Making A Difference
A Beginners Guide to Affecting Municipal Laws in the City of San Diego
- What can you do to make or change a local law?
- First, trying to affect the law may make you a lobbyist
- Use letters, phone calls, and informal petitions
- Speak at a council meeting ("Public Comment")
- Use the internet for "Public Comment"
- Speak to the Rules Committee ("Communication Request")
- Speak at a committee meeting ("Public Comment")
- Suggest a ballot proposal using Council Policy 000-21
- Use the initiative, charter amendment or referendum process
- What else should you know?
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 Commissions 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 votes5 out of 8to 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")
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 speakers’ microphones. Time alloted to each speaker is determined by the Chair and, in general, is limited to three (3) minutes per speaker per item.
Non-Agenda Public Comment: Members of the public may also address the City Council as part of "Non-Agenda Public Comment," which occurs during regularly scheduled City Council meetings held on Tuesdays at 10:00 a.m., and is limited to issues which are under the Council’s jurisdiction but are not docketed as part of that week’s City Council meeting. Comments are limited to no more than three (3) minutes total per subject, regardless of the number of individuals who fill out speaker slips on that same subject. Because of open meeting laws, Council may not discuss or act on any issue brought forth under "Non-Agenda Public Comment," although the issue may be referred to the appropriate staff.
If you wish to address the Council under "Non-Agenda Public Comment," you must submit a "Request to Speak" form (speaker slip) immediately before the meeting begins. Speaker 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 speakers’ microphones.
Please note: During those weeks when City Council meetings are scheduled to be held at 6:00 p.m. in Council Chambers, Non-Agenda Public Comment will be held at the 6:00 p.m. meeting and will not take place at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday. Please also note: Non-Agenda Public Comment will NOT be heard during Special Meetings of the City Council.
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.
Speak to the Rules Committee ("Communication Request")
The SDMC provides another method for you to address the Committee on Rules, Open Government, and Intergovernmental Relationsand potentially the City Councilon matters of general interest. This is the "Communication Request," and you may submit your request to the Rules Committee Chair by letter or on a form available from the City Clerks Office. The Rules Committee reviews all Communication Requests. You will be notified of the date your item is docketed to be heard before Rules, and you may request to speak on the item at that time. Requests approved by a majority vote of the Rules Committee will be forwarded to the full Council.
If your Communication Request is forwarded to the City Council, you will be notified of the exact date for which it is docketed. Requests to speak before the City Council are limited to five (5) minutes, and only the individual listed on the docket may make the presentation. The SDMC limits all communications to matters which are proper areas of discussion or action by the City Council.
When a Communication item is listed on the docket, it is not debatable and must be either referred to an appropriate committee or other public agency, or filed.
Speak at a committee meeting ("Public Comment")
Before speaking to Council, you may wish to address one of the six standing Council Committees: Rules, Open Government, and Intergovernmental Relations; Land Use & Housing; Public Safety & Neighborhood Services; Natural Resources & Culture; Budget and Finance; and Audit.
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.
If a "Communication Request Form" is submitted to the City Clerk seven (7) calendar days before the Committee meeting, the matter may be placed on the agenda as a scheduled communication, and the Committee may discuss the item prior to its appropriate disposition.
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 Clerks 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 proposalif it is approved, it will be brought to the City Council for action.
Check with the City Clerks 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 referendums, see the City Clerks "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 youre collecting or spending money on your efforts, you may qualify as a political committee. Contact the City Clerks Office for more information.