Faulconer, will be advancing up their desired career ladders.

The only way for Goldsmith to top his current performance, is to summarily clear the docket of several expensive pending lawsuits and “appeals” the city has no chance of winning, particularly regarding the La Jolla Children’s pool and a lawsuit challenging the Balboa Park/San Diego High School initiative. He could seek expedited hearings and save the city a lot of money.

He could also use his office’s auditing powers to address the public utilities, “nepotism” and water rates issues.

Then the San Diego City Attorney can take home all the gold.


Full disclosure: My sister, Maureen O’Connor, was the mayor at the time. She agreed, and persuaded the council to place an initiative on the ballot adding a new section to the city charter requiring all city-engaged businesses to disclose the financial interests behind them.

Colleen O’Connor is a retired college history professor and native San Diegan.