Voters will get a chance to decide this November if the San Diego City Council and mayor deserve a pay raise.
Under the November ballot measure, pay for city council members would increase about 58 percent from $75,000 a year to just under $120,000 a year by December 2020. The mayor’s pay would double from the current $100,000 a year to an annual pay of $200,000 by 2020.
The City Council approved Monday placing the measure before voters on the November 2018 ballot. The initiative would need a simple majority of the vote to pass.
The pay for the positions of council members and mayor has not increased in about 15 years. The measure takes aim at a situation that comes up regularly when the elected officials are put in the position of having to vote on their own pay.
Backers say the current system creates an inherent conflict of interest for councilmembers who may fear taking a hit from political opponents or who want to brag that they voted to keep their pay low.
A 2015 citizen’s Grand Jury report recommended tying the San Diego mayor and city councilmembers' salary to an outside benchmark.
The 2014-2015 Grand Jury “found that the process set forth in the San Diego City Charter for setting the salary for the Mayor and Councilmembers is fundamentally flawed.”
The ballot measure also eliminates free usage of city-controlled luxury boxes and Petco Park or the San Diego County Credit Union Stadium, and ties the elected officials’ pay to a percentage of the salary of San Diego Superior Court judges.
When the salaries of Superior Court judges increase, the salaries of all San Diego’s elected officials would also increase because their pay will be based on the percentage of the judges’ salaries. A similar system is used by the County of San Diego and City of Chula Vista.
Opponents of the measure said the mayor and city council already make well above the median income for a San Diego family of approximately $63,000 a year.
Attorney Robert Ottilie, who served on the city’s salary setting commission and brought the initiative forward, said the current pay scale for city councilmembers excludes large swaths of the population who don’t run for elected office because they can’t afford it.
“There’s a whole lot of people who want to serve their community that already have a house payment, or they got kids in school,” Ottilie said. He added that, currently, city councilmembers make less than 4,800 city employees.
“I use to joke that a lifeguard couldn’t afford to run for City Council,” Ottilie said. “Ed Harris kind of took that one away from me, but two years ago there were over a hundred librarians and lifeguards that made more than City Council members.”
In addition to pay raises, the proposed measure would make several other changes to the city charter, if approved by voters.
Those include: eliminating an $800 monthly personal car allowance elected officials can currently take; prohibiting elected officials from accepting fees for speeches; and banning the mayor or city council members from lobbying city officials for two years after leaving office.
In addition to eliminating free usage of city-controlled luxury boxes at Petco Park, the measure mandates the city market those box seats. Ottilie estimates the change could generate up to $850,000 a year and offset the cost of the raises for elected officials.
Councilwoman Myrtle Cole voted against placing the measure before voters.