Politics Report: Mayor Working to Save Council President - Voice of San Diego

Politics UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Politics Report: Mayor Working to Save Council President

Mayor Kevin Faulconer helped shut down two planned expenditures from the right that were going to help Myrtle Cole’s challenger, Monica Montgomery. Then the mayor himself helped raise money for Cole.

Councilwoman Myrtle Cole / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Mayor Kevin Faulconer and his political team have been working behind the scenes to support Council President Myrtle Cole’s re-election, two sources confirmed to us. Faulconer helped shut down two planned expenditures from the right that were going to help Cole’s challenger, Monica Montgomery — who also happens to be the more progressive candidate.

Then the mayor himself raised money for Cole. Over the last month, dozens of the mayor’s allies — from former Port Commissioner Steve Cushman and Lincoln Club board member Mike Turk to longtime lobbyist Nikki Clay — have donated to Cole. Cushman, as we reported recently, is back — charged by the mayor to help lead the campaign to get a Convention Center expansion done. He’s been lobbying the City Council for a special election this spring and lining up support for sympathetic candidates.

Cole had previously enjoyed the support of the mayor and conservatives on the Council when she first ascended to Council president. But then she earned their enmity by siding with labor and stripping Councilman Scott Sherman of his spot on the Council’s Land Use and Smart Growth committee. She further alienated the mayor when she spurned his desperate request for a special election for the Convention Center in August.

Now, the unions aligned with the Building Trades Council and others support Cole.

She, in other words, has about as much institutional support as you can get for a race like this. She has unions working for her and she the mayor covering her from the right.

The Labor Council sent out a mailer accusing Montgomery of — gasp! — working for a Republican. Actually, it was a “top City Hall Republican while he opposed raising the minimum wage and blocked police reform.”

That “top City Hall Republican” for whom Montgomery worked was … Faulconer, who supports Cole.

A Big Week in Politics — and Policy

We haven’t seen a week in local politics like this in a while. Sometimes there are big weeks in campaigns. Sometimes there are big weeks in public policy.

This week was both.

First: Monday, the San Diego City Council rescinded regulations that would have set the stage for a crackdown on vacation rentals across the city. We thought for sure they’d let them go to the referendum.

It seemed like the easiest political path: The fiercest opponents of vacation rentals — Councilwoman Barbara Bry and Councilwoman Lorie Zapf — could stick with their success and try to defend it in a referendum. Now, Bry has agreed to go back to the drawing board. They’re barred from passing something substantially similar for one year so they’ll have to pass something more amenable to Airbnb and the other companies.

Councilwoman Barbara Bry / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Bry seems to think the mayor could, right now, eliminate all vacation rentals based on the 2017 memo from city attorney Mara Elliott that declared vacation rentals an illegal use of land. She argued that because short-term rentals are not included in the list of uses for homes in San Diego, they were illegal.

But the mayor declined to enforce that interpretation and the city continues to collect taxes on the short-term rentals.

The city, in other words, is a total mess on vacation rentals.

Zapf wanted to fight it out at the ballot. Bry seems confident the Council can come to a compromise soon. After all, the 105th time’s the charm, right?

“We could pass something in the January/February time frame. We honestly can’t do something before then,” Bry told Voice of San Diego’s Lisa Halverstadt this week.

Second: Faulconer made a huge decision this week to get the city into the energy business. He’s decided San Diego should form an agency to replace SDG&E as the purchaser of power for many  residents. He wants other cities to join him in a joint-powers authority.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

Ry Rivard did an excellent job explaining how this all happened and then providing some answers to FAQs about how this all will work.

Your intrepid Politics Report staff talked to the mayor and looked him deep in the eyes and asked if he really, truly, definitely, undoubtedly, sincerely, absolutely, wanted to do this or whether he, you know, sees the writing on the wall and just decided to get in front of it.

He said he was genuinely into it. He read his staff’s business plan and said it was good and he felt like it would help decentralize the whole system and make it more competitive.

“Who doesn’t like competition?” he said.

It’s not very conservative for a government to take on such a new and complicated proposition. The politics of Community Choice Aggregation — as this path is known — aren’t always so cleanly left vs. right. Unions have sometimes been skeptical of the deals, for example.

Kevin Dayton, a policy consultant and conservative who has studied the agreements, tweeted the most optimistic take from the right.

“Community choice and municipal public power agencies can have better rates than investor-owned utilities – IF governed prudently. But unions, environmental activists and social justice groups want to control them. Business and taxpayer groups must monitor closely – forever!” he wrote.

Montgomery Takes to Her District

Public defender Genevieve Jones-Wright, District 4 City Council candidate Monica Montgomery and SEIU political director David Lagstein participate in a voter education forum at Lincoln High School. / Photo by Andrew Keatts

Montgomery may be running against the mayor, his allies, the Democratic Party and organized labor all at once, but she’s got a powerful force on her side: a grassroots coalition of District 4 residents.

That was on display Wednesday night when she held a nonpartisan voter education forum at Lincoln High School along with her friend and political ally Genevieve Jones-Wright, a public defender who unsuccessfully ran for district attorney this spring.

Jones-Wright came up short, but her campaign tapped into a criminal justice-minded voting block in the Council district where Montgomery is now running.

Wednesday, Montgomery mostly put her campaign aside, inviting proponents and opponents for 10 ballot initiatives to make their cases to more than 100 voters who were invited to interrogate them on the issues. Montgomery and Jones-Wright (mostly) kept their thumbs off the scale, except to cut off questioners who went too long.

“We do have our opinions – and most of you know that,” Montgomery said, to laughs from the crowd. “But tonight is about having an educated community.”

But at three different points, the advocates on stage decided to play to the crowd by cozying up to the night’s popular hosts.

  • An audience member asked a proponent of Prop. 10, which would make it easier for cities to enact rent control measures, if she had any indication whether local officials in San Diego would act on rent control if voters approve the measure.

“Well, I know there is one candidate in District 4 who said she would pursue rent control,” said Paula Martinez-Montes, from the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, as Montgomery smiled and the crowd showed its appreciation.

  • During a contentious debate over the competing initiatives to redevelop the former Chargers stadium property, SoccerCity (Measure E) proponent Sean Duffy threw a crowd-pleasing zinger at Measure G.

The SDSU West plan on the ballot as Measure G, and opposition to Measure E, he pointed out, were being financially supported by developers Tom Sudberry and H.G. Fenton.

“And those are the people responsible for stopping two campaigns that are very important for you and I,” he said, before pausing and dramatically looking toward Jones-Wright and Montgomery, to make clear to which campaigns he was referring.

Sudberry and his family members have donated nearly $3,000 to Cole’s re-election bid. And Sudberry and Fenton are two of the top contributors to the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee, which sponsored a committee that spent over $200,000 to defeat Jones-Wright in the spring.

  • Jones-Wright lifted the veil when it was time to discuss Measure D, the initiative to force all county races to a November general election. Jones-Wright’s campaign ended in June due to the county’s current election rules.

She told the crowd that the county supervisors who opposed the measure were unwilling to come make their case. But David Lagstein, political director to SEIU 221, a union that supports the initiative, came to make the case. He quickly drew the connection to the crowd that Jones-Wright would still be running if Measure D would already be in place, describing a hypothetical situation in which a criminal justice reformer runs for district attorney but loses in June when turnout is lowest due to current rules, with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek and the crowd eating it up.

Zapf in Trouble?

Campbell Zapf
Candidate Jen Campbell (left) and Councilwoman Lorie Zapf are running to represent District 2 on the San Diego City Council / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The Building Trades Unions formed a committee called San Diegans Against Hate to wallop Zapf with negative mailers in the closing weeks of her campaign. The messages have been brutal.

They think she’s vulnerable.

They also provided us with a poll by Lake Research Partners they commissioned that shows Zapf 10 points down to rival Jen Campbell with very high negatives. The poll was of 350 likely voters in the district and included no positive or negative statements about the candidates.

Obviously these are internal polls and Republicans have polls of their own. But it’s still quite a shocking sample.

We talked about the District 2 race: in this week’s podcast.

Civic San Diego Resolution Looms. Again.

Reese Jarrett
Reese Jarrett, former Civic San Diego president, stepped down earlier this year with the agency in chaos. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

For months, attorneys for the city and a former Civic San Diego board member have been negotiating the future of the embattled downtown development agency. The negotiations, spurred by a 2015 lawsuit by labor-affiliated former board member Murtaza Baxamusa, are poised for a resolution early next year.

Maybe. We’ve heard that before.

At a Friday court hearing, Baxamusa’s attorney Steven Coopersmith told Superior Court Judge Richard Strauss that he and the city have reached an overarching agreement and can now take steps to close the deal after a recent setback.

“Unfortunately, there was a roadblock for political issues and we were able to move past that roadblock really just recently, so both sides are now committed in writing to finalize the settlement that we have,” Coopersmith said.

That sounds familiar. In June, Coopersmith and the city told Strauss they had resolved their issues and scheduled this hearing as the expected end of the ordeal. So much for that.

Strauss reluctantly agreed to give the city and Coopersmith until early February to wrap things up.

After the hearing, both Coopersmith and Chief Deputy City Attorney Travis Phelps declined to comment on the “political issues” Coopersmith described to the judge.

But another political issue may still loom over the case, which alleged the city broke the law by granting permitting authority to Civic.

The City Council will have to sign off on the settlement, and there will be at least one new City Council member come December. Three sitting City Council members are also vying to hold onto their seats. New City Council members could bring with them new demands or concerns about the agency, which has been engulfed in chaos following whistle-blower allegations of poor oversight, conflicts of interest and lacking internal controls.

Faulconer, business interests and developers have for years fought to preserve Civic, which they say fast-tracks projects and reduces development costs downtown. Meanwhile, labor interests aligned with Baxamusa who have bolstered influence at City Hall have pushed for far more City Council oversight, labor agreements and even the potential dissolution of the agency.

Lisa Halverstadt

San Diego’s Partisan Strongholds

San Diego’s most Democratic, Republican and independent cities and precincts. / Map by Ashley Lewis

For nearly 150 years, through two world wars and massive growth, San Diego County loved the Republican Party. From 1860-2004, only a handful of Democratic candidates for president managed to win over county voters. JFK couldn’t do it. Neither could Al Gore, John W. Davis or James M. Cox (no, we’re not making those last two up).

We liked Republicans so much that Ronald Reagan called us his “Lucky City” and ended his presidential campaigns here. And in 1964, we were one of only five counties in the state that didn’t join the national landslide for LBJ against Barry Goldwater.

In other words, we were deep, deep red for a very long time. Orange County-style red. (Not red enough to ever support Abraham Lincoln, the original Republican president, but that’s another story.)

A new hue: For a decade now, the county has gone blue, voting for both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. We may stay that way. As of Sept. 30, 36 percent of voters in the county are Democrats, 28 percent are Republicans and 30 percent are independent.

We searched voter registration statistics for outliers because we’re extreeeeeeme. Here’s what we found:

  • Most of the 18 cities in the county have more Democrats than Republicans, including cities that may seem GOP-friendly such as Solana Beach, Encinitas, La Mesa, Vista and tiny, rich Del Mar. The most Democratic city is National City.
  • Only six cities have more Republicans than Democrats: Carlsbad, El Cajon, Poway, San Marcos, Santee and Coronado, where all those retired Navy admirals have produced the most Republican city in the county.

   As a whole, unincorporated areas — including towns outside cities like Fallbrook, Lakeside and Ramona — are GOP strongholds too.

  • In some cities, the gap between Democrats and Republican registration is measured in dozens of voters or a few hundred. Republicans are in danger of being overtaken by Democrats in El Cajon and San Marcos; Del Mar and Oceanside could easily go Republican.
  • The most Republican precinct is in East County’s town of Alpine. The most Democratic precincts aren’t in places you might expect, like Hillcrest or the neighborhood known as the People’s Republic of Ocean Beach. Instead, they’re in Encanto (part of the historically black southeastern San Diego area) and the upscale northern stretches of Normal Heights.
  • The precinct with the highest percentage of independent voters covers UC San Diego. It looks like political parties aren’t doing a good job of wooing college students, at least those of the UCSD Triton variety.

Randy Dotinga

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