The Chief Deputy City Attorney Looking for a Promotion


This post originally appeared in the Feb. 4 Politics Reports. The weekly newsletter is an insider’s guide to San Diego politics and public affairs. Subscribe here (Must be a Voice of San Diego member to access.)

Heather Ferbert’s profile has a track record.

The chief deputy city attorney launched her campaign to replace her boss, City Attorney Mara Elliott, when she’s termed out in 2024. Back in 2016, Elliott showed that “Democratic chief deputy city attorney without a history in local politics” can be a strong resume .

It’s early. Maybe former Major Kevin Faulconer will try to get his old job back. But as we wait on that, this city attorney’s race could be the only competitive city race on the 2024 ballot. Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, the former San Diego councilman who became a Democrat in 2019, is expected to run for city attorney as well, but incumbents are up for re-election in every other city race on the ballot.

Ferbert currently works in the advisory division, the one that acts as general counsel for city officials to help guide their decision making. The office also prosecutes misdemeanors, and both represent the city in civil litigation.

As an accomplishments in office, Ferbert touts two pandemic era policies: writing the temporary eviction moratorium enacted when Covid-19 hit, and working on the shelter-to-home program at the Convention Center that the city snapped into at the time.

She’s now running for an office that in recent years has drawn questions about whether it should be elected at all. Former Councilman Mark Kersey in 2020 proposed making the advisory and civil litigation parts of the office appointed, and only electing someone to prosecute misdemeanors.

Ferbert said working in the office had convinced him that a city the size of San Diego should have an elected city attorney.

For one, he said, having all three divisions is good for office morale: lawyers are often hired into the criminal division, and can move up and into the civil or advisory divisions.

But she said San Diego’s form of government also means it is different from the county government, where the board of supervisors appoints both a chief executive and legal counsel, and then both of those positions report to the same board that appointed them.

“A strong mayor, strong council government like we have, there can be situations where the two elected bodies you advise and report to don’t agree,” Ferbert said. “An appointed city attorney could run into a lot of challenges that are hard to navigate, where you’re taking direction from elected officials who are saying different things. If there’s a divide, who are you following, if your client is the municipal corporation, and the entire point is to look out for the public?”

The next city attorney, Ferbert said, will have to start changing the trend of “the city getting steamrolled by developers.”

“The city is about to embark on the Sports Arena and Civic Center revitalizations, two land transactions where the city attorney will have to protect the city,” she said.

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