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Politics Report: Housing Policy – and a Hiccup – at SANDAG

Ron Roberts / Photo by Sam Hodgson

SANDAG is figuring out how much housing the region needs as part of a feckless state program.

Few cities ever meet the state mandates, and the state does nothing about it. Our friend Liam Dillon did a fantastic investigation into just why it’s a largely meaningless endeavor.

But it does indicate where housing politics currently stand.

Back and forth: In March, state officials previewed San Diego’s next empty mandate: The region would need to build 171,000 homes between 2021 and 2029. Regional leaders freaked.

Led by La Mesa Councilman Colin Parent, a SANDAG subcommittee last week rejected staff’s idea to ask the state to lower San Diego’s load, from 171,000 units to 116,000 units. It said they should accept the state target.

But the full board today flipped again, voting to ask the state to lower San Diego’s regional housing need.

Two Eye-Catching Quotes

  • Santee Mayor John Minto, on building seven-story developments in Santee: “I’ll have a ghetto-like situation. The projects. So that’ll be great, we’ll bring the East Coast here, like New York or Chicago.”
  • County Supervisor Ron Roberts, on San Diego’s failure to provide adequate housing: “Government officials, with the help of their community, have failed. That’s why the number is so big. It doesn’t matter how big the number is, because we aren’t going to make it. … We can’t build in the rural area, because it isn’t the urban area. We can’t build in the urban area, because the urban area doesn’t want it. … Everyone has some excuse about why you can’t do it in our area; until that changes, it won’t matter what number you pick. It’s a total failure to respond in this community. It’s a failure at every level. … Sites in some of these cases are right across from a trolley station. You try to do something, label it affordable and it’s like you’re building a nuclear reactor.”

The contentious vote could have marked the first use of SANDAG’s new trump card, but didn’t.

AB 805 last year revamped SANDAG, allowing a minority of its cities that represent a majority of the population to overrule a majority of cities that don’t.

But for some reason, the jurisdictions that voted “no” –San Diego, San Diego County, Imperial Beach, Escondido, La Mesa and Solana Beach – didn’t use their not-so-secret weapon.

We can think of three possibilities.

  1. They forgot.
  2. They didn’t want to play hardball.
  3. The “no” votes were just for show.

Two More Ballot-Box Zoning Measures

The site of the Mission Cove apartments in Oceanside. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

San Diego County might not be the only jurisdiction looking at a ballot measure that would put major development decisions to a popular vote.

Proponents of that initiative are still collecting signatures, eyeing the November ballot.

Oceanside and Santee could do something similar.

Santee Councilman Stephan Houlahan is pushing the Save Santee Initiative, which would require a popular vote for any project that would increase density above the city’s adopted growth plan. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

In Oceanside, the Save our Open Space and Agricultural Resources initiative has already qualified for the November ballot. It would require a popular vote to change zoning for agricultural land or open space. (KPBS)

♦♦♦ Interlude ♦♦♦

Scott has been chronicling all the campaign mailers he receives, and that others send him, on this thread on Twitter.

♦♦♦ End Interlude ♦♦♦

Dumanis Gets Woke

Former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is a candidate for county supervisor. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

We had former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis on the podcast this week. It was a wide-ranging discussion about her past and her plans for the role of county supervisor. (Dumanis, a Republican, also discussed President Donald Trump. She’s not a fan.)

But perhaps the most interesting moment came when Sara Libby asked about prosecutions Dumanis pursued against alleged gang members — charging them for crimes prosecutors acknowledged they didn’t do because they were associated with gang members who did. Several of those charges, using Penal Code Section 182.5 of the criminal code, were thrown out by a judge.

Dumanis said she experienced an awakening about the plight of people of color.

When it was filed, it was with good intentions and with a legal theory  because 182.5 isn’t a whole lot different than 182, which is a conspiracy theory anyway. But the community had come to us with nine deaths, wanted it to stop and we wanted to use all the tools in our toolbox.

That was irrespective of any race or anything else. But when I heard back from the African American community and they started talking with me and I started doing some research, I’ve, I’ve watched the the Netflix series “13th,” I’ve watched the, a six-hour KPBS one from slavery, to the vote, or whatever it’s called. It was a really good six hours and then another one, two hours and a lot of other things. And when I sat down with him and heard what they were saying is that: In history and in time, the black community has been like a big, huge net cast over them to find ways to prosecute or, yeah, to prosecute and put them in jail or prison for reasons that no one can really explain. But, that’s not something that was first and foremost in my mind because it was just any gang to me.

But when they spoke to me about that, I really, you know, felt passionate that it was, it was something that could be used in that way.

And I said I didn’t want to do it anymore. And I haven’t. And I’ve said I’m sorry about that.

We’ve now completed all our interviews with the District 4 county supervisor candidates. You can listen to our conversations with: Nathan Fletcher, Ken Malbrough, Omar Passons and Lori Saldaña as well.

Lynch Back in the Newspaper Business

John Lynch / Photo by Paul Body

At our Member Coffee this week, we got asked for our take on the future of the Union-Tribune under its new owner, Patrick Soon Shiong, who is the wealthiest man in Los Angeles.

It seems good. Tronc, the company, was a mess. “Task One for me: to ensure that we have a newsroom that stands up to the likes of the Washington Post and New York Times,” Soon-Shiong told the L.A. Times.

The problem: The sale has not closed yet. It has been several months, and the U-T and L.A. Times are still Tronc papers.

We checked in with Ken Doctor, our favorite media business analyst. Basically, there are a lot of intertwined systems between the L.A. Times, U-T and other Tronc papers. Unraveling them is delicate and difficult.

But here’s another interesting point: Soon-Shiong still owns about 25 percent of Tronc. His rival, Michael Ferro, the former chairman of Tronc, is selling his 25 percent stake. That deal is supposed to close next week.

Doctor speculated that Soon-Shiong may wait for that deal to close to see what happens with Tronc itself.

Maybe the unraveling of the L.A. Times and U-T from Tronc doesn’t have to be so complete.

Also! One of the investors buying out Ferro is none other than John Lynch. Yep, that John Lynch, the mercurial former CEO of the Union-Tribune.

Crucial Fifth Avenue Landing Deal Close, But Sticky

Proposed Fifth Avenue Landing Hotel / Rendering courtesy of Fifth Avenue Landing

Last week, the Port decided not to hear an update on the permitting application of the Fifth Avenue Landing hotel project. It was yet another sign that a deal is close between the partnership that holds the Fifth Avenue Landing lease, the Port and the city.

The dealmaking: It sounds like they’ve settled on a number for how much the city and Port will pay the guys to drop the hotel plan and make way for a Convention Center expansion. Signature-gatherers are steadily making progress to get it on the ballot.

The problem: The timing. If the city agrees to pay, say, $30 million to the partnership to walk away, the money would probably come after the initiative to expand the Convention Center is approved by voters in November. They’re aiming for two-thirds approval.

What happens with the Fifth Avenue Landing deal if the initiative only gets 55 percent of the vote? They’re running it as an independent ballot initiative — and forcing donors to cough up potentially more than $1 million gathering signatures — just because they think this may happen. If it does, they want to rely on the Supreme Court’s ruling that indicates initiatives with just a majority of votes can raise taxes.

The legal effort to prove that’s enough may be protracted, and the Fifth Avenue guys will want to proceed with their hotel.

The scenarios: If the city pays them off, but then loses the legal battle, well, that would be a mess. If the city doesn’t pay them off, and wins the legal battle, they may have to pay more (and they’d have a fat new tax increase to pull from). If they make a deal just based only on the initiative getting two-thirds approval, then they should save donors the money and just put the measure on the ballot via the City Council and not all this signature-gathering.

2020 Mayoral Primary List Refined

Chris Cate and Todd Gloria / Photo by Scott Lewis

It was Assemblyman Todd Gloria’s 40th birthday this week. Many of the well wishes he got were from people who would like to see him run for mayor. Here’s our updated list of potential 2020 mayoral candidates.

  • Todd Gloria
  • Scott Peters
  • Chris Cate
  • Shelley Zimmerman
  • Barbara Bry

Bry has what one source told us is a typical syndrome of first-term City Council members: They see how much more they could do if they weren’t City Council members, and how much more fun it would be to be mayor.

Cate is no doubt buoyed by the news he got recently from the attorney general’s office that he would not face criminal prosecution for giving a confidential city attorney memo to the developers of SoccerCity.

Zimmerman has made a couple of political endorsements lately, in civilian clothes. She hasn’t actually said she’s a Republican, that we know of.

What’d we miss? Send tips and ideas for the Politics Report to scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org and andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org.

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