When San Diego City Councilmember Carl DeMaio declared Monday, March 16, “Sony Online Entertainment Day” in San Diego, he was availing himself of a time-honored, frequently overlooked and sometimes controversial tradition: the commemorative proclamation.
Commemorative proclamations differ from other city declarations, such as emergency proclamations and special resolutions, in both substance and procedural requirements. Emergency proclamations (like disaster declarations) are serious business carrying the full weight of the law, while commemorative proclamations are just that—commemorative. They carry no legal weight: Had a Sony executive run naked through City Hall Monday shouting “It's my day!” he'd have gotten arrested like anyone else.
Also, while special resolutions require full consideration by the council, commemorative proclamations require nothing but the political judgment of the politician doing the proclaiming. Each of the city's eight council members and the mayor have within their toolboxes the power to set aside any day of the year as a time of honor for any person, place or thing they see fit to commemorate. And in San Diego, as in most American cities, our town fathers and mothers use this tool with abandon.
Just about every day of the calendar year has been set aside at some point in San Diego's history as a day of congratulations to someone or something dear to our leaders' hearts. Over the past few years, San Diego has proclaimed Joseph Vilella / Vectron Day (April 15), Great American Meatout Day (March 20), STRIVE San Diego Day (Sept. 6), Tartan Day (April 6), Adopt-A-Block Day (May 15), Scott Silverman Day (Feb. 19), Return to Normandy Day (July 19) and World Farm Animal Day (Oct. 2), to name a few. Many of these proclamations, like Adopt-A-Block Day and the Great American Meatout, represented City Hall adding its voice to national campaigns. Others—like Scott Silverman Day, in honor of the founder of the Second Chance drug-rehabilitation programs—are San Diego-specific.
“I don't think there's a politician on the planet that hasn't issued some kind of ceremonial proclamation,” says Bill Harris, a spokesman for Mayor Jerry Sanders.
The object of commemoration is often someone or something just about everyone would agree is deserving, as when the council joined with other cities in proclaiming May 1, 2004, “Youth Pride Day.” Who could have a problem with youth pride? But every now and then, a mayor or council member will issue a proclamation that's bound to cause a stir, as when Sanders proclaimed July 8, 2008, “National Council of La Raza Day.” It happened before Barack Obama and John McCain's appearances at a National Council of La Raza convention in San Diego and meant to honor the historical significance of the event.
But with tensions running high over immigration issues, conservatives like San Diego's James Hartline and national columnist Michelle Malkin railed against the proclamation and City Hall itself for days.
Other commemorative proclamations that proved controversial included “Mark Salo Day” (Dec. 5, 2005), in honor of Planned Parenthood of San Diego and Riverside's retiring CEO, and “ACLU Day” (March 25, 2008). Both were roundly condemned in the conservative press.