Politics Report: MTS Takes Its Show on the Road - Voice of San Diego

Politics UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Politics Report: MTS Takes Its Show on the Road

Council President Georgette Gomez has a lot going on at the moment, but she says the MTS ballot measure is hands down her top priority.

MTS held an Elevate SD 2020 meeting in City Heights. / Photo by Andrew Keatts

The Metropolitan Transit System has been conducting outreach meetings throughout the region, trying to gauge what residents want out of a potential 2020 tax measure to expand transit services.

They took the show to City Heights Wednesday night, and roughly 80 residents showed up to participate. The effort now goes by Elevate SD 2020, and for this event there were translators and childcare to help reach an audience that might not otherwise be able to weigh in.

One of the event’s exercises, familiar to anyone who’s been to public planning sessions like it, gave the attendants five stickers that they could place on any of 11 posters representing different ways MTS could hypothetically spend new tax revenue – stuff like provide access to jobs and education, help seniors and disabled people get around, make service more frequent, help the environment or reduce congestion.

To Wednesday’s crowd in City Heights, the overwhelming top priority was providing cheaper fares. Making services faster and more frequent got plenty of support, too.

Not popular? Reducing congestion, improving roads and freeways to support transit, and directly connecting transit services to more destinations.

Now, it was just one of many events, and even a large focus group is not an academic study or a scientifically valid poll.

Nonetheless, it’s a useful reminder that for many of the people who are most invested in the region’s transit system – either because they already rely on it, or would truly like to – the idea of making it cheaper, faster and more reliable takes precedence over the big and expensive projects that would extend it to more areas, which more often get the attention.

Gómez: Elevate SD 2020 Is My Top Priority

Georgette Gómez / Photo by Megan Wood

We chatted with Council President and MTS Chair Georgette Gómez at the event, while she was moving through the crowd and listening to small groups brainstorming their three top wishes for the region’s system.

Gómez has a lot going on right now. Her signature policy on the City Council, a plan to make developers pay for or build more low-income units as parts of their housing projects, is up for approval on Tuesday. She’ll also oversee the Council’s Rules Committee last week as it decides which ballot measures will go to city voters next year. That includes potential changes to the city’s independent auditor and reforms of the city’s police watchdog group.

But Gómez said the MTS measure is her top priority, bar none.

She told us that she’s instructed her schedulers to make sure Elevate SD-related commitments take precedence over other issues, all else being equal.

MTS’s board still has quite a while before it needs to finalize a measure or commit to putting it on the ballot. That wouldn’t need to happen until next summer.

But Gómez said they’d hope to do that a bit sooner, probably in the spring, so they could get a head start on transitioning the effort into a full-blown political campaign run by an outside committee, rather than the agency itself.

Holy Noli

Noli Zosa / Photo courtesy of Noli Zosa

Everyone in politics is waiting for the fundraising totals for the first half of the year to come out next week. But some of the candidates most proud of how they did have disclosed their results early.

One of the bigger surprises was Noli Zosa, a Republican running for District 7 on the San Diego City Council. That’s the seat Councilman Scott Sherman is vacating next year. Zosa, who co-founded the restaurant chain Dirty Birds, raised $113,000.

His allies were stoked.

Councilman Chris Cate, who endorsed and promoted Zosa early, pointed out that it was far more than Cate himself raised in his first reporting period. (It’s a bit apples to oranges, which we can explain further down if we remember to.)

“To raise over $110,000 in the first reporting period, as a first-time candidate, shows his connection to the communities and puts him in a strong position to win the seat,” Cate told us.

Zosa’s consultant, Stephen Puetz, was also thrilled. And he offered a framing for how he sees early numbers for candidates.

“Anything under $50,000 is pretty bad. Anything over $100,000 is excellent. Anything between $75,000-$100,000 is really good,” he said.

How about the other candidates: One well-known candidate is Democrat Wendy Wheatcroft, whose efforts to pursue regulations on firearms has given her public visibility.

She told us she raised about $35,000.

“My campaign has been grateful for every contribution and every volunteer that has already helped us reach over 4,000 residents in District 7,” she wrote to us.

San Diego City Council candidate Wendy Wheatcroft speaks at the San Diego Women’s March in Waterfront Park. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

But another Democrat put up an especially impressive number of his own.

Raul Campillo, an attorney in the San Diego city attorney’s Office, is also running as a Democrat. Campillo grew up in El Cajon and moved back to San Diego County and District 7 from Los Angeles last summer. For months, there have been rumors that he was raising a lot of money, and would clearly establish himself as a viable candidate once the figures became public.

Raul Campillo / Courtesy of Raul Campillo

Campillo confirmed to us Friday that he has brought in more than $88,000 from about 550 donors.

He said he’s looking forward to paying his campaign staff a living wage, after he signed the Campaign Workers Guild’s pledge to give his staff labor rights and fair wages.

“This will allow me to do mail and digital communications, but we’ve got a long way to go,” he said.

What to look for when fundraising disclosures go public: San Diego Unified Trustee Kevin Beiser has been all but silent since he was accused of sexual harassment and assault by four men who were former campaign workers or political associates.

Despite the allegations and his refusal to speak publicly, he’s continued to go through the motions of running for City Council in District 7, sending representatives to community meetings and official campaign requirements. His disclosures could show how seriously he’s continued to campaign.

More about District 7: It used to be solidly Republican but has been a swing district for a while. Sherman held onto it after winning outright in the primaries in 2016 and 2012. But winning outright in primaries is no longer possible, thanks to 2016’s Measure K.

More about more about District 7: The district overwhelmingly supported Hilary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race, 56 percent to 35 percent. It also favored Democrat Gavin Newsom for governor over businessman Republican John Cox, 59 percent to 41 percent.

More about money: Remember, you don’t need the most money to win a race. Lots of rich dudes can tell you it doesn’t guarantee a win. But you do need enough to compete.

_______ for Auditor 2022?

Scott Sherman
San Diego City Councilman Scott Sherman / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

A bit more on that proposed change for the auditor: As we mentioned earlier, Sherman has proposed a ballot measure that would take the responsibility to appoint a new city auditor away from the mayor’s office, as the Union-Tribune reported Thursday.

The auditor is an independent position, with a term that stretches beyond any one mayor, meant to closely examine city operations in search of any problems or areas for improvement. The office releases regular reports on different city functions with recommended policy changes, all of which go before a Council committee for approval. It was created in the aftermath of the city’s pension crisis.

The state goal of Sherman’s measure is itself interesting, and has an undeniable logic. Sherman doesn’t think it makes sense for an independent auditor to be appointed by the very official who runs the city apparatus that she’ll then be tasked with watch-dogging.

But Sherman’s pitch was open-ended, leaving alive the possibility to remake the auditor into a fully elected position, like the city attorney (which is itself an appointed role for other local governments).

That would be a major shift in the city’s governance structure, and could reasonably mean for a major change in how the city’s auditor goes about overseeing how well the city is taking care of its business.

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