Morning Report: The Pro-Housing Mayor in a Housing-Averse City
Catherine Blakespear is a pro-housing politician who serves one of California’s most housing-averse cities. How does she keep getting elected?
In a new profile, Kayla Jimenez lays out the tension facing the Encinitas mayor. For years, Blakespear has been at the center of one polarizing debate on housing, homelessness and transportation after another.
She’s held firm, though. Twice in recent elections, Encinitas voters considered housing plans and rejected them, earning the scorn of California regulators. Blakespear described the whole saga as a “black eye” on Encinitas and “an embarrassment.”
The chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party applauded Blakespear, but her views on housing and homelessness are not necessarily the norm in Encinitas. Politically speaking, she’s in an awkward position, and perhaps nothing demonstrates that better than her city’s recent decision to sue some of its own residents.
Over at SANDAG, which she hopes to chair someday, Blakespear has become one of the agency’s most effective advocates for its pro-transit vision, despite hailing from North County, where most mayors are focused on road improvements.
One of Blakespear’s City Council colleagues also gave her high marks for remembering that she represents not only the loudest people in the room, but the quietest and the vulnerable.
“I’m a progressive person who’s very environmentally oriented, and I’m outdoorsy and sporty and young with a family,” Blakespear told a housing-themed podcast last fall. “And I think all of those things resonate for a lot of people in the city.”
One resident particularly angry over Blakespear’s decision to support a parking lot for the homeless said she plans to challenge Blakespear for mayor.
SB 50 Comes Up Short in Senate Vote
SB 50, the controversial bill to allow far more home-building near transit, came up short in a vote in the state Senate Wednesday. The bill had a majority among the senators who voted, but some abstained, which meant it didn’t cross the needed vote threshold to pass. Sen. Scott Wiener, the bill’s author, said he plans to bring the bill for a vote again Thursday, the last day it could pass out of the Senate.
San Diego Sen. Ben Hueso, a co-author of the bill, cited his experiences watching development battles in southeastern San Diego as evidence of the need for the measure.
“The community I live in, southeast San Diego, had a community plan that was updated in 1987, and in response to high crime rates, the leaders of the city at that time decided to downzone. A lot of residential zoning that allowed six units was downzoned to two units,” Hueso said. He argued that’s created a disincentive to fix or rebuild dilapidated units.
Hueso also shot down many critics’ attacks on the bill.
“Is it going to destroy residential zoning as some people claim? No. Does it go as far as some people fear it might? Absolutely not. But will it make a difference? Absolutely yes, it will,” he said.
- In an op-ed, Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey blames “feel good” policies at the state and local levels that make housing development unnecessarily expensive. He makes the case that, while well-intentioned, environmental laws, rent control and inclusionary policies hurt the very people they purport to help.
San Diego Officials Call for a Comprehensive Surveillance Ordinance
The city’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee unanimously rejected a policy governing its smart streetlights, and instead asked officials to draft a more comprehensive ordinance that’ll define how surveillance technologies can be purchased and used.
“It is no secret that we live in a technological era, and no denying the benefit of this technology in crime-solving,” Councilwoman Monica Montgomery, who chairs the committee, said. “However, allowing technology to show up in our neighborhoods unannounced and uncontrolled erodes trust between our communities, city officials and law enforcement.”
She and others pointed Wednesday to rules approved in 2018 in Oakland that bar officials from sharing any data collected on surveillance devices with third parties and elevates the discussion and disclosure of those technologies. It also provides whistleblower protections.
In general, it forces the city to think more carefully about the costs and benefits of surveillance technologies, including software, and the ways in which those technologies might change in the coming years.
Activists and researchers also urged officials Wednesday to create an advisory group made up of technical experts, so the mistakes of the past aren’t repeated.
The smart streetlights were packaged as a way to save money on electrical costs and collect public planning and environmental data. To this day, the program is overseen by the city’s Sustainability Department. Months after the Police Department began accessing the camera footage to help with investigations, some City Council members said they were in the dark about the technology being used for that purpose.
- Our pal Dorian Hargrove at NBC 7 obtained numbers showing the locations and types of crimes investigated using smart streetlights. The vast majority of the footage came from downtown and southeastern San Diego. Most often, police used the footage in connection to violent crimes and robberies, but they also looked into cases of vandalism, illegal dumping and destruction of city property.
SDSU Secures Funding for Mission Valley Development
The board overseeing San Diego State University approved its Mission Valley development plan and allocated an initial $350 million for the project, clearing an important hurdle for its satellite campus, the Union-Tribune reports.
Most of the money is expected to come from the sale of Cal State-backed bonds, and the university says it plans to lease part of the site to repay the debt — all without needing to raise student tuition and fees. (We’re skeptical of that.)
In November 2018, San Diego voters agreed to give the city authority to sell the 132-acres of Mission Valley land to SDSU. A deal is supposed to be finalized in the coming weeks. The university wants to build residential units, parks, office and research space and a new stadium in time for the 2022 football season.
SDSU also released its final environmental impact report Wednesday. Have at it.
In Other News
- In 2017, San Diego loosened restrictions and fees to encourage the development of granny flats that would be rented for more than 30 days at a time. The program has been popular, but the two city departments responsible for regulating these properties aren’t checking with each other to see if the law is being violated. (inewsource)
- In an op-ed, the executive director of the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties and the CEO of Jewish Family Service of San Diego argue the so-called Remain in Mexico policy is not only “abhorrent and unjust” — it’s putting people’s lives in peril.
- Newly installed border wall panels in El Centro fell over during high winds Wednesday. (CNN)
- The national chapter of Theta Chi ousted its San Diego State members because of a hazing incident in the fall. The Daily Aztec reports that some frat boys responding by vandalizing the mansion where they live.
- Teachers union members at Chula Vista Elementary schools are protesting a district proposal that would remove a cap on class sizes for certain grades. (Union-Tribune)
- Citing a 1,000 percent increase in tobacco violations, Poway Unified School District has joined with other California school districts to sue Juul, the vaping company. (City News Service)
- Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders endorsed San Diego City Council President Georgette Gómez for Congress. Fifteen candidates are vying to replace Rep. Susan Davis, but the race is widely viewed as a horse-race between Gómez and Sara Jacobs. (Union-Tribune)
Tuesday’s story assessing San Diego Unified’s “Vision 2020” plan to put a quality school in every neighborhood misidentified one of the district schools that performs well academically despite relatively high poverty. It is Garfield Elementary.
The Morning Report was written by Jesse Marx, and edited by Sara Libby.