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Politics Report: The Other, Other Homelessness Measure That Could Be Headed to November's Ballot

Councilman David Alvarez is pushing for a third November measure to increase taxes for homelessness funding. / Photo by Dustin Michelson

There could be yet another local homelessness measure on the ballot this November.

Councilman David Alvarez has reworked a measure he pitched to City Council committees earlier this year to invest hotel-tax money into homelessness programs and housing.

The updated proposal would increase city hotel taxes by 1 percent and ask voters to advise whether the Council should use the new cash for homelessness programs. Alvarez is set to present it to the City Council’s rules committee on Wednesday.

Alvarez, who opposes a potentially competing hotel-tax measure that would also fund homeless services and a Convention Center expansion, said the city’s increased spending on homeless programs and a recent decision to have the San Diego Housing Commission pull from funds for permanent housing to support temporary solutions compelled him to press forward.

He’s not convinced the other measures will prevail in November – or even make it on the ballot.

“I don’t want to be remembered as the City Council that had the opportunity to do something and we didn’t do anything,” Alvarez said. “I think we owe it to the citizens to give them a real option to do something that’s substantial and helpful to our housing crisis.”

Alvarez said he tweaked his proposal after feedback from city attorneys and two City Council committees. He believes the updated version could be approved with a majority vote since money raised would flow to the city’s general fund. He estimated the measure could bring in $24 million annually.

Next week could be a big turning point for a $900 million housing bond measure pushed by affordable-housing advocates, too. The property tax measure, which proponents say could fund 7,500 homes for homeless and low-income San Diegans, is also set to be discussed at the City Council’s rules committee.

Since last month, an attorney has submitted draft ballot language on behalf of the San Diego Housing Federation, the affordable housing lobbying group pushing the initiative.

The fate of Alvarez’s measure and the Housing Federation’s bond  could rest on the status of the business and labor coalition’s proposed hotel-tax hike.

The tourism tax coalition has quietly pressured housing bond supporters to hold off until 2020 out of fear the two measures could undermine each other in November.

City Council votes will be necessary to send Alvarez or the Housing Federation’s measures to the ballot.

Some Council members have publicly backed the coalition’s measure and are watching closely to see what happens next, complicating their calculations on next steps for either measure.

City Councilman Chris Ward, who represents downtown neighborhoods most affected by homelessness, said last month that he saw the bond measure as a potential backup should the coalition’s hotel-tax measure falter.

Mayor’s Hotel Tax Measure: Still Collecting Signatures!

A signature-gatherer covers the Ocean Beach Street Fair June 23. / Photo by Scott Lewis

San Diego’s latest signature-gathering saga isn’t over yet.

Signature-gatherers are expected to remain out in force this weekend to ensure a hotel-tax hike aimed at expanding the Convention Center, plus funding homeless programs and road repairs, can make it on the November ballot.

The labor and business coalition behind the measure must turn in at least 71,646 valid signatures by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

It’s crunch time. But the campaign’s been silent this week about next steps.

The group’s likely trying to collect enough signatures to avoid a hand count that would effectively kill the measure.

Once the campaign turns in signatures, the county registrar’s office will have 30 calendar days to review them before deciding whether a more thorough count is necessary.

And the City Council must vote the first week of August to place the measure on the ballot.

As signature-gathering efforts have continued, tens of thousands of dollars have poured in.

Campaign finance filings show the Hotel-Motel Association PAC, the Lodging Industry Association and the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council have each written checks of at least $10,000 in the last two weeks. On Tuesday, an Airbnb PAC donated $10,000 and on July 4, new Seaport Village developer 1HWY1 dropped $25,000.

SANDAG Is Going to Need a New Board Chair

Terry Sinnott / Photo courtesy of Resolusean Photography

Del Mar Mayor Terry Sinnott told supporters this week he won’t seek re-election, citing a polarized atmosphere that has made the job unenjoyable, according to a report from Coast News.

Sinnott is also the chair of the San Diego Association of Governments, so his retirement leaves that agency in need of new leadership, too.

Sinnott would have needed to be re-elected as board chair, but SANDAG’s leaders typically serve for multiple years. Santee Councilman Jack Dale served from 2013 to 2015, and County Supervisor Ron Roberts served in 2016 and 2017.

SANDAG typically follows a clean succession, with the vice chair eventually taking over as chair. The next in line now is Poway Mayor Steve Vaus.

This year could be different: Sinnott and Vaus won seats prior to SANDAG switching to a new voting structure to start the year. By allowing for a vote weighted by each city’s population, the new structure has shifted power to larger cities.

Sinnott and Vaus – both Republicans – represent small and rural cities, respectively, while the new structure has empowered Democrats and representatives from larger and urban jurisdictions.

Vaus could face a move from Democrats to put one of their own in charge.

In the past: Democrats have struggled to move up SANDAG’s leadership ladder. In 2015, Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas sought the third in line “second vice chair” position. She was the only board member seeking the position, but was passed over. In 2016, Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina sought the same job, but the board instead eliminated the position.

Meanwhile, the weighted vote has become a semi-regular occurrence at SANDAG. It made an appearance in closed session to veto the board’s attempt to hire a new director, in open session to reverse a board decision on state housing regulations and a couple weeks ago on a move to consider using eminent domain to build a new SANDAG headquarters.

Those moves, though, have often included San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a Republican. He’s been willing to use his trump card on housing regulations and to block an agency hiring decision – using it to block a fellow Republican from becoming chair would be something else entirely.

Then again, he did just that earlier this year, making a rare appearance at the Metropolitan Transit System to support Democratic Councilwoman Georgette Gomez over County Supervisor Ron Roberts to be that agency’s chair.

In the Short-Term, the County Fight Over Elections Is About Kristin Gaspar

Kristin Gaspar

Kristin Gaspar / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

The chairman of the county’s Republican Party is suing the registrar of voters to keep an election reform measure – a priority of local Democrats – off the ballot.

The Democrats’ effort went sideways last month when County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu said the group that collected signatures to qualify the measure hadn’t actually collected enough, as outlined in a state law that was meant to pave the way for the measure.

If passed, the measure would force all San Diego County races, like supervisor and district attorney, to be decided in November, even if one candidate gets more than 50 percent of the primary vote. Right now, those races end in June.

Democrats do better when turnout is higher. In 2016, city of San Diego voters approved a similar measure, so no city races can now be decided in June.

Battleground 2020: Democrats are scrambling to rectify what Vu says is a mistake, and to fend off Krvaric’s suit, so they can get the measure on the ballot this year. That way, the requirement will be in effect in 2020. If the measure didn’t qualify for 2018, voters could instead have their say in two years.

But that might be too late for Democrats to make a major shift in local politics.

None of district attorney, sheriff, assessor-recorder-clerk or tax collector will be on the ballot until 2022.

But County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar is seeking re-election in 2020.

Gaspar’s coastal North County district is the effective swing seat on the five-member Board of Supervisors.

Today, the board is represented by five Republicans, yet Democrats are envisioning taking control in just two years.

Former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher is running against former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis in November. He’s seen as a favorite given the district’s demographics and the share of votes that went to Democrats in June. Councilman David Alvarez has already announced that he’s running for the South Bay seat in 2020; Republican Greg Cox is termed out of the district, but Democratic voters outnumber Republicans there by nearly 70,000.

David Lagstein, political organizer for Service Employees International Union Local 221, a union that has supported the measure, said they’re thinking long-term.

“This is really about democracy is best served when most people vote,” he said.

Legal Challenge Looks to Force Zapf Off the Ballot

Bryan Pease / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Attorney Bryan Pease, the third-place finisher in the primary for the District 2 City Council seat, is formally challenging sitting Councilwoman Lorie Zapf’s ability to seek that post again – and arguing that he should face off against fellow Democrat Jen Campbell instead.

Pease on Friday filed a petition in Superior Court arguing Zapf is ineligible to again represent the district that includes Point Loma and Pacific Beach.

Zapf has served two terms representing different districts. In 2010, she was elected to represent District 6, which then included her home in Bay Ho. After a 2011 redistricting process, Bay Ho became part of District 2 and in 2014, Zapf won that City Council seat.

Pease argues Zapf is ineligible to run again because he believes city rules in place in 2011 required that she begin representing District 2 immediately. Pease contends that effectively made Zapf the District 2 Council member before she was elected to represent the district in 2014 – and that both a 2016 ballot measure and a 2011 city attorney’s memo suggesting new district boundaries shouldn’t take effect until late 2012 came too late.

For those reasons, Pease argues, the court should “set aside Councilmember Zapf’s nomination” and declare Pease one of the two top eligible finishers in the June primary.

John Hoy, Zapf’s campaign manager, declined to comment on Pease’s arguments but said he expected that Pease, who has made multiple runs for office, would not prevail.

“This is a legal hail Mary from a perennial candidate,” Hoy said. “We are confident that when objective observers examine his claims, they will fail.”

According to state elections code, Zapf must respond shortly after being served and the Superior Court must schedule a hearing within 20 days.

Hilary Nemchick, a spokeswoman for the city attorney’s office, declined to comment, saying the city is not a party to the lawsuit, but provided a city attorney opinion from 1991 that argued the two-term limit applied only to any one City Council district, not to any Council district.

Recounts and Tie Votes: We’ve Had a Few

In last week’s Politics Report, we told you how recounts work. It’s not automatic. Basically, any California voter can request a recount within five days of certification (in this case, by July 10), but it could be costly: The person making the request must put down a deposit and pay the full recount cost unless the recount changes the outcome of the election. In that case, it’s free.

In the case of San Diego’s City Council District 8, a recount could cost tens of thousands of dollars, depending on how much the requester wants to spend.

Do local recounts ever succeed? And what if there’s a recount and the race turns into a tie?

As far as we can tell, no local recount has changed the outcome of a race in modern history, although there have been several attempts over the last few decades. Longtime San Diego political watchers will remember the names of these candidates who came up short in recounts they requested: Floyd Morrow, Valerie Stallings (both ran for City Council) and scandal-plagued Rep. Jim Bates (who lost to Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who’d go on to become perhaps the most disgraced congressman in American history).

Most famously, the 2004 election for San Diego mayor spawned a recount that put Councilwoman Donna Frye and her write-in votes over the top. But a judge ruled that some of the Frye votes didn’t count, and Dick Murphy won re-election.

As for electoral ties, we’ve had a few. And in at least a couple cases, the result was literally a toss-up.

In California, electoral ties are generally decided by a random game of chance agreed upon by the candidates.

In 1994, two candidates for a fire protection board in Borrego Springs — who both got 346 votes — resolved their race by drawing envelopes out of a box. One envelope reportedly said “elected” on it while the other was blank.

In 1999, a race for a seat on North County’s Valley Center school board was decided when the two rivals (tied at 1,722 votes) drew numbers from a hat. And a coin toss decided a 2000 tie in a race for a seat on South Bay’s Otay Water District board. (The loser subsequently sought a recount, the U-T reported, but it only produced another tie, adding three votes to each candidate’s total.)

When it comes to weirdness, nothing tops a 1992 race for the water board in Ramona. This was back in the days when water politics in the backcountry town were hugely contentious, and recall bids seemed about as common as 100-degree days. (From 1982 through 1991, a whopping 23 recall campaigns were launched against elected water and school officials in Ramona, the L.A. Times reported. “Of those, only one faced a vote. The official was recalled. But later, he was voted back into office.”)

In the 1992 tied election — the candidates each got 1,044 votes — lawyers drew up a two-page, single-spaced list of rules about a coin toss. The regulations dug deep into details like the kind of coin (a quarter chosen at random from a pool of coins), the required tossing distance (at least six feet) and the fact that its path to the floor must be unimpeded by obstacles.

The U-T archives don’t say who won the coin toss. But one of the two rivals went on to serve on the water board for years, even becoming its president, and he remains a Ramona attorney today. Sounds like he was, shall we say, unimpeded by obstacles like a tie vote.

Randy Dotinga

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the winner of the 2004 mayoral election. Dick Murphy was re-elected in 2004; Jerry Sanders won a special election in 2005 after Murphy resigned.

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