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

The traditionally risk-averse Metropolitan Transit System board elected a new chairwoman yesterday: Georgette Gomez, who is perhaps the most liberal member of the San Diego City Council.

As our Andrew Keatts writes, Gomez’s ascent is a sign of changing dynamics in San Diego’s political culture. Former Councilman Harry Mathis, a Republican, had been chair of the 15-member MTS board since 2006.

Another sign of the times: Mayor Kevin Faulconer showed up at the meeting. He doesn’t normally attend. He said Gomez was “the right person at the right time” to oversee the region’s largest transit agency. The change in leadership came because new legislation — passed in the wake of a scandal at the San Diego Association of Governments — required that MTS’s board be led by someone on the board. Until now, the chair could be anyone in the county.

The way Gomez, who used to work at a environmental advocacy group, talks about public transportation alone is a change. In a Facebook post on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, she quoted King talking about how urban transit had “become a genuine civil rights issue… If transportation systems in American cities could be laid out so as to provide an opportunity for poor people to get meaningful employment, then they could begin to move into the mainstream of American life.”

At times, MTS has seemed to take a very dollars-and-cents approach to things. The agency itself has often cried poor, but the new law gives MTS the authority to ask voters to raise taxes, which is sure to be a major decision facing the agency under Gomez’s guidance.

County Supervisor Ron Roberts, a Republican, had previously indicated he was interested in leading the MTS board, but Roberts quickly removed his name from consideration at Thursday’s meeting.

Escondido Walks Line Between Feds and State on Immigration

California’s lawmakers set out to limit how much local police could cooperate with immigration enforcement efforts. But there are so many gray areas and exceptions that police departments may be able to cooperate with federal immigration agents without violating any state mandates.

As our Maya Srikrishnan writes, the Escondido Police Department must soon decide whether to accept a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. To get it, the department had to agree to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement – something in conflict with California state law.

Or maybe it’s not in conflict at all. Escondido’s police chief said they could comply with the federal government demands without violating state laws intended to restrict cooperation with immigration enforcement.

The Future of Teachers Unions

Our podcast Good Schools for All is back after a hiatus. This episode: a roundtable on the future of teachers unions. Scott Lewis and the Workforce Partnership’s Laura Kohn hosted three members of educator unions in the podcast studio along with a local school district superintendent. At San Diego Unified School District, the union and district officials are currently in negotiations. There is no contract.

The union is also considering a new teacher-evaluation system, though it’s not part of the current negotiations. And they all had a lot to say about a pending U.S. Supreme Court decision that could have a major impact on teachers union funding and thus politics at all levels.

Amazon Says No to San Diego

Amazon plans to build a second headquarters – but not in San Diego or Chula Vista. Both cities were considered long shots among the 238 cities trying to lure Amazon. The company announced 20 finalists on Thursday. Only one, Los Angeles, is on the West Coast.

Cities across the country offered all kinds of subsidies and tax exemptions. Chula Vista, for instance, offered Amazon $410 million in free land, property tax breaks and other sweeteners.

Mark Cafferty, CEO of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, the nonprofit that took the lead on putting together the San Diego region’s proposal, said he got a call Thursday from an Amazon representative to say the region wasn’t a finalist.

“When I asked him for any additional feedback on where our proposal could have been stronger, he almost seemed unprepared to answer this and began reading more prepared statements,” Cafferty said in a direct message on Twitter. “So all in all, we got no valuable feedback and aren’t sure if we will get any in the future.”

The San Diego region lacks a few things that might attract a company like Amazon. Housing prices are high, public transit isn’t good and the main airport only has one runway.

But if Amazon had said exactly why the region didn’t make the cut, civic leaders could then go about trying to make improvements.

In Detroit, it seems officials got some indication from Amazon why they fell short: Amazon said “an insufficient talent pool in the region was the main reason,” according to the Detroit Free Press.

If that were a problem for San Diego, it’s certainly something people could see coming from a mile away. Fast-growing Chula Vista has long hoped to attract a new university, but state officials have ignored the city, instead creating a new UC campus in Merced, a slow-growing Central Valley city that has less than a third of Chula Vista’s population.

“While there is no way of knowing if an additional university in the Chula Vista region would have been a difference maker for the Amazon application process, there is no doubt that universities and their talent development capabilities play a big role in all tech and science-related sight selection,” Caffety said.

There’s a legal argument to be made that these sorts of races to lure a new company’s facilities – often races to the bottom – violate the U.S. Constitution’s sweeping commerce clause. In 2012, the New York Times looked at how cities, counties and states offer over $80 billion in subsidies to companies.

As our Jesse Marx recently reported, at an October meeting during which the Chula Vista City Council approved its Amazon proposal, Solana Beach developer Lee Chestnut said he’d been trying to entice big tech companies for three years to Chula Vista, but he conceded, “we probably won’t win.”

Gasps could be heard inside the council chambers. Mayor Mary Salas appeared shaken, waited until Chestnut was done speaking and said, “You said we can’t win, but I think we’ve already won.”

In Other News

A half-dozen finalists for San Diego police chief are being interviewed in secret. Some people have pushed to make the process more transparent. (Union-Tribune)

More agencies across the country are suing FieldTurf for selling them defective artificial turf. San Diego agencies have not joined the fight, even though fields at schools continue to fall apart, as an investigation by our Ashly McGlone found. (Forbes)

The union representing 11,000 San Diego County government employees is starting a petition to change how county elections work. Service Employees International Union Local 221 rolled out a ballot measure to make sure every candidate for county office faces voters in the fall. Right now, candidates for county office can win outright during a primary if they get a majority of the vote. SEIU already backed a new law that made changing county elections easier, part of its broad effort to change county government policies, which are largely set by a conservative, all-Republican Board of Supervisors.

President Trump tweeted on Thursday about the border wall, contradicting his chief of staff’s comments that the president was “uninformed” about one of his signature campaign issues, so inewsource decided to do a post with the facts we know about the current wall/fence across the border. (inewsource)

San Diego’s Green Flash Brewing is cutting distribution and laying off 15 percent of its workforce, citing a “shifting” craft beer market. Employees in local tasting rooms and Green Flash-owned Alpine Beer, an early craft beer industry darling, are spared. It seems Green Flash is getting squeezed like a lot of medium-sized breweries where it’s hard to compete on price or volume with all the large brands (including fake craft beers from Anheuser-Busch InBev) and also hard to compete on appeal against new, small local breweries in each market. Green Flash owner Mike Hinkley told West Coaster, a San Diego beer publication, “The industry has continued to grow more crowded and complex in recent years. Big Beer’s acquisitions and consolidation of the biggest brewers created pressure from the top. Thousands of small brewers opening across the country created pressure from the bottom.”

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