Noting he came along 6 ½ years ago at a time when the city attorney’s office was in “a lot of trouble,” Goldsmith said, “We had to change the culture. We had to depoliticize it. The idea was to make the office a real law firm. We make our decisions now based on law — not politics.”
Goldsmith, who terms out of office in 2016, noted the city attorney’s office employs 146 lawyers, making it the largest law firm in the city that does civil work.
“We have two clients,” the city’s head attorney said. “One is the city of San Diego, a municipal corporation. The other is the people of this state of California that we do criminal law for.”
Goldsmith noted the city handles 20,000 criminal cases, which he characterized as “a huge amount.”
A primary function of the city attorney’s office is to defend the city against lawsuits.
“When you mess with the city, you’re messing with me and my 146 lawyers,” Goldsmith joked, adding, “Sometimes we’re on the wrong side, and then we settle quietly. But our job is to protect the city. And the city is us (people). We defend the city — right or wrong.”
Goldsmith defended the city’s decision, and the judicial ruling supporting it, that holds the city is not responsible for cleaning up animal waste deposited at the Cove. Over time, buildup of that waste has become increasingly problematic in generating nauseating smells and discouraging people from coming to La Jolla.
“We (city) were sued and some alleged the city had a legal obligation to solve the problem (smell),” Goldsmith said. “The law is very clear. The city can work with constituents on a problem. But where it comes to wild animals, the city has no legal obligation.”
Goldsmith added “I don’t know what the solution is,” when pressed on what the community should do about its sea lion problem.
But Goldsmith noted lawsuits aren’t always the answer, pointing out, “lawsuits can backfire.”
Asked what course he would pursue instead, Goldsmith counseled that the community ought to press for head-to-head negotiations with the city, legislators and all interested parties concerned to work through the problem.
A former mayor, judge and California state assemblyman, Goldsmith noted policy is set by legislators, while the role of attorneys, like himself, is enforce and implement those policies using the force of law.
Concerning ongoing negotiations with the Chargers over the prospect of building them a new stadium in Mission Valley to prevent them moving to Los Angeles, Goldsmith noted he’s just one member of the city’s negotiating team.
Pointing out these negotiations have “a lot of moving parts,” Goldsmith added he felt the Chargers’ strategy was to “make it seem as if San Diego can’t put together a satisfactory stadium proposal, and then the team just has to go to Los Angeles.”
“We’re saying we can do it — but it’s up to the voters,” Goldsmith said.
Addressing the hot-button issue of the proliferation of short term vacation rentals (STVRs), Goldsmith replied, “The law on STVRs is not clear. It’s ambiguous. The City Council needs to clarify the law.”
Concluding his remarks, Goldsmith said he’ll return to the private sector next year adding “and you’ll be electing my successor.”