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Politics Report: Ward Predicts SDSU and SoccerCity Mutual Destruction

In our first Politics Report, a new Sunday newsletter, we roundup developments in politics and policy. A new Convention Center hotel tax hike effort is about to begin. MTS chair selection will be big. And the county assessor is feeling some campaign pressure.

Our managing editor, Sara Libby, is out on maternity leave for a couple months. We’ll let her weekly column, What We Learned This Week, go on hiatus until she’s back.

To fill in we’re going to do a weekly roundup of the best insider tidbits we can gather from local politicians and policy discussions. This is temporary, but if it goes well, we may keep it going or provide it in a different format.

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— Scott Lewis and Andrew Keatts

Chris Ward, Pundit

San Diego City Councilman Chris Ward / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

What we’re hearing: A few hundred people filled the La Mesa Community Center for the Jan. 3 meeting of the La Mesa-Foothills Democratic Club.

They voted on an endorsement in the race for county supervisor, District 4. The district doesn’t even extend that far east but La Mesa-Foothills is such a big club, all the Democratic candidates came. Nathan Fletcher got the most votes but not the 60 percent needed and so there was no endorsement.

On a panel afterward, San Diego City Councilman Chris Ward predicted the two ballot measures competing to define the future of Mission Valley by redeveloping the former Chargers stadium area would both fail.

He said the two sides — SoccerCity and Friends of SDSU — would spend so much money attacking each other, they would assure mutual destruction.

Ward promised the crowd that the city was capable of handling the process to decide what to do with that land if in fact both measures failed.

And that land is a drain on the city: Right now, the city of San Diego is losing $7 million a year operating the old stadium. SDSU and the city have now entered their second year of negotiations on where the school’s football team will play after 2018.

More: Ward offered a preview of attacks that may come against his colleague, Lorie Zapf, the Republican representing the coastal District 2. Zapf is facing several challengers and this year won’t be able to win re-election in a lower turnout primary election. No matter how well she does in June, the race will move to a runoff with her top rival in November.

Ward said they’ll hit her hard for missing votes. Those kind of “job duties” attacks can be brutal. Just ask Fletcher.

Hear from the candidates: We began going through the list of candidates on the June ballot on our podcast this week. One of Zapf’s rivals, Jordan Beane, came into the studio.

He’s running unapologetically as a YIMBY who supports building more housing in corridors near transit stops.

Next week on the pod: Nathan Fletcher.

Then there’s the Convention Center … Ward also said he didn’t think we should assume citizens initiatives can pass tax increases with just a simple majority of voter support, after a Supreme Court ruling that could be wildly influential.

But Ward will likely support the plan to expand the Convention Center by raising hotel taxes that labor and business groups are cooking up.

Yes for a Better San Diego, the name that group is going by, is about to launch the signature gathering drive for a hotel-room tax increase, a Convention Center expansion and spending for homelessness and infrastructure.

A previous hotel tax hike was thrown out after a court ruled it needed to be approved by voters. Then the City Council this summer blocked an effort by the mayor to put a modified version on the ballot to do just that.

We had heard a couple weeks ago that this thing was finally happening when we got ahold of documents of an attorney asking the city attorney’s office if he could get a conflict waiver to work on the initiative.

That attorney is Michael Colantuono. He was an interesting choice because he had previously argued that nothing had changed from the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Well, he was an interesting choice. We learned Friday that he was no longer the group’s lawyer.

What to look for when they announce the plan: How much money it dedicates to homeless services and roads. Also, read the language closely to see how it defines a Convention Center expansion. Will it be the expansion envisioned for years on the waterfront? Or will it allow for alternatives, like placing a second building nearby.

MTS Getting New Leadership

An MTS trolley makes its way through downtown San Diego. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Be up to date: Gov. Jerry Brown last year signed AB-805, a bill that shook up the leadership and governance structures at both the Metropolitan Transit System and the San Diego Association of Governments.

Changes to which cities’ votes on SANDAG’s board wield the most influence could take years to turn into policy changes, or a new direction for the agency.

But one of the bill’s changes that is immediately relevant is its call for a new chair of MTS.

The board, composed of elected officials in cities served by the transit agency, used to elect a county resident as its chair. Now, the board will elect one of its members to be its chair.

That process is already underway. A nominating committee from the board is next scheduled to meet on Jan. 12 to discuss the decision.

Three contenders: So far, MTS has received nomination letters from County Supervisor Ron Roberts, San Diego City Councilwoman Georgette Gomez and Imperial Beach Councilwoman Lorie Bragg. Roberts and Bragg are both Republicans; Gomez is a Democrat.

The nominating committee, though, leans to the left. It consists of Lemon Grove Councilman David Arambula, Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas, San Diego Council President Myrtle Cole and National City Councilwoman Mona Rios – all Democrats. The lone Republican on the committee is La Mesa Councilman Guy McWhirter.

Why it matters: Based on other changes from AB-805, the MTS chair could soon be an especially influential position. MTS, and the North County Transit District, now can put tax increases on the ballot. Since the cities in MTS’s jurisdiction are more left-leaning, its seen as an easier path to raise taxes for the region’s transportation needs than going through SANDAG, which requires countywide approval.

The new chair could decide whether and when to pursue a tax increase, and influence what it would be spent on.

GOP Dominoes Setting Up

Councilman Mark Kersey / Photo by Adriana heldiz

San Diego City Councilman Mark Kersey announced he has raised more than $325,000 for his campaign to replace state Sen. Joel Anderson in the 38th Senate District. Anderson is termed out.

Kersey is trying to establish himself as the dominant candidate for the seat. His main rival is former Assemblyman Brian Jones.

It could be more interesting than that, though, as everyone waits to see what happens with U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter.

Hunter told KUSI the other day he was anxious to see the end of the FBI investigation into his spending of campaign contributions on personal items.

“I think that the longer they drag this out, the worse it is for me, and they know that,” Hunter said.

If charges are on their way, Republicans would prefer to have it resolved sooner than later too.

The nightmare for the GOP would be to have charges come just before the election while Hunter remains a candidate. If it can be resolved sooner, and Hunter steps down, Jones would likely be interested in the seat. But so would Anderson and other well-situated local Republicans.

It’s an attractive, relatively safe seat for the GOP.

County Assessor Feels Heat

San Diego County Clerk Ernie Dronenburg / Image courtesy of NBC7 San Diego

Obscure Race, Real Challenger: Matt Strabone, the lawyer running for County Assessor/Recorder/Clerk against the incumbent, Ernie Dronenburg, got a backhanded compliment from one of Dronenburg’s staff members this week.

Jordan Marks, who recently became a special assistant to the assessor is also well known in political circles.

Marks sent a fundraising plea to members of the Lincoln Club asking for their help with Dronenburg’s campaign.

“One our own is need of help. Ernie Dronenburg, Jr. – our Lincoln Club endorsed candidate for County Assessor/ Recorder/ Clerk –  has a challenger that is real,” Marks wrote. He pointed to an article in Politico that discussed the race and a PAC that was supporting Strabone.

Not So Fast: We asked Marks about it. He downplayed his plea that Strabone needed to be taken seriously, calling it a routine fundraising tactic before the year-end reporting deadline.

In an email, he said it’s “hard for incumbents to raise money especially when their opponent are weak with no experience and no platform.”

Strabone got an early endorsement from the county’s Democratic Party in his bid for the low-profile seat. For 2018, county races can still be settled in the primary if one candidate breaks 50 percent. With just two contenders, this one will be decided in June.

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