Politics Report: The Not Inaccurate Story

Politics

Politics Report: The Not Inaccurate Story

Where’s the money going to come to keep the Convention Center open as a homeless shelter? Plus, a Q&A with the new port commissioner from National City.

Mayor-elect Todd Gloria and Mayor Kevin Faulconer attend a press conference for Operation Shelter to Home. / Photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran

The Union-Tribune published an undisputed fact this week: Funding to operate the Convention Center as a homeless shelter is scheduled to run out at the end of December, and city leaders have not detailed how they intend to pay to keep operating it as a shelter.

Mayor-elect Todd Gloria on Twitter said the headline – “Convention Center set to close, hundreds moving out next week” – was “inaccurate.” He said he had told city staff to “to develop funding options to continue shelter operations at the Convention Center.”

A representative for Mayor Kevin Faulconer thanked him for setting the record straight. Council President Georgette Gómez said a majority of the current Council agreed. And Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said the county remains committed, as well.

Great. It is hard to imagine an argument for leaving the Convention Center empty, since no conventions are coming anytime soon, while putting hundreds of people back on the street during a pandemic. And the city has plans in place to move Convention Center residents into other shelters, in a worst-case scenario. The mayor elect’s priorities are uncontroversial.

But what no one said is from where funding to keep the center open would come, whether it would come at the expense of anything else, whether there were five votes on the new Council to approve that reallocation or when all of that would happen. Funding runs out in 26 days.

Until both the policy and political questions get sorted out, the U-T is correct that the funding to operate the Convention Center as a shelter is set to expire at the end of the month.

This happened before: Funding was set to run out at the end of October. Before that happened, Faulconer and the Council approved an emergency extension through the end of the year. The two extra months of operations cost $11.4 million. The city covered the cost with a mix of state and federal sources, and unused money from the city’s community development block grants.

That extension gave the city enough time to acquire two hotels, using state funds, that can operate as longer-term housing for people from the Convention Center. About 400 people living at the center are set to move into those hotels as early as next week.

That leaves some 500 people at the Convention Center, and the city again looking for a way to spend up to $5.7 million a month to continue operating the building as a shelter.

The federal government could pass another COVID-19 relief package, and this could become an easy question to answer. Or, Congress could remain at an impasse, and city officials would need to reallocate funding for the shelter that they all agree should not close during a pandemic, at the expense of something else.

Welcome to life in a tight budget environment. We’ve eaten the low-hanging fruit.

A day after the initial story, the Union-Tribune followed up, emphasizing Gloria’s intention to keep the Convention Center open. But Gloria still did not detail what funding the city intended to use to keep the shelter open, reporter Gary Warth wrote, and was not available for an interview on the topic.

National City’s New Port Commissioner

Sandy Naranjo is National City’s newest representative on the Port of San Diego. / Photo courtesy Sandy Naranjo

Sandy Naranjo this week became National City’s newest representative on the Port of San Diego, the agency tasked with governing state 34 miles of state tidelands along the San Diego Bay, after the City Council voted to appoint her to the position.

Naranjo is not a new face in local politics. She’s been a labor organizer with the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council and the United Food and Commercial Workers – where she was also one of the first women to allege gender discrimination against the group’s former leader, Mickey Kasparian, eventually leading to his ouster – and an outspoken environmental justice activist with the group Mothers Out Front, and the Environmental Health Coalition.

Naranjo ran a successful public campaign for the seat, openly making her case on social media and at the San Diego County Democratic Party, bucking the tradition of appointments to regional bodies like the Port happening mostly in private.

We talked to her about new priorities she could bring to the agency, and why she hopes public campaigns for boards and commissions becomes a trend.

It seems like your career history represents a departure from the typical profile of a Port commissioner – do you agree with that, and how would you describe the difference?

The way I’d describe how I’m different is my background – it’s been in grassroots, whether that’s labor organizing, or environmental justice. Traditionally, these seats, the types of appointments you see are retired business folks, people who still have active careers in business, attorneys or people from the military. There’s this profile that’s set up. For me, to be selected, it shows the importance of grassroots organizing, and community intelligence is as important as real estate financing expertise or military experience. I’m the first Latina on the Port Commission. And my background shows what my priority is, and that will be environmental justice.

Regional agencies like the Port are often very staff-driven – they have a strong executive and staff, and the board often ends up saying yes or no, or offering direction within a narrow window, but not necessarily pushing an agenda. Do you think you can change that dynamic?

I was involved in the AB 617 steering committee. That was a law passed in 2017, which allocated state money for communities hit with toxic pollution. It allocated $18 million to Barrio Logan, western National City and Sherman Heights. That goes to monitoring and mitigation, which could be used for things like electrification. We were responsible with coming up to solutions to reduce injustices. So instead of allocating money to an agency, and then having a staff that runs it and says, “here’s what we think,” the law said, “you need a stakeholder process, and the majority of your members needs to be from your impacted communities.” So for two years, we met with people who lived in environmental justice communities, representatives from industry, from the Navy, the Port and MTS, and we developed a community emissions reduction plan. To be successful, it needs to be implemented, which means everyone needs buy in. You can’t have the traditional way of staff drafting it, saying, “This is the way it is.” You need an organic, grassroots process to develop strategies and policies … that whole process to me means, engaging the community and tracking progress. My priority when I say environmental justice, I look at a CalEnviroScreen map, see where it’s red and say, “What are the steps to turn it green?” The Port showed us that at the 10th Avenue Terminal, there are 20 pieces of equipment contributing to emissions. That equipment, we can find funding to electrify it. And so there’s a process going on, there’s a community saying, “There’s a problem,” so lets create spaces for them. We need to be aggressive seeking the funding. There are a lot of things happening at our state, providing funding to help electrify. There’s a bill in Congress with millions for ports to help electrify. You have to be aggressive, not sit and wait for staff to bring something to the agenda.

Are you keeping a close eye on other cities’ appointments, and what the composition of the board might look like?

I’m looking on the city of San Diego, and what will be important is the Council president decision, because whoever gets it will determine the process of the Port appointment. I’m watching, I don’t have any detailed information from being on the outside. But what I hope is, whoever gets the Council presidency, that they select two commissioners who value environmental justice, that they value creating innovative solutions to advance our waterfront.

You publicly campaigned for this seat, where appointments have previously been hashed out behind the scenes. Do you think we’ll continue to see this sort of public discussion around powerful boards and commissions going forward?

I hope it becomes a pattern. It’s really important to have a campaign, so folks can understand the importance of these commissions. They make policy. They impact people’s lives. When it’s in the dark, it doesn’t benefit the public.

Lawson-Remer Looking for a Chief

Terra Lawson-Remer, the county supervisor-elect, said she is wading through more than 200 resumes as she scrambles to assemble her staff of 10 so she can hit the ground running when she takes the oath of office in a month.

But she has not yet chosen a chief of staff.

“It’s a hard fit and I’m not rushing into it,” she told the Politics Report. “The chief of staff is sort of your alter ego and there’s a lot to consider.”

She said she has hired three people. Spencer Katz, who helped run her campaign, will be in her office. And Cody Petterson, the environmental activist, president of the San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action, has agreed to come on staff temporarily to help her. Lawson-Remer and Petterson have been friends for a long time.

“He’s doing me a solid to help stand up the operation very much in an interim capacity,” she said.

Back in the game: Another new county supervisor, Joel Anderson, the Republican who will begin representing East County on the board, has hired his chief of staff. It’ll be Scott Barnett, the former school board member and president of the Taxpayers Association.

Nerd-Vana for Political Wonks: We Have a Tie!

A dispatch from VOSD contributor Randy Dotinga: The vote count is finished, and the election in San Diego County is over … almost. Up in the remote stretches of inland North County, something very unusual has happened: a tie vote in the Warner Unified school board race.

On Friday, the day after the results were finalized, the rural community was positively buzzing with … talk about how nothing is buzzing. The power is out at many homes due to an SDG&E shutdown amid Santa Ana winds, and virtual school’s been canceled.

Still, the tie may be the most exciting thing to happen in the Warner Springs area since federal soldiers nearly got in a shooting war with a band of Confederate sympathizers during the Civil War. And it’s a big deal for Michael Vu, the registrar of voters, who’s never seen a tie vote before in nearly a quarter-century of working in elections.

“This election has had a lot of firsts,” he said, with the pandemic and all. Also, a dead candidate – he passed away shortly before the election — won a race for the Ramona water district board. That board will need to figure out how to replace him.

As for the Warner Springs school board tie, it’s between candidates Gene Doxey and Terry L. Cox. Both have 352 votes, tying them for third place in a race for three spots on the board.

The winner will serve on the board of a huge school district – 420 square miles! – that covers the the central-northern region of the county. Think east of Palomar Mountain, west of Borrego Springs and north of Julian. And think ranches. They’re big up there.

The district, formed in 1938 in one of the county’s oldest communities, is home to just 230 students from preschool to 12th grade. About 82 percent of the students are low-income, said David MacLeod, the superintendent of the school district, and many live in trailers or on Indian land. “Covid has been very difficult because almost every student is bused to school, and Internet connectivity is very poor in our area,” he said.

How will the election stalemate be resolved? “We joke around with different scenarios. The two candidates are good friends, so we talk about 10 rounds of sparring, etc.,” MacLeod said.

There won’t actually be any knockout punches. There are state election rules about this sort of thing, and they call for ties to be resolved by a game of chance. The school district will get to figure out what kind of game. “You could play five-card stud. I’ve heard of that happening in Nevada,” former county Registrar of Voters Mikel Haas told me back in 2009.

As we told you a few weeks ago in the Politics Report, we’ve had a few local tied races before over the past several decades. They were decided by drawing envelopes out of a box, drawing numbers from a hat, and tossing a coin. In a tie race for a water district board seat in Ramona, officials drew up two single-spaced pages of rules for a coin toss including the height that the quarter had to be thrown in the air — at least 6 feet. (The Ramona water district, by the way, used to be a hotbed of electoral intrigue with recall elections galore.)

MacLeod, the Warner Springs superintendent, suggested there may be no need for cards, quarters or hats. There’s word that one candidate may decide to bow out of the race.

But Vu, the registrar of voters, said the law doesn’t allow that kind of concession in this case. If one of the candidates really doesn’t want the job but still manages to win in the tiebreaker, Vu said, he could then quit the position and allow the school board to appoint a replacement – presumably the other guy.

This scenario sets up the possibility of a most unusual race-deciding coin toss: “Heads you win, tails I lose.”

Some More Links

  • Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, the chairman of the San Diego Democratic Party, wrote an impassioned open letter to the five new San Diego City Council members imploring them to support Monica Montgomery Steppe for Council president. He not only pushes for Montgomery Steppe but goes after Councilwoman Jen Campbell pretty hard. “One of the candidates has taken cruel positions on homelessness and stands against the movement on the issue of police. The other has become a symbol of hope for a downtrodden, underserved, and at risk community, begging for justice and equity,” he wrote.
  • In case you missed it, Scott did a piece on the future of the Republican Party, in particular focused on the Dec. 14 vote the local party will make on who the next chair will be. Longtime leader Tony Krvaric is stepping down (for real this time)(right?).
  • Not even two months after it was removed, a statue of former San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson was put back up downtown.
  • Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez has, yet again, pulled together a letter with other legislators asking the governor to reconsider his decision to shut down playgrounds for regions that are forced into his new stay-at-home order and the restrictions that come with it. And the Mayor-Elect Todd Gloria said he thinks the city can work around it somehow.
  • These are the last few days of the Faulconer era. Kevin Faulconer has been mayor of San Diego since 2014. We’ll have a series of stories next week analyzing his leadership of the city.

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Correction: This story has been updated to clarify where current Convention Center residents will go if the city can’t find funding to continue operating the building as a shelter.

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

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