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Making A Difference

A Beginner’s Guide to Affecting Municipal Laws in the City of San Diego

What can you do to make or change a local law?

There are many ways for the people of San Diego to have an impact on the laws which govern our City, not the least of which is the voting booth. This brochure will provide you with an overview of the methods available for you to be involved in the legislative process.

First, trying to affect the law may make you a lobbyist

If you are trying to influence a municipal decision, then you may need to register as a lobbyist. See the Ethics Commission’s information about Lobbying in the City of San Diego for more details, or refer to San Diego Municipal Code (SDMC) §§27.4001-27.4028 (PDF).

Use letters, phone calls, and informal petitions

Remember that most City ordinances and resolutions require a simple majority of Council votes–5 out of 8–to be adopted. Get the ball rolling by calling or writing a letter to your Councilmember, and to the Mayor. If you want to show you have lots of community support, develop and submit an informal petition, or have others call or send letters. With the backing of five (5) Councilmembers, your idea can become municipal policy.

Speak at a council meeting ("Public Comment")

Members of the public can speak in front of the City Council in a variety of ways.

Comment on a Docketed Item: Members of the public who wish to speak on a docketed item must fill out a speaker slip. Both "in favor" and "in opposition" slips are available in the rear of Council Chambers and in the lobby just outside Chambers before each meeting, or can be obtained at the City Clerk's Office (202 C Street, 2nd Floor). Speaker slips should be submitted to the City Clerk prior to the start of the City Council meeting in the tray marked "Speaker Slips" located on the podium at the front of Council Chambers to the right of the public speaker’s microphones. Time allotted to each speaker is determined by the Chair and, in general, is limited to three (3) minutes per speaker per item.

Non-Agenda Comment: In general, toward the end of each regularly scheduled Monday afternoon Council session, and toward the beginning of each regularly scheduled Tuesday morning Council session, time is reserved on the agenda for "Non-Agenda Comment." This provides members of the public an opportunity to address the Council on any matter of interest not scheduled on the agenda; however, the subject matter must be within the Council's jurisdiction.

Members of the public wishing to address the Council under "Non-Agenda Comment" must fill out a "Non-Agenda Comment" speaker slip and file it with the City Clerk in Council Chambers at the meeting at which the speaker wishes to speak. Speaker slips may not be turned in prior to the meeting date or after completion of "Non-Agenda Comment." Each speaker will be limited to two (2) minutes. Speakers may not allocate their time to other speakers. If there are eight (8) or more speakers on a single issue, the maximum time for the issue will be 16 minutes. Speaker order will generally be determined on a first-come first-served basis; however, priority may be given to speakers who have not addressed the legislative body during "Non-Agenda Comment" at the last regularly scheduled Council meeting. "Non-Agenda Comment" is limited to 30 minutes during the morning session of the Tuesday Council meeting. Per Rule 2.2, any remaining speakers will be given an opportunity to speak after Council concludes the other agenda items for that day. Pursuant to open meeting laws, no substantive discussion or action may be taken at the meeting; however, answers may be provided, staff direction may be given, and the matter may be referred to a future meeting. Please note: During those weeks when City Council meetings are scheduled to be held at 6:00 p.m. in Council Chambers, Non-Agenda Comment will be held at the 6:00 p.m. meeting for that day. Please also note: Non-Agenda Comment will NOT be heard during Special Meetings of the City Council.

Closed Session: Members of the public may also speak to items docketed for Closed Session of the City Council. Comments will be taken when the docketed items are read into the record by the City Clerk prior to the Council adjourning into Closed Session. Time allotted to each speaker is determined by the Chair and, in general, is limited to three (3) minutes per speaker per item.

Use the Internet for "Public Comment"

You may use the Internet to express interest or comment about an item to be discussed by the City Council in an upcoming meeting. Complete and submit the Public Comment Form on the Website for the Council docket. Your comments will be distributed to Council members and will be retained as part of the record.

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Speak at a committee meeting ("Public Comment")

Before speaking to Council, you may wish to address one of the seven standing Council Committees: Rules and Economic Development; Natural Resources and Culture; Public Safety and Neighborhood Services; Land Use and Housing; Budget and Finance; Audit; and Infrastructure.

Any member of the public may address a Council committee on any subject in its area of responsibility, on any matter not presently pending or previously discussed at the Committee. Comments are limited to three (3) minutes and are not debatable. At the conclusion of the comment, the Chair has the discretion to determine the appropriate disposition of the matter. If you wish to address the Committee under "Public Comment," submit a "Public Comment Request" form before the meeting. Subject matter and time limitations are noted on the form. Because of open meeting laws, the Committee is not allowed to discuss the matter or take any action other than to make a referral.

Suggest a ballot proposal using Council Policy 000-21

Council Policy (CP) 000-21 (PDF) contains a procedure enabling members of the public to submit ballot proposals to the City Council via the Rules Committee. You may submit a ballot proposal to the City Clerk’s Office at any time, which sends your proposal to the Rules Committee Consultant. Your proposal is then placed on the Rules Committee meeting agenda for subsequent review and comment by the Committee. The Committee may request that you or a City department furnish background information, provide an analysis of the proposal, and report back to the Committee. The Committee may either reject or approve your proposal. If it is approved, it will be brought to the City Council for action.

Check with the City Clerk’s Office for the final deadline to submit a CP 000-21 ballot proposal for possible inclusion on the next ballot.

Use the initiative, charter amendment or referendum process

Your proposal may be placed on the ballot for a vote of the people if you decide to use a formal petition process. If you file a valid initiative petition, Council may either accept your proposal outright, or place it on the ballot. Your valid petition to amend the City Charter will also be placed on the ballot. Should your proposal be to reject a recently adopted legislative act, and if you file a valid referendary petition, then Council may either repeal the referended legislative act or place the matter on the ballot.

For information about initiatives, see the City Clerk’s "The Initiative Petition Process," or refer to SDMC §§27.1001-27.1051 (PDF).

For information about Charter amendments, see the City Clerk’s "Charter Amendment Initiative Petition Process," or refer to the California Elections Code.

For information about referendums, see the City Clerk’s "The Referendary Petition Process for the City of San Diego," or refer to SDMC §§27.1101-27.1140 (PDF).

What else should you know?

If you’re collecting or spending money on your efforts, you may qualify as a political committee. Contact the City Clerk’s Office for more information.