Morning Report: All Eyes on Council President Race

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Morning Report: All Eyes on Council President Race

Councilwomen Jen Campbell and Monica Montgomery at Golden Hall on election night in 2018 / Photos by Adriana Heldiz

Right after the newly elected City Council members are sworn in next month, they’ll choose a new Council president, who is in charge of setting the Council’s docket and making committee appointments. The five new Council members this year are facing a bit of a new challenge.

Typically, the race for Council president happens behind the scenes. Only the nine Council members have votes on the decision. Lobbyists, activists and institutional groups line up behind their favored candidates, but that positioning only comes out publicly if reporters sleuth it out.

This year, Councilwoman Jen Campbell and Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe have decided to take the whole ordeal public. Montgomery Steppe told us last month she was running, then supporters of hers created a website outlining who was standing with her. Campbell confirmed to us a week later she was running after people inside and outside City Hall had urged her to do so, and then Monday her office put out a press release announcing that she wanted the gig.

Andrew Keatts covered the… frontroom… maneuvering in a new story, outlining that it looks like groups like large institutional groups are lining up behind Campbell as a moderate option, while activists and smaller advocacy groups see Montgomery Steppe as the progressive choice.

One thing to keep in mind: Council president does not have a great track record of helping people’s political careers. Though Mayor-elect Todd Gloria (more on that distinction momentarily) is doing well now, he was ousted by a fellow Democrat from the chair in 2014 after he had been interim mayor, and played a lesser role on the Council for two years before he went to the Assembly. Former Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, who ousted him, didn’t solve her top policy priority while in the seat (short-term vacation rentals) and is now out of politics.

Former Councilwoman Myrtle Cole lost her re-election bid to Montgomery Steppe in part because constituents alleged the Council president’s role made her lose focus on the district. And Council President Georgette Gómez won the job two years ago, then lost her congressional bid last week by a wide margin.

Bry Officially Concedes

Barbra Bry
Councilwoman Barbra Bry addresses the media on election day. / Photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran

City Councilwoman Barbara Bry officially conceded the race for mayor in a Zoom call on Monday morning.

She congratulated Gloria, the mayor-elect, but had a score to settle.

“As the campaign progressed, I became more aware of what I will quite frankly, call a culture of corruption. And it was the special interests in this town who have benefited from this over the years. Who’ve spent a lot of money, uh, beating me,” she said.

She also offered that residents “want a voice in shaping the character of their neighborhood, not one-size-fits-all dictates from Sacramento politicians.” 

As Lisa Halverstadt noted last week, a majority of San Diegans did vote to fund affordable housing and to lower the coastal height limit, in addition to electing Assemblyman Todd Gloria, who for his part says it’s time for San Diego to act like a big city.

Perhaps to Bry’s point, though, coastal neighborhoods most opposed to development were not part of that majority to OK Measure E, the height limit measure.

Which brings us to …

Midway and Beach Neighborhoods Supported Measure E the Least

In the latest Environment Report, MacKenzie Elmer (with an assist from election analyst Vince Vasquez) breaks down where Measure E received the most and least support.

In the Midway District, the neighborhood actually impacted by the effort to axe the height limit there, it saw less support than in other neighborhoods. That holds true in other coastal neighborhoods like Point Loma and Ocean Beach, the latter of which opposed the measure. 

Farther from the coast, neighborhoods seem to have approved the measure overwhelmingly.

Breaking: Gómez Wants to Ice Franchise Agreement Bidding

San Diego City Council President Georgette Gómez sent a memo to Mayor Kevin Faulconer announcing that she would not be scheduling the dramatic revealing of the bids companies have submitted to take over the gas and electric franchise agreement.

For 50 years, San Diego Gas and Electric has had the exclusive right to run power and gas lines through city streets. That deal is expiring and bids were supposed to be submitted recently for companies that may want to take that over. The process is extremely choreographed. We don’t know how many or if other companies submitted bids. It was all going to need to be revealed in an open City Council hearing where the best deal had to be taken after a sort of open auction when the top bid is recognized.

Activists have been urging the city to delay and Gómez is now echoing some of their concerns.

“Granting these franchises is a momentous decision for the City Council that should not be rushed, especially when a new Council and a new Mayor are about to be inaugurated,” she wrote.

Mayor’s office not pleased: “It is irresponsible to San Diegans to disregard a potential agreement that enjoyed interest from the energy industry with over a billion dollars in revenue for San Diego’s climate and equity goals on the line. It is the obligation of the City Council to conclude the process by opening the bid(s) before we consider other alternatives,” said Aimee Faucett, the city’s chief operating officer, in a statement to KPBS.

Complete Communities Passes (With a Caveat)

The San Diego City Council passed Monday a bundle of policies aimed at boosting the sort of dense, transit-friendly housing on which the city has pegged its future, but rejected a related proposal to change how new development contributes to park funding.

The policies, branded together by Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s administration as “Complete Communities,” made their way for Council approval during the lame duck period after new Council members have been elected, but before they’ve been seated.

The housing section of the proposal had been controversial this summer, but the mayor’s office made substantial changes and managed to win over outside opponents and the Council. It is the plan that the mayor first unveiled in his State of the City address in 2019, in which he called for removing height limits near transit stations. It is now an optional program developers can enter, agreeing to provide rent-restricted apartments in their project in exchange for being allowed to build bigger buildings. They must be near transit and in areas that already allow dense apartments, and the benefit they receive depends on how far they are from downtown.

The city made the program available in fewer places, with less benefits and more significant requirements for low-income homes, and with more protections to prevent displacement, to address criticisms. But since it’s optional, it’s now no longer clear how many developers will choose to use the program, given the new requirements.

Complete Communities is also the city’s way of meeting a state requirement already in effect in which cities need to measure the effect new development has not by how much traffic congestion it creates, but by how many new miles of driving for which it is responsible. The city’s plan charges a fee to developments that increases as they get farther away from the urban core, which it uses to pay for transit- and bike-friendly projects in the urban core.

The City Council rejected a plan to revamp park funding, with Council members arguing the plan felt rushed.

Remember This Scandal? The Mexican Billionaire and the 2012 Mayor’s Race

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday that Ravnit Singh was sentenced to one year in prison “for conspiring with Mexican billionaire Susumo Azano to make almost $600,000 in illegal political contributions to candidates Bonnie Dumanis and Bob Filner in the 2012 San Diego mayoral campaign in an effort to buy ‘a friend in the Mayor’s office.'”

The U.S. attorney’s office put in the explanation that Azano was trying to build “a San Diego waterfront development project with a yacht marina, a branded five-star hotel and luxury bayside condominiums.”

But as we explored in a multi-part investigation several years ago, Azano had a lot of other things going on and he wanted friends in high places in U.S. politics to deal with it. In particular, he was involved in a bitter feud with San Diego-based Sempra Energy and he hoped to resolve some legal problems with the company by starting some legal problems for it in this country.

Lighter sentence: This is actually a lighter sentence for Singh than he had gotten before. He had been sentenced to 15 months but appealed and had it thrown out.

Side note: The U.S. attorney for San Diego is Robert Brewer. He ran against Bonnie Dumanis while she was an incumbent district attorney.

In Other News

The Morning Report was written by Andrew Keatts and Sara Libby, and edited by Scott Lewis.

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