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Politics Report: Don’t Ask Richard Bailey About Trump (or the Recall)

Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey recently announced he was running for Congress in the 52nd District or however the district is known after redistricting. As it stands, he would face Rep. Scott Peters, who has held the seat since he ousted Republican Brian Bilbray in 2012.

Bailey is a Republican and the district, once pretty close, is leaning pretty hard to the Democrats. It went for President Biden 62.2 percent to 33.6 percent for former President Trump. Bailey has been an outspoken critic of public transportation plans in the region and the state’s housing policies and goals to mitigate and prevent climate change. He’s a proud owner of firearms and advocates for access to them.

But he’s not going for a polarizing message. The Politics Report caught up with him for a short interview (which was edited for clarity).

Why are you running?

Voters are kind of exhausted by hyper partisanship we’re seeing on both sides of the political spectrum and I’m excited to bring a fiscally responsible and socially respectful platform forward.

What is socially respectful?

Recognition that the role of government is to protect people’s right to live the life they choose even if it’s not the life you personally would choose.

Would you blame Democrats for that hyper partisanship?

All of our leaders have a responsibility to tone down the rhetoric and turn up the nuance on how we address various issues. I think there’s plenty of blame to go around on all sides and the ones that seem to be rewarded tend to be more hyperbolic and extreme.

And Scott Peters in particular? Is he fueling that? Do you have any specific concerns about how he’s representing the district?

I think it’s a problem throughout. We’ll be happy to litigate that as the campaign unfolds.

Did you support Donald Trump for president?

One of our rules for our campaign is we’re not going to be speaking about any politician or any party. If there are specific questions about policy, we’ll be happy to answer those. One of the problems with our national dialogue is if an idea comes from a Republican, it alienates half the country. If an idea comes from a Democrat, it alienates half the country. Our campaign will be exclusively about policies not party.

Do you support the recall next week?

We’re just going to focus on policy. If there’s a question on policy, I’m happy to answer it.

OK, how about housing? Scott Peters has a very urbanist view of housing and believes expanding housing within cities is vital. In Coronado, you’ve resisted housing development. What is your approach to the cost-of-living crisis we seem to be facing with housing costs at the center of it?

One thing the state of California has to recognize is there are two competing interests at play. The state is seeking the densification of neighborhoods with a top-down approach for environmental purposes — they want to consolidate people in smaller places so that they can limit the greenhouse gases emitted on the drives. But when you remove a large swath of land from what can be developed, it’s going to drive up housing prices.

Going back 20 years ago, you did see a lot more housing being developed out into East County and there were affordable opportunities. Now by removing a lot of that land from developing, you’re going to drive up the value of land and housing costs.

In Coronado — we haven’t been resistant, we’re the most densely populated city.

We really should be taking the Coronado approach to government. Taking a top down approach doesn’t work for some municipalities and some have done more than their fair share and Coronado is one of those based on current density.

Does that mean you don’t accept the theory that carbon emissions by humans are creating climate change and an existential threat to civilization?

I accept the climate is changing but not the alarmism that has manifested itself in our conversations. We should be stewards of our environment in pragmatic way.

What other policies particularly animate you?

One of my concerns, I teach economics at University of San Diego, is the inflationary pressures we’re seeing. We’re hoping their transitory in nature but we’re seeing the greatest inflationary pressure since the 1980s. It’s reckless to double down on spending. It is extremely risky to have higher inflation with high unemployment. It’s going to be a very painful period if stagflation does materialize.

Ultimately, we can’t keep spending at the same level now and expect inflationary pressures to go away. Look at the money created over the last two years. It’s something we have to reign in.

The Big Environmental Decision Facing the County

The proposed site of Lilac Hills Ranch, a housing development in the unincorporated county rejected by voters in 2016. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors is set to discuss Wednesday one of the biggest environmental decisions it’s likely to face in the coming years.

Faced with implementing a state law that’s already in effect, the county needs to decide how it will deal with the contribution that new development makes to carbon emissions.

But while the county grapples with how to comply with the state law — as the city of San Diego did last year, though facing an easier task because it doesn’t have to regulate development in expansive backcountry areas — it’s also facing a lawsuit filed last year by environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, which argues that a set of principles the county adopted to help it shape its new development regulations violates the new state law and California’s landmark environmental law, CEQA. That trial is set to begin this fall. And a coalition of business, development and housing groups has formed to urge the county to pursue a more dovish posture on the new regulation, though it’s unclear if that’s even an option, based on recent guidance from the state’s planning department.

In the middle of all this is the Board of Supervisors, where it’s unclear whether the Democrats, and their 3-2 advantage, share a common aim.

The issue is over SB 743, legislation passed in 2013 that said local governments should no longer analyze how developments affect transportation based on how much they slow traffic — a measure called “level of service,” or LOS — but by how much overall driving (and therefore environmental damage) the traffic is likely to cause. That standard is called “vehicle miles traveled,” or VMT.

The county’s fight is over how, specifically, to measure VMT. In explicit guidance provided on an FAQ from the state department of planning’s website, the state said that counties should compare the per person vehicle miles traveled created by a new project to the vehicle miles traveled by an average person in the entire county. Projects that come in comfortably below that countywide average would be considered VMT efficient and would have a much easier time getting approved. Projects comfortably above that threshold could find it nearly impossible to get approved.

In practice, the VMT efficient areas are basically those along the western edge of the unincorporated county area [1], nearest to the existing cities, or in parts of the county planned to be villages, like Alpine and Ramona.

Business and development groups, meanwhile, have been pushing the county to adopt a threshold that will be easier for housing projects in the unincorporated county to meet — one that compares projects instead to the average VMT of a person who lives in the unincorporated county, not the whole county.

That’s become a more difficult ask now that the state has said, about as explicitly as it can, that the law calls for a countywide average.

Yet the county is also facing pressure from the environmental groups suing it who may want an even more rigorous standard than the one proposed by the state.

Earlier this year, the board effectively punted the measure when it asked county staff to study a series of 13 questions on the decision and to come back in January 2022 with answers when it could make a decision.

But now, on Wednesday, county staff is asking the board to rescind a previous decision [2] to use a document as it wrote its final policy that relied on the average VMT of just the unincorporated county — before coming back in January to make further decisions. It’s not at all clear, though, that there are three votes available to make that decision.

IBA Retiring, End of an Era

Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

When the city of San Diego switched to a strong-mayor form of government, and the mayor became the chief executive of city staff rather than the presiding member of the City Council, the architects of the change decided the City Council should have someone independent to analyze city financial issues.

They created the office of the Independent Budget Analyst. Since then, almost 16 years later, that job has been held by Andrea Tevlin. She announced Friday afternoon she was retiring effective Nov. 12.

Voice of San Diego has been around about that long too and we have talked to Tevlin roughly 16,000 times. She’s been an invaluable source of research to not just the City Council but journalists across the city seeking to make sense of the infinitely complex municipal finance world.

We asked her why now and she said she was 68 and “that’ll do it.”

“I’m really proud of how much the office is respected and how useful it is. People said we couldn’t be independent but we have been. The next person needs to be strong and stick to their facts,” she told the Politics Report.

The City Council will decide on its own who replaces Tevlin.

The World Turns

This week, the city attorney sought the City Council’s approval to waive any conflict of interest concerns the campaign for Measure C could hire the firm Colantuono Highsmith Whatley PC, specifically attorney Michael Colantuono, to help the city validate its decision that Measure C passed in March 2020.

Measure C is the hotel room tax increase that would fund the expansion of the Convention Center, homeless services and road repair. The city’s position is that because Measure C was a citizens’ initiative, it passed and the tax should go up, but several groups have different arguments about why that isn’t accurate.

The city’s theory follows other cities that all followed a 2017 Supreme Court ruling. That’s the one that said the whole section in the California Constitution that includes the two-thirds vote requirement for special tax increases in the constitution does not apply to citizens’ initiatives.

At the time, this news organization and others, like local attorney Cory Briggs, immediately recognized the significance. Citizens’ initiatives, if they could raise taxes easier, would explode as options across the state for governments trying to do things like expand Convention Centers.

One person who didn’t think so?

Michael Colantuono.

He called [3] the ruling in 2017 and interpretations that it would have effects like this “much ado about nothing.”

It may be because a big part of his practice had been about helping governments or people around governments come up with ways around the two-thirds requirement. He helped the city, for example, come up with a plan to raise the hotel room tax but in a roundabout way to avoid being deemed illegal and contributed to the Convention Center expansion’s permanent place on the list of San Diego Specials.

Self plagiarization alert: Here’s how we previously described [4] the opponents’ point of view. These are the arguments that Colantuono now has to overcome:

First, Alliance San Diego and its lawyers argue that the city told voters — twice — in its official ballot descriptions that the measure cannot pass without two-thirds of the vote. It can’t change the rules afterward. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association filed suit and made a similar argument.

Donna Frye, a former city councilwoman and now an open government advocate, has also joined. Her allies and lawyers argue something different: that this was not actually a citizens’ initiative after all. It may have gotten on the ballot because of signatures from citizens but the city, led by the mayor, was so deeply involved in it, it should be considered a government initiative.

Correction: We originally wrote that the city of San Diego was seeking to hire the firm Colantuono, Highsmith and Watley to help it prove that Measure C was legally approved by voters to raise the hotel tax. But the firm is actually being hired by the Yes! For a Better San Diego campaign that supported Measure C, not the city. The city was asked to waive any conflict of interest for the firm.

If you have any feedback or tips for the Politics Report, send it to scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org.