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The Ethics Ordinance

What is the Ethics Ordinance?

The Ethics Ordinance (PDF: 76K) is a collection of local governmental ethics laws proposed by the San Diego Ethics Commission and approved by the San Diego City Council. It includes provisions mirroring many of the laws contained in the state's Political Reform Act, and also contains many other provisions designed to ensure that local officials adhere to certain ethical standards. The Ethics Ordinance contains standards of disclosure designed to avoid conflicts of interest and the appearance of conflicts of interest. It regulates certain activities of former City Officials, and prohibits the misuse of City resources and activities incompatible with public service.

Are there other laws that the Ethics Commission enforces?

Yes. The Ethics Commission has the jurisdiction to administratively enforce the San Diego Election Campaign Control Ordinance (PDF: 110K) which is contained in Chapter 2, Article 7, Division 29 of the San Diego Municipal Code, as well as the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance (PDF), which may be found in Chapter 2, Article 7, Division 40 of the Municipal Code. The Ethics Commission only enforces local governmental ethics laws. It does not enforce any other laws, even those that may involve ethical issues. The Commission also does not enforce state law. For violations of the California Political Reform Act, please contact the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

Does the Fair Political Practices Commission enforce the Ethics Ordinance?

No. The FPPC only enforces the state laws found within the Political Reform Act. The San Diego Ethics Commission is the entity which administratively enforces the Ethics Ordinance. If a particular activity is a violation of both the Ethics Ordinance and the Political Reform Act, the matter may be referred to both the Ethics Commission and the Fair Political Practices Commission.

How do I file a complaint with the Ethics Commission regarding a violation of the Ethics Ordinance?

The Ethics Commission has an on-line complaint form you can fill out and print for mailing or delivery to the commission. Additionally, you can pick up a blank complaint form at the commission offices located at 1010 Second Avenue, Suite 1530, in downtown San Diego. Additional contact information.

If I file a complaint with the Ethics Commission, what prevents me from being retaliated against?

The Ethics Ordinance makes it unlawful for any City Official to use or threaten to use his or her authority to retaliate against someone who reports to the Ethics Commission any of the following:

  • a work-related violation by a City Official of any law or regulation
  • a gross waste of City funds
  • a gross abuse of authority
  • a conflict of interest of a City Official
  • a specific and substantial danger to public health or safety due to the acts of a City Official

Am I considered a "City Official" under the Ethics Ordinance?

For the purposes of the Ethics Ordinance, you are a "City Official" if you are required to file a Statement of Economic Interests pursuant to the California Political Reform Act of 1974, and are (1) an elected or appointed City officeholder; (2) a member of a City board, commission, committee, or task force; (3) an unclassified City employee; or (4) a consultant of the City.

I am an unclassified employee of the City of San Diego. Am I subject to the Ethics Ordinance?

You are subject to the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission, and your activities are regulated by the Ethics Ordinance if you are an unclassified City employee and you are required to to file a Statement of Economic Interests pursuant to the California Political Reform Act of 1974.

I am a classified employee of the City of San Diego. Am I subject to the Ethics Ordinance?

No. The Ethics Commission has no jurisdiction over classified City employees, and the provisions of the Ethics Ordinance do not regulate the activities of classified City employees. If, however, you are aware of a violation of the Ethics Ordinance, you are encouraged to file a complaint with the Ethics Commission.

Does the Ethics Ordinance apply to a spouse who doesn't work for the City?

Certain provisions of the Ethics Ordinance do apply to the spouse and dependent children of an employee subject to the ordinance. For example, section 27.3520 of the ordinance provides that a gift accepted by a City Official's spouse may be considered to be a gift to the official. Additionally, section 27.3561 precludes a City Official from knowingly influencing a municipal decision if it is reasonably foreseeable that the municipal decision will have a material financial effect on the financial interests of a spouse or dependent child.

I am a volunteer and was appointed by the Mayor to sit on a board. Am I subject to the Ethics Ordinance?

It depends. If you are not required to file a Statement of Economic Interests pursuant to the California Political Reform Act of 1974, you are not considered a "City Official" for the purposes of the Ethics Ordinance. If, however, you are required to file the statement, many provisions of the Ethics Ordinance will apply to you.

The Ethics Ordinance regulates my contact with restricted sources. Who is a restricted source?

According to the Ethics Ordinance, restricted sources include:

  • Lobbyists, lobbying firms, and those who employ lobbyists, if seeking to influence a municipal decision;
  • Persons doing business with the City;
  • Persons who, during a reporting period, directly communicated with a City Official pertaining to a municipal decision which would have a material financial effect on such persons;
  • Persons who are a party to a municipal decision which within the prior nine months was pending before the City Official, and for nine months following the date a final decision is rendered in the proceeding.

I still have questions. How do I get help?

The Ethics Commission is available to provide telephonic or written advice regarding these matters.