Politics Report: Chula Vista Shaky on Transit Tax, Says Mayor - Voice of San Diego

Politics UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Politics Report: Chula Vista Shaky on Transit Tax, Says Mayor

Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas attends a VOSD live podcast recording / Photo by Megan Wood

It is not certain that the Metropolitan Transit System will put a sales tax increase on the ballot for the areas that are served by the agency (which includes the cities of San Diego and the ones to the east and south). The board would still have to vote to do that.

But it probably will next year.

MTS has been preparing to do so for many months.

One board member, though, is not completely, uh, on board. At our live event Wednesday, Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas said her constituents may not be so excited to raise taxes again. Chula Vista has raised its sales tax twice in the last four years. The sales tax in Chula Vista now stands at 8.75 percent.

“I think the appetite for another tax is going to be a real tough sell. As I was telling our executive director at SANDAG, you know, we have to be more creative but looking at how we generate revenues, who knows what that particular vehicle is,” she said.

When we asked if she would oppose an MTS tax hike, she didn’t go that far.

“I’m not saying I would oppose. I’m just saying it would be very, very, very difficult for the public to accept it,” she said.

She said SANDAG and MTS should keep other tax options besides sales taxes on the table as they look to raise revenue in the future.

Also Salas: ‘Hell No’ to Supervisor Run

That’s all. We had heard she was maybe considering running for county supervisor in the South Bay seat Supervisor Greg Cox is termed out of next year.

We asked if that was true. “Hell no,” she said.

State Sen. Ben Hueso, Nora Vargas, an executive with Planned Parenthood, and Port Commissioner Rafael Castellanos have enough to battle over without her. But that’s not all. Sophia Rodriguez, a county employee who’s a Health and Human Services specialist, is also running.

There’s a forum for the Democratic candidates July 29 in Coronado.

Building Trades Boss Going to Stick With Union Stuff

Tom Lemmon is the business manager of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Last week, Tom Lemmon, the leader of the San Diego Building Trades Council, an alliance of construction industry unions, told supporters he wasn’t going to run for District 2 on the county Board of Supervisors. The seat, long held by Republican Supervisor Dianne Jacob, was assumed to be a Republican seat. President Donald Trump won the district 49-44 over Hillary Clinton and John Cox won it 54-46 over now Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“I believed this might be the time to take our movement’s work in a new direction, by making the case to the people of District 2 that they deserve better and more than what they’ve been raised to expect. It still is, and you can bet that I’ll be part of it. However, I’ve decided that I’ll best serve our communities by staying in my current role in Labor and therefore, I will not be running for the County Board of Supervisors,” he wrote to supporters.

That’s kind of a key line: He’s staying. Part of the conversation about his run had centered on what looked like his decision to pass the torch in the labor movement to younger leaders.

Doesn’t look like that’s happening.

And with Lemmon’s fold, the battle between Poway Mayor Steve Vaus and former state Sen. Joel Anderson for the Republican lane can rage on.

The Dem in the Race: Meet Kenya Taylor

Kenya Taylor / Photo courtesy of Kenya Taylor for Supervisor

When Lemmon dropped out (though he never formed an official committee so maybe it was more of an annulment of his race) he called Democrat Kenya Taylor, a Democrat running for the seat.

“She’s delightful, passionate. She clearly represents a vision the Democratic Party has for the future,” he told us.

We connected with Taylor briefly. She said she wants to see people in East County have better career opportunities even if they don’t go to college.

She seemed intensely focused on the mental health crisis in the county.

“There are opportunities for people to get help if they’re having mental health problems but only if they are having major problems. But sometimes, when people start to struggle mentally, they’re not able to function, they lose their job and then they suffer more. We should help more people early on before they reach that point – we should not make them wait until they get worse and then have economic problems too,” she said.

Sound and Fury at SANDAG

Hasan Ikhrata / Photo by Megan Wood

After weeks of protests, opponents of a new direction for San Diego’s transportation system tried and failed Friday to kill the idea before it really got started.

But the marathon hearing at the San Diego Association of Governments demonstrated just how much things have changed at the agency, and that Mayor Kevin Faulconer has emerged as the most powerful figure on the board, after aggressively avoiding the agency at all costs at the start of his administration.

It also managed to clarify some of the issues that have been unclear during an ugly public dispute, leaving some opponents of the agency’s new direction less concerned than they had been.

Last month, County Supervisors Kristin Gaspar and Jim Desmond led a charge to put SANDAG’s new direction up for a referendum. SANDAG Director Hasan Ikhrata calls the concept 5 Big Moves, a set of principles his staff will use to write the agency’s next long-term transportation plan for the county, which won’t be adopted until 2021.

But Gaspar, Desmond and others immediately balked at the concept, arguing it was unfair to the northern and eastern parts of the county that rely more heavily on cars because it was too focused on improving transit. They pushed for a board discussion to decide whether to pursue the idea at all, or start from scratch yet again, arguing it didn’t make sense for staff to spend time writing a plan based on principles the board didn’t even agree with.

It turns out, the board is on board with Ikhrata’s direction – at least for now.

Faulconer took charge. He jumped in and made a motion to support the agency’s current direction to build a plan that complies with state and federal climate laws, after Ikhrata had said earlier this year that a plan in line with the region’s previous plans couldn’t pass muster with the state, along with reasonable and transparent revenue assumptions.

But he also offered a fig leaf to the disaffected officials, emphasizing that the plan should make a point to prioritize congested transportation corridors in North County and East County. He repeatedly emphasized that the plan should include both freeway and transit improvements.

A dispute on language. SANDAG Vice Chair Catherine Blakespear, the mayor of Encinitas, didn’t love that language. She wanted to make the motion more general, so staff wasn’t directed to emphasize investments in any one part of the county over another. But her substitute motion to focus on every corridor in the county ultimately failed.

Faulconer’s motion passed easily. Blakespear and two others voted against Faulconer’s motion, but the rest of the board supported it – even Desmond and Gaspar, who had forced the board to decide whether to continue the agency’s direction in the first place.

But not so fast! Gaspar then circled back to a previous conversation over congestion pricing, or attempting to manage traffic by charging drivers to use freeways. She had asked earlier in the meeting what Ikhrata had in mind, and he said SANDAG was only really looking at what’s already in place on the I-15 – where single drivers can pay to use HOV lanes.

“If your concern is congestion pricing like London did and New York is doing, that isn’t part of the vision,” he said.

But he refused to rule out any sort of dynamic pricing mechanism at this stage, arguing staff needed flexibility to explore and study all options so they could be sure that they could comply with state emissions reductions laws.

Gaspar’s request to forbid study of congestion pricing narrowly failed.

A Shepard-Led, Bry-Briggs Ticket?

Fifteen years ago, the Union-Tribune heralded “the return of the kingmaker” after veteran political consultant Tom Shepard successfully engineered former Mayor Jerry Sanders’ defeat of former Councilwoman Donna Frye in 2005’s mayoral election. That was the third successful mayoral campaign Shepard had run, and he later added a fourth when he took over former Mayor Bob Filner’s campaign in 2012.

Shepard is now running Councilwoman Barbara Bry’s campaign against Assemblyman Todd Gloria. But it was a small gesture in another race that caught our attention this week.

On Monday, Shepard shared on Facebook a news story announcing Cory Briggs’ entry into the city attorney race. He didn’t write any comment, just shared the story.

But it got us wondering whether that meant he was running Briggs’ campaign, too. So we asked him.

“Not at the present time,” Shepard wrote in an email. He did not respond to whether that meant he would be at some point in the near future. Briggs also did not respond to our question about whether he had hired Shepard.

There would be some natural synergy between Bry and Briggs’ respective citywide campaigns. Bry has leaned hard into a distinction between herself and Gloria on housing production, and has criticized her opponent for courting the endorsement of a local Democratic group based around supporting new home-building. It was in that context that she said developers and like-minded lawmakers were “coming for our homes.” Briggs, back when he had said he was running for mayor, had likewise done so entirely around opposition to proposals by Faulconer to make it easier for developers to build more homes in taller buildings throughout the city. With a shared consultant, perhaps Bry and Briggs could run mayoral and city attorney campaigns on something of an anti-development ticket.

Doing so would represent a 180-degree change for Shepard. He repeatedly found himself on the other side of an anti-development candidate in the 1990s.

Peter Navarro is now President Donald Trump’s director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy. He built a name in San Diego politics in the ’80s and ’90s through his group, Prevent Los Angelization Now, or PLAN. In 1992, he ran for mayor against Susan Golding, whose campaign Shepard ran. Shepard also ran campaigns against Navarro for City Council and Congress.

Last year, Shepard told us that Navarro’s anti-development views were consistent with the anti-free trade position that made him a trusted adviser to Trump.

“They’re both fundamentally populist messages that start from the presumption that someone is out to screw us and we have to do something drastic to right these wrongs,” Shepard said.

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