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Politics Report: SANDAG Executive Search ... Has to Start Over

Assemblyman Rocky Chavez tries to find a middle ground on the state’s immigration and law enforcement debate. Why the city attorney is suing both SoccerCity and SDSU West. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher makes his case to potential donors in San Diego’s cannabis community.

Former SANDAG head Gary Gallegos/ Photo by Andrew Bowen, KPBS

The San Diego Association of Governments is re-starting its search for a new executive director.

The board of directors last week re-opened recruitment, five months after selecting a search firm and weeks after narrowing the field to four finalists.

The position opened last August, when Gary Gallegos stepped down after 16 years on the job amid a scandal ignited by a Voice of San Diego investigation revealing the agency failed to disclose a series of major problems facing its sales-tax funded transportation program.

What’s next? Pam Derby, executive recruiter with CPS HR, the firm handling the search, said she was meeting with the recruitment subcommittee next Friday to begin again.

“I think the board wanted to extend the pool,” she said. “We knew from the beginning that we had an aggressive timeframe for a position of this magnitude. … I don’t consider the first attempt a failed attempt. We’ve just decided to continue the process for now.”

  • Derby said there wouldn’t be a new round of community outreach.
  • She said they would include more personalized outreach to potential candidates.
  • And where the last round had a hard deadline for people to apply, this one would be more open. “If we bring in three great candidates in the first few weeks, we’ll move to interviews,” she said.

Derby said she hopes to have a candidate identified by September.

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Congressman Leaning on Pot Donors

Jesse Marx on location: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher thanked a group of San Diego pot activists and businesspeople on Wednesday for standing by him when so many others had fled. The Orange County Republican — a Trump supporter who claims to have once lost a drunken arm-wrestling match to Vladimir Putin — acknowledged he’s fighting to keep his seat.

Democrats are trying to flip several traditionally conservative districts in Southern California, including Rohrabacher’s, which makes the relationship between the congressman and the marijuana industry so intriguing. Many of the leading marijuana lobbyists in San Diego are Democratic political consultants.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher speaking by video to members of the Association of Cannabis Professionals at Stone Brewing in Liberty Station, May 16, 2018. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

Speaking by video from D.C., Rohrabacher assured members of the Association of Cannabis Professionals who’d gathered at Stone Brewing in Liberty Station that he would continue to champion their causes in Congress.

“The mood has changed,” he said. “The public perception has changed.”

What gives? The activist crowd is loyal to Rohrabacher, despite his political affiliation, because of an annual amendment he carries prohibiting the Department of Justice from interfering in legal medical marijuana markets. Rohrabacher has also admitted to using marijuana and wrote a scathing critique of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to rescind Obama-era protections.

It’s natural that he would now seek donations from people in the marijuana industry, even those who live outside his district.

“Our money’s as green as anyone’s,” said Jared Sclar, ACP’s communications director.

In related news: The political arm of Weedmaps, a popular though controversial digital marketplace for marijuana sellers, entered the San Diego supervisor’s race this week. It gave $12,000 to another PAC that’s connected to the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council and opposing Lori Saldaña.

— Jesse Marx

The City Is Suing SoccerCity and SDSU West

Top: SDSU’s vision for the Qualcomm Stadium site in Mission Valley. Bottom: SoccerCity’s vision for the site.

Last week, City Attorney Mara Elliott announced the city is suing SoccerCity and SDSU West, the competing measures to redevelop the former Qualcomm Stadium property.

She asked a Superior Court to boot both measures from the November ballot because they infringe on the mayor and City Council’s authority.

The City Council voted in closed session last month to hire a private firm to pursue the suit.

  • Michael Colantuono, a high-profile municipal lawyer, thinks Elliott’s right. “I agree that a measure trying to force sale or purchase of property is not a proper subject of an initiative,” he wrote in an email. “In technical terms, it is an ‘administrative act’ not a ‘legislative act,’ and only legislative acts are subject to initiative.”

What Can a City Attorney Tell Private Ballot Initiative Proponents?

A statement from Friends of SDSU, the group backing SDSU West, caught our attention: “The Friends of SDSU provided the city attorney with a draft of the initiative, and then met with her and her senior staff,” they told the Union-Tribune. “Based on that meeting, Friends of SDSU revised our initiative to address issues raised by the city attorney.”

We asked municipal law experts when a meeting like that crosses into an illegal gift of public funds.

City attorneys can help initiative proponents by pointing out ambiguities to make implementing the measure easier, said Leslie Devaney, a private lawyer and former deputy city attorney.

“You don’t want to hand-in-hand work together, or go back and forth — that would be writing the initiative together,” she said.

But cities can also inform proponents of possible lawsuits, she said. Preventing litigation could save money.

Colantuono said informal consultations are common.

“Most city attorneys would prefer to avoid a lawsuit due to a badly drafted measure if they can get it fixed,” he said. “There is no risk of a legal conflict of interest as the city attorney clearly has only one client — the city.”

City Attorney Mara Elliott / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

  • The city attorney’s office said it generally accepts requests for meetings since the mayor and City Council might ask for a legal analysis on the issue.

But it has ground rules in those meetings. It can’t and won’t provide legal advice. It can’t and won’t use public resources in a campaign. And the attorneys can ask questions to better understand an initiative, but no one should read anything into those questions.

“We warn that their presentation may be met with awkward silence, and that they should not take that to mean that the city attorney’s office has concerns, has taken a position, or is pleased or displeased with the information presented,” spokeswoman Cheryl Nolan wrote in an email.

  • Friends of SDSU said they never suggested they received legal advice from the city attorney’s office — which could have constituted a gift of public funds.

“We provided the city attorney with a draft of our initiative prior to finalizing, met with the city attorney and her senior staff, listened carefully to the questions they asked and afterwards using our own judgment made changes to the final draft,” they wrote in a statement. “It is our understanding that SoccerCity representatives were afforded the same opportunity.”

  • Chris Garrett — attorney for FS Investors, the group behind SoccerCity — said he met with Elliott in January 2017.

“We wanted to change or modify the draft initiative to address any legal concerns, issues or questions she might raise,” Garrett wrote in an email. “We offered to hand out a copy of the initiative to them, but I recall that they refused to take the copies we had … After our initial description of the initiative, we were told that no one in the room from the city attorney’s office could or would offer any comments or respond to any of the points we discussed, or provide any other information regarding the initiative.”

“I was very frustrated that we could not get any feedback or answers to questions I had about possible concerns they might have about the Soccer City Initiative,” he wrote.

Chavez Stakes Out Middle Ground on Sanctuary Policies

Republican Assemblyman Rocky Chavez finds himself in an interesting position in the 49th Congressional District race. On the left, Democrats are hitting him for … being too collaborative with Democrats.

Republicans Diane Harkey and County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar are trying to run to his right. Gaspar especially has rocketed into national prominence with her stance on California’s laws that restrict how law enforcement cooperates with federal immigration agents.

He said the entire debate over so-called sanctuary policies is a result of poor leadership.

“Both sides are misrepresenting what’s actually happening. One side is saying, ‘You’re trying to chase grandmothers out of the house,'” he said. “The other side is saying, ‘We have people out there raping people, and there’s nothing we can do about it.’ Neither is true.”

Republican Assemblyman Rocky Chavez. / Photo by Anthony Cave/News21

He wanted to clarify what the law does and doesn’t do.

“If you are picked up by a police officer, if you’re in violation in 800 different crimes, then local police can call ICE and have you deported. And that’s not being said in any of the debates,” he said.

(We brought it up, in this column.)

Yet Chavez, the lone candidate in the 49th District race who actually had a chance to weigh in on the California Values Act, as a member of the Assembly, abstained from voting on the bill.

He said a vote tends to serve as the only word on an issue, and that this issue deserves more discussion.

“By abstaining, it allows me to talk about it. I’ve learned that if you vote on a particular bill that’s very nuanced, you lack the ability to comment. And this one definitely deserves comment,” Chavez said.

He said if elected, he’d support efforts to keep DACA in place and protect Dreamers living in the country.

“We educate them. We give them the skills and opportunity to do great things, and then we say, ‘We don’t want you here.’ It makes no sense at all,” he said.

— Sara Libby

Nathan Fletcher Is Getting Squeezed. Again.

Rep. Scott Peters recently sent out an invitation for a fundraiser for Nathan Fletcher at his home. Money quote:

It concerns me that some people have expressed reservations about his conversion from Republican to Independent to Democrat. This is not something to criticize. It’s something to praise. It’s good if people move from the wrong positions to the right positions on guns, or the environment or civil rights. Nathan has. More should.

The letter highlights the trap Fletcher’s in. On the one hand, he wants the party switch to be old news. On the other hand, his time as a Republican is the basis for all the attacks on him filling voters’ mailboxes.

And they are coming in hot and mean. It is just like old times for Fletcher. In 2013, the Labor Council, then led by Mickey Kasparian, savaged him in favor of David Alvarez for mayor. And the Republicans, led by the Lincoln Club and Kevin Faulconer, hit him from the other side.

But this is different than the last time.

Fletcher has spent the last five years trying to be better prepared. Unlike before, he’s not trying to win a middle lane of moderates or even Republicans. He’s trying to be the most Democraty Democrat who has ever Democrated.

A Democratic Party-funded mailer

Here’s another one, full poster version.

Lincoln Club: We’re Sick of Nathan Fletcher

The focus of many of the attacks on Fletcher is firearms regulation.

To go after him on this point, the Lincoln Club had to thread a tiny needle: The group wanted to alert liberals to Fletcher’s gun-friendly legislative stance when he was a Republican. However, many of the group’s members support guns.

The solution: They made an ad that touted Fletcher’s early career support for access to firearms and juxtaposed it to the “gun-grabbing liberal” Lori Saldaña. They sent it to liberal women.

The Lincoln Club pulled this off without saying anything negative about firearms.

KPBS’ Andrew Bowen analyzed the factual claims on the mailer.

Bowen asked Brian Pepin, the executive director of the Lincoln Club, whether the group thought Saldaña would be easier to beat in a runoff. Bowen didn’t run the exchange. We heard about Pepin’s response and wanted to see it.

In a written statement, Pepin said he had no idea who would be easier to beat in the runoff election. But then said this:

“Nathan Fletcher has maintained significant support within the business community, as evidenced by his fundraising. Given the divided opinions of him among business leaders, we would like to avoid dealing with his candidacy beyond June,” he said.

It’s kind of an admission of two things: One that yes, Fletcher would be hard to deal with. But also that, in their opinion, too many members of their constituency of business leaders … like him. Pepin and friends would like to snuff that out.

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

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