We’ve decided to include all our efforts to understand the 2016 election under the banner of San Diego Decides. As part of that, I’ll be writing a biweekly look at what’s happening in the races facing San Diego voters in 2016. It’ll include new reporting, follow-ups on bigger stories and a round-up of other coverage of local races. To get the complete picture of the local election landscape, make sure you also check out the San Diego Decides podcast, hosted by Sara Libby and Ry Rivard. — Andrew Keatts


After taking heat for receiving support from Republicans in general, District 3 City Council candidate Anthony Bernal is now being called out for one donation in particular.

Former San Diego Union-Tribune owner, prolific developer and Prop. 8 financier Doug Manchester and his wife made maximum donations to Bernal, a Democrat.

San Diego DecidesIn March, a former Democratic Party official said Republicans were stealthily taking over the district by supporting Bernal over the party’s favored candidate, Chris Ward. (Bernal shot back in an op-ed for us that there’s nothing unusual about political candidates taking donations from across the aisle.)

District 3, which includes downtown but also the neighborhoods surrounding Balboa Park like Hillcrest, is home to the city’s organized LGBT community. It’s been represented by an openly gay politician since Christine Kehoe won in 1993, becoming San Diego’s first openly gay elected official.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Now, Bernal has taken a combined $1,100 from Manchester and his wife. Manchester gave $125,000 to the campaign to ban gay marriage in 2008.

“This is the district of Christine Kehoe, and Toni Atkins, and Todd Gloria, and now (Bernal) is taking money from someone who did everything he could to make sure those people could not marry someone they love,” said Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, president of San Diego Democrats for Equality, which endorsed Ward. “To take that money is a betrayal to the district and the people he’s seeking to represent.”

Nick Serrano, Bernal’s campaign spokesman, said it all misses a basic point: Bernal does not agree with Manchester on gay marriage.

“We could give countless examples of [Bernal] supporting LGBT equality,” Serrano said. “Manchester is a developer downtown, so he has an interest in District 3. Manchester knows they aren’t on the same side on LGBT equality, but he recognizes that Anthony is the most experienced candidate for the district.”

Bernal is straight. Ward is gay. The dispute gets to a fundamental question in the race: Is being gay a prerequisite to represent District 3?

“It’s a good question,” said Rodriguez-Kennedy. “I don’t know that it’s a prerequisite. It’s less of a prerequisite, and more of an advantage. And that’s the intention of empowerment districts, anyway.”

Empowerment districts are those that are specifically drawn to make it more likely that minorities are represented in elected positions.

Nicole Murray Ramirez, an LGBT activist in the district, published an op-ed last month saying District 3 should indeed be represented by a member of the LGBT community.

“It’s a sentiment put out by our opposition that we don’t agree with,” Serrano said.

Bernal isn’t the only Democrat running against other Democrats who is getting some Republican support.

Ricardo Flores, chief of staff for Councilwoman Marti Emerald, is running to supplant his boss as the representative for District 9, which includes City Heights and the College Area.

He’s running against environmental activist Georgette Gomez and labor organizer Sarah Saez, both Democrats.

Some Republicans in town have decided to support Flores. The regional Chamber of Commerce launched a political action committee supporting Flores, called Urban Neighbors United supporting Ricardo Flores for City Council 2016 sponsored by and Major Funding from the SD Regional Chamber of Commerce PAC, as the head of the Chamber’s PAC, Aimee Faucett, discussed in this week’s episode of the San Diego Decides podcast.

The Chamber has put $45,000 into the committee. The group can’t coordinate with Flores’ campaign.

The organization Crowdpac, which analyzes all the donations to a candidate and compares them with all other donations those people have made to determine how liberal or conservative the candidates’ supporters are, finds each of Flores’ opponents is more liberal than him, though he remains comfortably left of center. The Democratic Party opted against endorsing any candidate in the race, instead rating Flores, Gomez and Saez all “acceptable.”

A conservative PAC also popped up recently to support Bernal. Neighborhood Services Coalition in support of Anthony Bernal for City Council 2016 filed its first statement in late April.

It hasn’t reported any contributions yet, but its treasurer is April Boling and its principal officer is Ryan Clumpner. Both regularly work for Republican candidates and causes.

Signs of Higher June Turnout

The story of local elections in recent years has been simple: In special elections and June primaries, when voter turnout is low, Republicans win a lot. When Democrats get to share the ballot with a presidential election in November, they win.

But ahead of this year’s June election, local analyst Vince Vasquez from the National University System Institute for Policy Research projects countywide turnout to surpass recent levels. He’ll release the results later this week but first shared them exclusively with Voice of San Diego.

Vasquez said he’s conservatively projecting turnout between 53 percent and 57 percent for the June 7 election.

For comparison, in June 2012 – when mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio won more votes than eventual winner Bob Filner and voters approved the pension reform measure Proposition B – turnout was just 37 percent.

Vasquez based his projection on turnout in the presidential primaries in states where independent voters were eligible to cast ballots. In many of those states, the election included only the presidential ballot. Competitive local and statewide races are likely to push turnout higher.

“Despite the probability that both the Democratic and Republican presidential contests have effectively ended, there are still large numbers of highly motivated voters eager to cast ballots in favor and against particular candidates,” Vasquez writes.

Additionally, voter registration has skyrocketed in recent months, especially among young people, Latinos and independents, he said.

“This is a good indicator of high voter turnout this election cycle,” he said.

It’s good news for Democrats, he said, but makes it hard to know what to expect in the competitive city attorney’s race between presumptive frontrunners Rafael Castellanos, a port commissioner, and Gil Cabrera, former chairman of the San Diego Ethics Commission.

“If the vote is close between the two of them this June, Bernie and Hillary voters might play a role in the outcome,” Vasquez said.

Three Questions for D1 Candidate Kyle Heiskala

At just 23, Kyle Heiskala is an unusual candidate for City Council.

But since the staffer for Council President Sherri Lightner threw his name into the race just before the filing deadline, he’s taken a low-cost route to making his case. On social media he’s run a spirited, urbanist campaign, advocating for transit and bike infrastructure improvements and commitments to increase housing density throughout the city.

He has raised essentially no money. His most recent campaign finance form declares that he’s raised and will spend less than $2,000 on his campaign.

When he announced, along with his boss’s husband, Bruce Lightner, it raised speculation that the two were intended to crowd the ballot so Republican Ray Ellis couldn’t get more than 50 percent of the vote in the June primary.

But Heiskala says he’s running to inspire young people and to make the case for controversial policies from which the city has shied away, like increasing housing density by cutting development restrictions.

You’re younger than a typical candidate. Why run now?

When Joe LaCava dropped out, I felt he had the necessary experience as someone with community planning background to be in a good position on the City Council for land use decisions, which is the most important role the Council has. This was my opportunity to craft a long-term vision for the city, making decisions that shape our future. As someone in my 20s, I’m in this for the long haul. The decisions we make today affect myself and other young people way more than the people who have traditionally been making the decisions. This isn’t a hobby.

I also want to inspire young people to get involved. As someone who has the right experience, I don’t see age as a determining factor.

What is your experience that you feel prepares you for the position?

I interned for Lightner in 2010. It opened my eyes to the potential impact local government can have in immediate and direct impact, instead of national or state legislative issues that are more abstract. One of the biggest things I’ve worked on while at UCSD was the Triton U-Pass program, which was a $20 million, five-year transit program that was designed to give all undergraduate and graduate students access to light rail and bus in the region. It’s essentially a fee students imposed on themselves. I negotiated directly with MTS, the administration and student leadership.

I had a local government relations job, and I also sat on the planning group at University City as a student rep, a voting member. I started learning about land use policies and the community planning process and fell in love with it, and I always saw myself running for office someday.

You mention an emphasis on housing and transit policy. What ideas are you bringing to the conversation?

We absolutely have to look at increasing density in our transit corridors. Doing some controversial things that haven’t been done in San Diego, like reducing parking requirements on new construction, and putting in place real incentives to build dense housing. But that has to be coupled with strong transit policies. They are essential to each other. You can’t have successful transit without density, and vice-versa. So we should look at providing incentives for developers to provide transit passes to residents, or to build electric vehicle charging stations or car-sharing for residents, in exchange for current parking requirements. If you’re building a new apartment, parking requirements are prohibitively expensive.

Currently our trolley follows highways and rivers. They don’t go through the core of neighborhoods. With additional cost, we could build transit underground in high-density areas, or put it above ground and elevated. We don’t necessarily need to be married to light rail. True bus rapid transit, if it’s separated from car traffic, can be just as effective in travel times but it’s far cheaper than light rail. We have to have a very aggressive transit system, but it needs to be coming online as density increases.

In Other News

The two primary contenders for City Council District 1 have made their case on the basis of their business backgrounds. Ashly McGlone last week vetted how successful their careers were, and what it tells us about how they’ll perform on the Council.

The County Board of Supervisors had included five Republicans until Democrat Dave Roberts won in 2012. Term limits adopted in 2010 mean the faces will eventually start to change, giving Democrats reason for hope. The county is split into two districts with Republican registration advantages, and two with Democratic advantages. District 3, up for grabs this year, could prove to be the battleground for control going forward. A flip in the party controlling the board could change the way the county provides basic services, reports Maya Srikrishnan.

If Mayor Kevin Faulconer really likes the Chargers stadium plan the team is hoping to put before voters in June, he’s got a funny way of showing it. He hasn’t said a peep about whether he plans to support it. San Diego Union-Tribune editor Michael Smolens asks: Can the Chargers win without him?

Faulconer joined KPBS’s “Midday Edition” this week to discuss his re-election bid.

Meanwhile, Faulconer last week did something he normally doesn’t do: He attended a board meeting for the San Diego Association of Governments, a regional planning agency composed of elected leaders from around the county. He was there to register a vote against the agency’s plan to ask voters to increase taxes to pay for regional transportation. It passed anyway, and is set to be on November’s ballot. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

We had three different people who opposed the tax hike from three different perspectives on the main VOSD podcast this week.

The city has an issue with how long people are waiting on hold with 911 to reach an emergency dispatcher. Faulconer’s opponents in the June election are honing in on it, and San Diego Union-Tribune reporter David Garrick wonders if they’ve found a weakness.

    This article relates to: City Council, Must Reads, Politics

    Written by Andrew Keatts

    I'm Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0529.

    Brian Edmonston
    Brian Edmonston

    From Mr Heiskala:

    "So we should look at providing incentives for developers to provide transit passes to residents, or to build electric vehicle charging stations or car-sharing for residents, _in exchange for current parking requirements_. If you’re building a new apartment, parking requirements are prohibitively expensive."

    I really don't understand how allowing developers to build without providing parking is the "progressive" position. Nothing could be more pro-developer than that, at the cost of the quality of life of the community around that development.

    And I say this as someone who is in favor of high density and public transit.

    Allowing developers to build without providing parking is just allowing them to externalize this cost, giving the developer greater profits and society more costs. 

    Founder subscriber

    Brian — RE: The quote you posted

    We are being enindated by Pro-Developers that have and continue to fund a number of Org.'s that are together pushing "less parking" because it means huge additional profits for these same Developers.

    The rationale includes some of these talking points: People will should use mass transit not personal vehicles, Lower income people will not own cars or Bicycling is healthy for you and good for the environment.

    What is not mentioned is that designing for that what is good for the 30 something crowd may be great for local businesses like pubs and restaurants, it is not so wonderful for all those that cannot or choose not to, ride a bicycle because they have other needs that using a bicycle or even an electric bicycle will not statisfy.

    SD's elected Leaders are putting what is good for Developers far ahead of what is good for residents, while at the same time telling us that we must accept far more Density because our City needs more "affordable housing." Almost all housing that is being built is either for rent or lease, which will guarantee the Developer a very long income stream because they will raise their rents often. The few units being built for sale will be sold at "market rates" or said another way for as much as the market will bear.

    Couple the above with the push by the City to increase the zoning to allow more units to be built on the same amount of ground by building more units per floor and also adding more floors per project. This is why the real estate market is so hot, especially in amid-City where property is less expensive than many other parts of SD.

    The truth is that these same elected Leaders refuse to enact zoning requirements that would help reduce our Low and Low-Moderate income housing shortage (as determined by percentage of average income for the area). They could do this by requiring that a certain percentage of ALL NEW CONSTRUCTION be long term rent restricted Low and Low-Moderate income housing units. This would also help insure that entry level housing is spread evenly around the City instead of putting most of it in just in a few areas, like almid-City!

    j c
    j c

    I think the question to ask is WHY does Manchester support Bernal? Obviously not because they share the same views about gay marriage... but what policies that they do agree on should we be interrogating?  Arguing over whether Bernal is anti-LGBT is pointless (he's not). What should other issue should we looking at more closely to see if it aligns with liberal ideals?

    Founder subscriber


    JC — I agree, there is so much more to talk about in the CD3 race that it is sad that VOSD focuses on the LGBT issue which tends to focus the discussion upon a minor (to me) issue, instead of all the BIG ISSUES we are faced with.

    We need to hear what Candidates have to say about all the other important issues like:





    VOSD needs to provide a forum that allows voters to hear from each Candidate, about how they will better serve CD3 residents than their opponents, instead "political commentary."

    Consider Changing From Being Reactive To Being Pro-Active

    Suggestion: Please consider providing both an "Issues & Answers" segment followed by a "Rebuttal & Replies" segment two days later. This would allow you pose a detailed question and then provide equal space for each candidate to respond with their Answer. Then each Candidate (and readers) could learn what is being suggested by each Candidate and ask them specific questions. Two days later, the Candidates would be given another chance to reply to both the other Candidates and the readers comments. I believe that this format would transform the Political process from what it is now, which is akin to a popularity contest, to something far more informative since both the Candidates and the voters could take part in the debate process.

    Founder subscriber

    The Political Party that each Candidate is running in, is at this stage of the "election" far less important (to me and many others) than what  exactly these Candidates will commit to doing if elected.

    San Diego voters have been promised much by those running for Office by the last 3 that were elected in CD3 but what we have received has been far less as "time and circumstance" has keep our elected Leaders from fulfilling their campaign promises to voters.

    I'd like to see the Candidates commit to refunding their Salaries if certain things are not accomplished during each of their years in Office.  If that sounds "harsh" then consider how voters feel when they vote for a Candidate that then does not fulfill their campaign promises, which was the only reason they got elected!

    My 6 demands for better Government are simple:

    1) Work hard to make San Diego a better place to live for the majority of our voters (disregarding their political party) instead of just the wealthy few.

    2) Be a vocal advocate for correcting what is wrong with our City government, no matter whose toes they have to step on.

    3) Appoint people to Board positions that will stand up for making San Diego less like it has been in the past, since we have had too many people appointed that have been pushing a particular agenda instead of doing what is best for our City.

    4) Be unafraid of upsetting the Big's (Utilities, Water, Unions, Developers, Ultra Wealthy and the others) that want to "run" San Diego.

    5) Be willing to kick some butt at City Hall to make our City Government not only more transparent but also more user friendly.

    6) Grant equal access to both Big Donors and regular voters before making any decisions that affect all San Diego residents.

    Step up and earn my vote...

    Richard Gorin
    Richard Gorin subscriber

    I agree with Founder about organizing the comments.

    On the District 3 race, one has to state the obvious:  there are no Republicans on the ballot for that Council seat.  That doesn't mean that Republicans who live or have businesses in District 3 ought to be disenfranchised and indifferent to whomever the Democrats choose to elect.  Council members in general have two functions:  policymaking and constituent service.  I'm not going to get either Chris or Anthony to share my policy views, but if I think one or the other is going to be more effective at getting my potholes fixed and seeing that the water and sewer lines are maintained, I have a preference.

    Founder subscriber

    @Richard Gorin — Thanks for joining the discussion.

    See my expanded reply at the top.

    Founder subscriber

    It would be far better if each segment from above had its own comments section so that those that read the different segments can also easily read each of the comments that are posted about that segment!

    ==> As far as Bernal vs Ward in CD3, what is important to many is where the two candidates stand on important topics, not just on LGBT support issues.  To those that think that the biggest LGBT supporter should run CD3, I would mention that to many others, many issues like Density, Infrastructure, Quality of Life, Crime, Taxes and/or Financing (yet another) $tadium are  all just as important, if not more important to many living in CD3.

    It is past time for all voters in San Diego to just be happy accepting candidate "prepared statements."

    VOSD should start asking the Candidates questions that we submit, so that VOSD can post the answers so that all of us can become more informed about these Candidates.  That way, those Candidates that choose not to answer these questions, will sooner or later have to explain why they were unable to answer when those running against them could.  

    This will help the political process in San Diego and position VOSD as a more credible news outlet.