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Morning Report: A New Convention Center Ballot Fight Is Brewing

The San Diego Convention Center / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

For almost two years now, we have been talking about a ballot initiative in the city of San Diego that would raise hotel room taxes to fund an expansion of the Convention Center, homeless services and road repair.

It finally has a spot on the ballot but not until November 2020. The mayor wants that to be March 2020, and so does labor.

In a new story, Scott Lewis explores the major pushback that plan [1] is getting, including from City Councilman Chris Ward, who represents downtown, and wants to leave the November 2020 ballot measure in place and perhaps put a rival measure on that ballot as well.

It’s a major, though not shocking, defection.

That has left him and activists on the left at odds with labor unions and Mayor Kevin Faulconer. And the unions are really in. One group, Alliance San Diego, said labor leaders cut the organization off from a partnership to help union members become citizens because of their advocacy against the mayor’s plan. Andrea Guerrero, the group’s executive director, had strong criticisms of labor.

Correction: An earlier version of this story  misstated how many Republican members are on the City Council. There are only three. If they support the mayor, they’ll still need two Democrats to support his plan.

Sign of the Times: Airport Authority Inks Project Labor Agreement for Terminal 1 Revamp

In a sign of San Diego’s changing political dynamic, the Airport Authority agreed Thursday to start negotiating a union-friendly labor deal for its $3 billion plan to rebuild Terminal 1.

Ten years ago, the same agency redeveloped Terminal 2 into the state-of-the-art facility it is today. Then, the Airport Authority flatly refused to enter into a so-called Project Labor Agreement, which stipulates wages and benefits for construction workers and mandates that contractors hire through union halls. The agency has proudly touted that the project came in on time and under budget.

But the Airport Authority’s plan to redevelop Terminal 1 has faced opposition from the beginning and has already been delayed at least a year at an estimated cost of $100 million. By agreeing Thursday to the PLA, the Airport Authority’s board could have evaded one more obstacle that could have delayed the project further.

Agency staff argued to the board that the economy today is so different than it was in 2009, when it rebuilt Terminal 2, that its reasons for refusing a PLA then no longer apply. Labor is in short supply, so striking an agreement that guarantees it won’t face a work stoppage is a worthwhile trade-off for making it harder for non-union contractors to compete for work, staff said.

The resolution passed narrowly, with County Supervisor Jim Desmond leading the opposition. San Diego Councilman Mark Kersey, a Republican, voted in favor of the decision after radio talk show host Carl DeMaio threatened to campaign against him on social media if he did. Kersey did propose an amendment directing staff to negotiate an agreement that addressed some concerns of PLA opponents around how employee health care and pensions are paid for.

PLAs remain contentious issues for non-union contractors and business groups like the Chamber of Commerce that view them as increasing costs. But as Democrats have won more elections countywide, the politics around them are clearly changing. Ten years ago the Airport Authority felt comfortable refusing to ink one for a major capital project. This time around, it didn’t bother with a fight.

A Recent History Refresher …

Reminder: Bold Plans Don’t Always Lead to Bold Policies

In this week’s Learning Curve, Will Huntsberry examines Sen. Kamala Harris’ plan to boost teacher pay, and to offer pay incentives [7] for teachers who work in struggling schools.

When then-Sen. Barack Obama was running for president, Huntsberry notes, he too had a bold education proposal to replicate the Harlem Children’s Zone, which floods a neighborhood with all kinds of services from early childhood through high school. But Obama’s plan didn’t end up bold in practice: It never received anywhere close to the type of funding it would need to truly scale out the Harlem program.

As Harris’ plan moves forward, Huntsberry said he’ll be keeping a close eye on the provision to provide teachers in struggling schools extra pay. “California teacher’s unions have historically been in favor of raises,” he writes. “They have not been in favor of providing extra pay to keep teachers in the most underserved schools.”

Border Patrol Pursuits Are Growing More Dangerous

If you feel like you’re constantly hearing about car crashes involving Border Patrol officers, you’re not wrong.

A first-of-its-kind analysis by ProPublica and the Los Angeles Times (undertaken after Border Patrol refused to provide numbers and documents) shows deadly crashes involving Border Patrol pursuits are increasing [8] under the Trump administration – and many have happened in San Diego.

Last year brought the most pursuits in every district in the period examined, even as apprehensions for illegal border crossings did not increase significantly over prior years,” the analysis found.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump is walking back his threat to close the U.S.-Mexico border [9].

In Other News

The Morning Report was written by Andrew Keatts and Sara Libby.