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Charter Amendment Process

A guideline prepared by the Office of the City Clerk

The following information is of a general nature only. The City of San Diego, as a charter city, has its election processes, including initiative, referendum and recall, detailed in both its Charter and City Election Code.

Procedures to amend the City's Charter, however, are dictated by state law.

The following is only a summary of state law provisions governing Charter amendments using the initiative petition process. Proponents should research the California State Elections Code and other applicable state law for further detail.

This information is intended to provide guidelines only. It is not meant to take the place of legal advice.

LANGUAGE OF PROPOSED AMENDMENT

The first step in the Charter amendment initiative process is to develop the precise language of the proposed amendment.

You are advised to seek legal counsel in this matter to ensure that the intended outcome is accurately and comprehensively reflected in the language of your proposal. NOTE: THE CITY OF SAN DIEGO DOES NOT PROVIDE LEGAL SERVICES. PROPONENTS SHALL RETAIN THEIR OWN ATTORNEYS AT THEIR OWN EXPENSE.

NOTICE OF INTENT TO CIRCULATE

(Legal references: California Elections Code Sections 9202-9206, 9256)

Before circulating a Charter amendment initiative petition, proponents must file with the City Clerk a Notice of Intent to do so, accompanied by the written text of the amendment and, if desired, by a written statement, not to exceed 500 words, stating the reasons for the amendment. The notice must be signed by at least one but not more than three proponents.

The proponents must also file a written request that the City Attorney prepare a ballot title for and summary of the proposed amendment. Proponents will be furnished this "ballot title and summary" as prepared by the City Attorney within 15 days. Proponents must include this "title and summary" on each section of their petitions, in roman boldface, and in type no smaller than 12-point.

Proponents must then publish once in a newspaper of general circulation in the City of San Diego a "Notice of Intent to Circulate a Charter Amendment Initiative Petition" accompanied by the "title and summary" of the proposed amendment as prepared by the City Attorney. This notice shall be signed by at least one but not more than three proponents, and shall be substantially in the form shown in California Elections Code Section 9202. Within 10 days of publication, proponents must file with the City Clerk the notice as published, along with an affidavit from the publisher certifying publication.

PETITION FORM, WORDING AND CIRCULATION

(Legal references: California Elections Code Sections 101, 104, 9020, 9022, 9207, 9209 and 9257-9264)

In addition to the "title and summary" prepared by the City Attorney, the petition and each section to be circulated shall include on their face the full text of the proposed amendment in no less than 10-point type and, if desired, the proponents' 500-word (or less) statement of reasons.

Each signer of the petition shall sign it as prescribed in California Elections Code Section 9020.

The petition form shall be substantially as shown in Section 9260, and shall include the specific notice contained in Section 101, along with a circulator's affidavit attached to each section in the form set forth in Sections 104, 9022 and 9209. Circulators must be registered voters in the City of San Diego.

The paper used for each petition section shall be white in color, not smaller than 8-1/2" by 11", nor greater than 8-1/2" by 14". All petition section sheets shall be fastened together when filed.

Once the Notice of Intent is published, proponents may immediately begin circulating the petition for signatures. Only the signatures of registered voters of the City of San Diego shall be valid.

PETITION FILING AND QUALIFYING

(Legal references: California Elections Code Sections 9114-9115, 9255, and 9265-9267)

Amending the Charter is a right reserved exclusively to the electorate. In order for a Charter amendment initiative petition to qualify for submittal to the voters, it must be signed by 15 percent (15%) of the total number of registered voters in the City of San Diego as of the County Registrar of Voters' last official report of registration to the Secretary of State. Proponents should check with the City Clerk, Elections Section, at (619) 533-4025 for the latest figures, or see Current Signature Requirements (PDF).

The petition must be filed within 180 days following the date of receipt of the title and summary, and must be filed by the proponents, or by any person or persons authorized in writing by the proponents. All sections of the petition must be filed with the City Clerk at one time. Once the petition is filed, no additional petition sections shall be accepted.

Once the petition has been filed, the City Clerk has up to 60 days, excluding Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, in which to determine from voter registration records whether or not the petition is signed by the requisite number of voters. The City Clerk shall then notify the proponents as to the sufficiency or insufficiency of the petition. If the petition is found to be sufficient, it is presented to the City Council.