San Diego City Council fails to override Mayor Bob Filner's veto of Port Commission nominees

Council one vote short of veto override

SAN DIEGO - The San Diego City Council's bid to override Mayor Bob Filner's vetoes of lawyer Rafael Castellanos and businessman Marshall Merrifield to the Port of San Diego Board of Commissioners came up one vote short Monday.

Castellanos and Merrifield were selected out of a field of six candidates by the City Council on Jan. 7, but Filner later issued the vetoes. He objected to what he called a flawed process of picking the candidates, including making selections before determining a new city policy for the port.

Council President Todd Gloria subsequently expressed support for the nominees and scheduled the override vote. The council voted 5-3 to override the vetoes, but needed six votes in favor.

The city of San Diego has three seats on the board, with one still filled.

"This really isn't a criticism of Mr. Merrifield, who's done a lot of great things in San Diego, or Mr. Castellanos," said Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who supported the vetoes. "It really comes down to process."

She said the city needs minimum standards for appointments to outside boards and policies on when commissioners report back to the council.

Council members David Alvarez and Sherri Lightner joined her criticism of how the appointments of Castellanos or Merrifield were handled, via a process different from past practice. Alvarez originally nominated Castellanos and spoke out on his behalf.

On Monday, though, he said, "The process has been rigged since the very beginning."

Lightner has scheduled a March meeting of the Rules and Economic Development Committee, which she chairs, to sort out some of the issues in the city's approach to the port.

Councilman Kevin Faulconer, a supporter of the override, said letting two of San Diego's three seats on the board remain vacant is a disservice to the city. He accused the mayor of wanting to delay full representation at the port.

"The rest of the world will still move forward," Faulconer said. "Millions of dollars of San Diego's waterfront projects won't be delayed, opportunities to create maritime jobs at the port won't be delayed, and critical decisions about San Diego Bay and the environment won't be delayed. The point, is the port will not wait for the city of San Diego. We sent the mayor two qualified candidates; what we've gotten back is a process of red tape and delay."

Councilman Scott Sherman said the port staff will be working on the expansion of the San Diego Convention Center, various capital improvement projects and its budget during the time the seats are unfilled.

"Everybody said they were great, but for some reason I can only assume it's politics or personalities are getting in the way of doing the right thing for San Diego," Sherman said.

Both Sherman and Councilwoman Lorie Zapf said the vetoes were partisan in nature. The two are Republicans, while Filner is a Democrat. All hold technically nonpartisan offices.

Whoever ends up on the board will replace ex-Commissioners Lee Burdick, who is now on Filner's staff, and Scott Peters, who was elected to Congress. San Diego's lone representative is Vice Chairman Bob Nelson, a longtime public relations man who formerly chaired the Convention Center's governing body.

Merrifield attended the session and afterward said, "It’s a disappointing outcome. It'd be good to sort out the process; for those of us who are not professional politicians it's a little confusing and difficult to go through something like this and be back to square one."

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