Politics Smart Local News Funded by Smart Local People

Politics Report: Three Ways Republicans Can Kill the Measure to Change County Elections

A major change to how the county elects officials has a conservative gauntlet to get through to get on the November ballot. Plus: Why did Councilman Chris Ward flip on vacation rentals, and SDSU football may have a place to play next year.

Todd Gloria / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

The County Board of Supervisors will decide Tuesday whether to put a change to the way the county elects leaders on the November ballot.

But Republicans on the board, and the county Republican Party, have three ways to defeat the effort.

What it is: If it gets on the ballot and voters approve it, the measure would require county candidates to face runoff elections in November, no matter how much of the vote they win in a primary. Democratic officials and liberal activists are pushing the measure. November elections have the most turnout. It’s when people think elections are resolved. If all elections must go to November, it will help the most voters possible weigh in on decisive votes. Supporters, though, are also aware such a change would help them win political campaigns.

Background: Assemblyman Todd Gloria passed a bill last year allowing an initiative to change county elections. The bill required that an initiative collect signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Last month, County Registrar Michael Vu determined there were insufficient signatures, due to a snafu with the legislation.

Gloria then passed a new law that retroactively fixed the old one and allowed them to qualify initiatives with fewer signatures. Tony Krvaric, chairman of the County’s Republican Party, challenged the fix in court – but a state appellate court declined to hear that suit on Tuesday.

Then there was some late maneuvering.

What’s happening now: Vu determined on Wednesday that the measure had sufficient signatures after the fix-it legislation passed. It’s now up to the Board of Supervisors to officially put the item on the ballot.

One problem: County rules say docket items need eight days’ notice. That wasn’t possible for Tuesday’s meeting.

If it did not make the docket next week, the measure would not make the November ballot. The whole ballot must be finalized by Aug. 10. If it doesn’t make the deadline, the measure would have to wait until 2020 – and the election changes it prescribes wouldn’t be in effect in 2020.

Kristin Gaspar appears at Golden Hall on Election Night 2016. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Important note: That put the decision to put the item on the ballot in the hands of Board Chair Kristin Gaspar. And Gaspar is the only vulnerable Republican county elected official headed for re-election in 2020. Changing the rules of the election would have a very real impact on her political career.

Nonetheless, Gaspar put the item on Tuesday’s docket as a late addition.

“While I question the appropriateness of this matter going forward as a late docket agenda item for consideration by the Board of Supervisors, I have decided to allow it,” she said in a statement. “I remain very concerned with the process by which this has come to us today.”

But Gaspar and other Republicans have set up three more ways they can still try to kill the Democrats’ attempt.

  1. Another lawsuit: Kravric filed a new lawsuit to stop Vu from allowing the “unconstitutional legislation” to qualify the measure for November’s ballot.

He argues the legislation violates state law outlawing legislation from dealing with more than one subject at a time. We explained it more here.

  1. A study: The item Gaspar put on the docket gives the board two options. One is to just put the measure on the ballot. The other is to study the change, with an “impact report” that would be returned within 30 days.

“If the report is completed after the August 10 (deadline), then the initiative would be placed on the next statewide election in 2020,” reads Gaspar’s Friday memo to the county’s chief administrative officer.

Gaspar said she has a number of outstanding questions she needs answered about the process that qualified the initiative, such as whether it exceeded the legal 180-day limit, the legislative clean-up, how much it costs, Krvaric’s new suit and costs associated with the change.

“I feel strongly that our constituents deserve resolution on these issues before being asked to vote on this matter,” she said.

David Lagstein, an official with the local Service Employees Union International chapter that supports the initiative, said the proposal to study the initiative further only makes sense if the county had the option of adopting the change outright. But since it doesn’t have that option – voters must approve all charter amendments – there would be no reason to study it further.

“We understand that the current administration at the county prefers the status quo, where county officials can win election in low-turnout primaries, rather than in general elections when the most voters participate, but that doesn’t give the current board the authority to keep our initiative off the 2018 ballot in violation of state law,” he said in a statement. “No more procedural tricks!”

A lawyer representing the initiative proponents sent the county a letter Friday demanding the supervisors put the measure on the November ballot.

  1. Another option: County Supervisor Dianne Jacob has asked the supervisors to put a competing ballot measure to change county elections on the November ballot. That’s also now on Tuesday’s docket.

County Supervisor Dianne Jacob / Photo by Sam Hodgson

Jacob’s proposal would maintain the present situation in one major way: Candidates who get over 50 percent of the vote in a primary would still win outright, without going to a general election. But it would include one change from the present situation: Races with only two candidates would skip the primary and go right to the general election. The docket item frames it as an attempt to follow the spirit of AB 901, Gloria’s bill that made way for the initiative.

Nick Serrano, a Gloria spokesman, said Jacob’s proposal is a bad faith effort to confuse voters.

“Supervisor Jacob has put her own version of what she says we were trying to accomplish with AB 901,” he said. “Obviously, based on what she’s put forward, it is nothing like what we were trying to accomplish. The county is trying to muddy the waters, and it’s unfortunate.”

Jacob did not immediately respond to an opportunity to comment.

Spin Wars

After the San Diego City Council approved one of the most restrictive policies on vacation rentals of any major city Monday, a spin frenzy came out of Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office. The new rules were due to him, the mayor’s office proclaimed. It was an odd claim. The Council had just chosen to pursue a major crackdown on vacation rentals — ostensibly wiping them out even from Mission Beach, where they’ve dominated since well before the advent of Airbnb.

The mayor had pursued something far different — a policy that would have permitted people with second homes in San Diego — or one investment property (perhaps more) to rent them out to visitors.

Faulconer expressed great satisfaction and promised full enforcement. He engineered this, the theory went. The Council had swung and missed several times before. Nothing happened until he got involved.

Part of the motivation for the spin may have been to deny City Councilwoman Barbara Bry any credit. A year ago, she proposed the framework for what ultimately happened Monday: Only people who live in their homes most of the year should be allowed to rent out their homes to visitors. She proposed up to 90 days. The end result was six months.

She was one of just two or three who wanted a policy and eventually several others came aboard. Very clearly a win for her.

City Councilman Chris Ward / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

We could analyze who won the spin wars all we want but the more interesting thing that happened is the incredible transformation of heart and mind of Councilman Chris Ward.

Ward had been steadfast in his support of accommodating vacation rentals and providing a regulatory system that would provide ample resources for enforcement of nuisances and violations. He was one of four Council members who had supported allowing hosts to manage up to three vacation rentals each.

But he hadn’t just signed on for that, he was an intellectual leader of that kind of approach. In an opinion piece published for us in September of last year, he wrote that he had followed the approaches of other cities closely.

“Outright bans or severe limitations only further an underground economy that is already present, and those renting homes will creatively adapt and make it difficult for city regulations to be effective in achieving their purpose,” he wrote.

Later he withstood intense pressure and maintained his position. At an Oct. 5 community meeting, activists ambushed him with shouts and anger. He became the target of significant protest by roving billboards deployed by vacation rental opponents. Perhaps more important, the hotel workers union lobbied him vigorously for a year and a half.

The pressure was intense. He managed it. The worst thing that could happen, he said, was for yet another big meeting to happen and have no resolution on the issue.

Then exactly that happened in December.

Months after the failed meeting, the mayor made his own proposal, which was significantly more strict than what Ward wanted but still would have allowed people with second homes in San Diego to rent out their homes to visitors. Up until a week before the July 16 meeting, Ward seemed like a vote the mayor could count on.

We thought it was a done deal.

But then he abruptly switched. He wrote on Facebook he had simply listened to his community. Ward’s staff said he didn’t have time to talk to us.

Here are some things going on with Ward:

  • Assemblyman Todd Gloria is clearly considering a run for mayor in 2020. He can’t run for both his Assembly seat and the mayor’s office.
  • Ward wants that Assembly seat.
  • That district represents much of the coast.
  • The unions, led by hotel workers, put enormous pressure on Ward. Brigette Browning, the leader of the hotel workers union UNITE HERE, had blasted Ward. The mayor’s office thought they had unions on board with his proposal but in the days before the vote, hotel workers rallied again.

If the union felt that strongly about it, combined with outraged coastal residents, things could have gotten quite hairy for Ward’s Assembly ambitions.

Brigette Browning, president of the local chapter of Unite Here, a labor union that represents hotel and hospitality workers / Photo by Scott Lewis

We asked Browning if she had put any more pressure on Ward. She said she hadn’t done anything more than what she’d been doing. She thinks vacation rentals are bad for neighborhoods and told him that. She said, however, she had remained neutral on the mayor’s proposal before later advising Council members to tweak it, hopefully to the preferred outcome of banning them except for someone who wants to rent out the home they live in.

“I think he just listened to his community,” she said of Ward.

SDSU and City Have a New Tentative Stadium Deal

Qualcomm Stadium / Photo by Dustin Michelson

The SoccerCity versus Friends of SDSU wars are about to heat up. But there was a lingering issue hanging over the fight: Where would San Diego State play football in 2019? The university’s lease at SDCCU Stadium expires, and the mayor and some City Council members seemed to want to close the stadium and save the up to $8 million the city loses every year on operations and maintenance (never mind the $4.5 million the city is still paying on debt taken on to rejuvenate the stadium in the ’90s.)

The setup: The university pays the city $1 per football ticket sold. It paid the city almost $154,000 to use the stadium last year.

After the Chargers left and everything was thrown into question, SDSU officials had said they would be willing to shoulder the city’s full cost or make sure the city did not lose money to keep it going while a long-term deal was sought.

But negotiations dragged on for two years.

It presented a fascinating showdown: The city had clear financial motivation to close the old stadium and SDSU was probably not willing to pay $7 million. But the city gave up any bluff that it may force the Aztecs out when it made a deal this year with an upstart professional football league the Alliance of American Football.

The news: Finally, city staff and SDSU have agreed to a tentative deal: According to a staff report, the university has agreed to pay the city $1.1 million every year, rather than the small per-ticket surcharge. The City Council’s Smart Growth and Land Use Committee will consider the new deal Wednesday.

What it means: The increase in rent is huge but the city is now significantly subsidizing SDSU football. It’ll add pressure to get a long-term deal in place as soon as possible.

Gonzalez Brought the Heat at Our Live Podcast

voice of san diego live podcast

(From left to right) Scott Lewis, Mark Cafferty, Lorena Gonzalez, Sara Libby and Andrew Keatts record a live Voice of San Diego Podcast episode. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

It’s official: Our live podcasts are fun and we should do more of them. This one at Whistle Stop Bar was packed and there were a lot of laughs, which helped the conversation about some serious topics.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez revealed she’s considering a secretary of state run in 2022, as Sara Libby broke down in the Sacramento Report.

But Gonzalez was just as candid on a handful of other topics in front of the live audience, too.

Here are a few highlights.

She likes the mayor – but says he’s not brave.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer didn’t support AB 805, her bill that reshaped the power structures at both SANDAG and MTS in favor of the larger, more urban cities that tend to be home to more minorities, but he “quietly went along with it.”

“We’re on great terms – I don’t say he’s terrible, he’s just not brave,” she said.

“Shots fired,” Andy said.

“No, that’s not shots,” she said. “It’s a different governing style, and it’s one that’s been true to San Diego for a long time and hopefully will change. Actually, you know, he’s a nice guy – he’s just a Republican.”

She didn’t care about vacation rentals – but might have.

Gonzalez said vacation rentals were never a big thing for her. But Scott asked her if it would’ve been a different conversation if the rental operators had unionized (who knows how that would even work, it was a joke).

“Anything that unionizes creates a different debate for me,” she said. “That’s me.”

She’s out on Mission Valley – but will get in if labor does.

Months ago, Gonzalez told us she was excited to stay out of the debate over the two ballot measures that would redevelop the former Chargers Stadium site in Mission Valley.

“I ask my husband almost every day when this comes up, I’m like, ‘So wait, (developer Tom) Sudberry is on what side? Because I’m on the other side of him.’” (Sudberry opposes SoccerCity, the plan to redevelop the area around a river park and entertainment area anchored by a new soccer stadium).

But there’s one way it could become pretty simple.

“I’m sure labor has a view,” she said. “And whoever has a PLA is probably best.” A PLA is a project labor agreement, a union-friendly construction agreement.

She hasn’t seen San Diego Unified’s school bond – but has never seen one she doesn’t like.

Gonzalez got pretty intimately involved in the response last year to revelations that lead was discovered in the drinking water at some schools. She passed a bill last year requiring schools to test water for lead.

But she had a pretty clear sense of where she stood on a proposed bond measure for schools.

“I haven’t seen the bond proposa l… but I’m sure I’m going to support the bond.”

“You sure?” Scott asked.

“I haven’t seen a bond I don’t like,” she said, to laughs from the crowd.

Got a tip or some feedback for the Politics Report. Drop a note to scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or @andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org.

Show Comments
Loading

We’re striving for the best possible discussion and may delete comments using our editorial judgment. All comments containing links will be reviewed by VOSD staff before they are published.
Read our full comment policy.
For longer comments, consider submitting an op-ed to Voice of San Diego.
Read the guidelines here.

We have recently updated our commenting system. If you are unable to submit a comment, please clear the cache and cookies in your browser, or use a private browsing window. Click here for detailed instructions.