Politics Report: BIA's Big Decision
Will the BIA remain right? The mayor reacts the police shooting of a homeless man. About leadership and Tucker Carlson’s father.
The local chapter of the Building Industry Association has long been a fixture of the region’s business-conservative establishment. Along with groups like the Chamber of Commerce, Restaurant Association, San Diego Association of Realtors and Associated General Contractors, it’s been a reliable constituency and donor base for Republican candidates and causes.
But just as the region’s politics shifted, giving way to a comfortable Democratic advantage in every influential agency in the county, something funny happened – the politics of land use and housing development changed too. Suddenly, increased homebuilding was a central goal of the ascendant Democratic coalition. The BIA’s audience changed, but its work was as relevant as ever.
Now, the organization needs to choose a new leader.
Borre Winckel is retiring. He led the group for the last 12 years, and his love for building single-family homes in undeveloped areas was matched only by his love for provoking environmentalists and the legislators who passed housing regulations.
In a 2018 blog post titled “Elitist Environmentalists Strike Again,” for instance, he ridiculed the state and local push toward urban housing development as part of a climate-focused agenda, arguing it would crush the state’s economy and that its supporters were indifferent to poverty.
So, yeah, not exactly a pal to the transit-bike-urban apartment vision championed by YIMBYs.
The group is now at a crossroads: Do they continue betting on sprawl, and their ability to strong-arm it through local governments? The BIA was the biggest supporter of the successful countywide No on A campaign a year ago, which would have put all such sprawl projects to a popular vote, and many of its members specialize in those projects, not the new infill alternative urbanists prefer.
Or do they pivot, and look to embrace the changing politics and demographics, by becoming something closer to a YIMBY group, or transit- and housing-focused interest groups adjacent to it? At some point, it won’t make sense to keep fighting the last decade’s land use disputes.
The group’s next leader should suggest where they’re going. They could bring in anyone from a conservative firebrand to a progressive urbanist – or something in between, like a business-friendly moderate who might not lead the charge on development as intersectional politics, but who can at least play nice with the county’s increasingly powerful progressive flank.
Police Shooting Draws Mayor’s Concern, or No?
This week the city released disturbing footage of a San Diego police officer shooting three rounds into a homeless man, who had been eating a bowl of something when he reached into his back pocket, after a police officer asked him repeatedly about a knife. As the U-T noted, when the footage came out, the Police Department slightly but significantly altered their earlier description that the man had threatened the officer with a knife. They ended up saying he reached for a knife, “which threatened” the officer.
Lisa Halverstadt was interviewing the mayor soon after video came out and she asked about this incident.
“I think the video speaks for itself, and I certainly have very strong opinions about it. I recognize it is part of a defined process now and we will see what happens, but we certainly have a lot of work to do to make sure we’re doing homeless outreach in a way that doesn’t involve people getting shot,” he said.
There was some discussion among reporters and others whether this was him saying he was really concerned because the video was so obviously bad but that he needs to wait for this process to play out. Or whether he was not saying, in any way, what he thought about the video or the officer’s actions.
On the big week in state politics: Sara Libby’s Sacramento Report is loaded this week. Leading the review is the multibillion-dollar deal on reopening schools that some legislators say will not open schools.
On unions in schools: One of the things former Mayor Kevin Faulconer claims is that he would be able to get school communities back together. That Gov. Gavin Newsom has failed at this effort and thus, we should recall him. But Faulconer has not outlined how exactly he’d get school campuses open. Schools are not opening because teachers do not feel safe and have been unwilling to return, and they have a de facto veto because they are united.
So would he go after that power? Faulconer told Politico’s Mackenzie Mays that he would not suspend collective bargaining and force teachers back to classrooms.
“I think it’s about sitting down at the table and demanding results,” Faulconer said. “Keeping our schools closed is not what I would accept.”
About that sort of leadership: This reminded Andrew of when, many years ago, Faulconer was running for mayor and he promised similar leadership to deal with a civic dilemma. Faulconer supported the effort to revoke the plan to separate Barrio Logan’s homes from its polluting businesses with a new land-use code that would change the area over time. The shipbuilding industry and neighborhood had come to an agreement but not on a few specific points. Faulconer would not take a position on those points but he said he would resolve the impasse with leadership as mayor. It remains unresolved.
Chargers Stadium content: The Politics Report knows that many of you miss stadium news. You remember the days when we could tap into that stream of journalism that always giveth: the stream of endless, scandalous, enthralling stadium politics content. Well, there’s just the podcast for you coming out. On Tuesday “Bolted” will debut. It’s a history of the Chargers in San Diego and their march out of town. Scott talked with the producers for a couple hours about the politics, policies and leadership stumbles during that period.
MTS Board Pursuing Transit Advocate’s ‘Free Transfer’ Policy
The Metropolitan Transit System could soon make a big change, allowing riders who purchase one-way tickets to enjoy free transfers to other buses or trolleys.
The fact that riders need to buy multiple tickets – or purchase a relatively expensive day pass – to take multiple legs of a trip has been a sore spot for transit advocates for a while now. At the start of the year, the transit advocacy group Circulate San Diego sent the agency a letter urging it to consider a change that would allow free transfers.
“This inequity disproportionately impacts low-income riders, who are stuck paying twice for a one-way trip,” Circulate wrote.
The agency’s full board in January told MTS staff to study the idea, which came before the agency’s executive committee this week for approval. It’s now set to go before the full board.
MTS staff concluded that it was in a distinct minority among 16 similar agencies by not allowing transfers (that conclusion was … odd, in that the staff report emphasized it in reverse. Instead of highlighting that the majority of agencies provided free transfers, staff instead emphasized that MTS was not alone in charging for them).
In the end, staff suggested making the change. The committee approved allowing riders using the system’s new “PRONTO” fare card to transfer for free, redued the cost of youth passes for one-way trips, and rejected a proposal to set a default fare increase in 2025.
San Diego Councilman Sean Elo-Rivera, who serves on the committee and had been a vocal advocate for providing free youth passes in his previous job as director of Mid-City CAN, praised Circulate for its advocacy on the issue.
“I don’t want to be the elected now who takes credit for being on a committee for two meetings, and now this happened,” he said. “There’s a culture shift that’s happening throughout various government bodies in San Diego. From the County Board of Supervisors to the City Council and MTS and SANDAG, these are large institutions, and there’s some immediate changes that happen when people in the decision-making seats change, but there’s also – in institutions of this size – there’s time required for the institution as a whole to change. Some of this was set in motion by AB 805, and realigning power. But also what we’re seeing now is the product of work by previous boards, to look at transit different in general, and the way fares are impacting communities.”
Tucker Carlson’s Father
A dispatch from VOSD contributor Randy Dotinga: The main villain of a new HBO documentary series is none other than Dick Carlson – a former local TV reporter, father of a famous talking head and major candidate for San Diego mayor in 1984 who somehow managed to lose in a landslide while outspending an indicted incumbent.
“The Lady and the Dale,” which chronicles a con artist’s remarkable life, paints Carlson as a craven sideshow barker who reveled in exposing transgender people in the 1970s. He did it not once but twice.
The first time, when Carlson worked in Los Angeles in 1975, he outed the subject of the documentary – a genius of self-promotion named Liz Carmichael who made headlines by trying to develop an ultra-low-mileage, three-wheeled sports car called the Dale. Accusations flew that she was ripping off investors, and Carlson revealed she was a convicted swindler who’d changed her gender.
This was news. But Carlson refused to take Carmichael’s gender switch seriously although the documentary proves it was clearly genuine. In one news report, Carlson referred to Carmichael as “she, or rather he,” said she’s “in actuality a man,” and described her as looking “harried, bedraggled” in a “pink pantsuit” that she’d apparently worn for days.
“I know Liz,” Carlson chuckled in an interview for the documentary. “That had to be just terrible … He really disliked me, I have to say.” No wonder: Carlson testified in Carmichael’s trial and insisted on using male pronouns for her even after the judge told him to knock it off. “I thought it was ludicrous, and I didn’t think I had to,” Carlson declared.
For her part, Carlson said Carmichael paid money to have him killed. The documentary doesn’t clear up whether this really happened.
In 1976, Carlson was working at KFMB-TV/Channel 8 here in San Diego when he got a tip about player Renée Richards at the La Jolla Tennis Club’s summer tourney. While she was playing as a woman, Richards had earlier undergone a sex-change surgery after living as Dr. Richard Raskind.
Much later, Richards told a San Diego reporter that she begged with Carlson to keep her secret: “I said, ‘You can’t do this. I am a private person. His reply? ‘Dr. Richards, you were a private person until you won that tournament yesterday.’”
Carlson insisted on telling viewers that “he’s a man.”
Susan Stryker, a transgender professor at Mills College who studies gender and appears in the documentary, told me this week that Carlson exemplifies the media’s tendency to paint transgender people as “evil deceivers and make-believers.”
“He wasn’t an outlier,” she said, “although he clearly has a prurient interest in trans women.”
Now in his 80s, Carlson clearly has no regrets, cavalierly telling the filmmakers that transgender families like Carmichael’s are mentally unhealthy: “If you didn’t think that was kind of sick, you would think Jeffrey Dahmer was a normal person.”
A few years later, Carlson ran for San Diego mayor in 1984 against Roger Hedgecock, the then-indicted incumbent. The former TV reporter, who’d by then married a frozen-foods heiress, made his way into a one-on-one runoff in which he was accused of gay-baiting and then lost by a whopping 58-42 percent to Hedgecock. Carlson went on to head the Voice of America (and get into hot water) and become ambassador to the Seychelles, an island nation with fewer citizens than El Cajon.
Carlson’s son, Tucker, the high-rated Fox News host, who grew up here, rails against transgender rights and fixates on restrooms.
While “The Lady and the Dale” is fascinating and compelling, it turns Carmichael – who spent her life ripping people off – into a kind of heroine. And it fails to dig deeply into whether she brainwashed family members and employees who developed a cult-like devotion to her.
But the documentary doesn’t need to transform Dick Carlson into a mean, small-minded relic. He did that all on his own.