Politics Report: Voting Law Breaks the County's Brain - Voice of San Diego

Politics

Politics Report: Voting Law Breaks the County's Brain

A state law lets voters register to vote on Election Day and two Republican supervisors were not interested in county staff’s plan — and desperate pleas — to address it. Plus, some big outtakes from Politifest.

San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

It’s rare for government staff to beg for support from elected officials, warning of real and enormous legal risks if their pleas aren’t met. And it’s even rarer for elected officials to disregard those concerns. 

But that’s what happened this week at the County Board of Supervisors, when Supervisors Jim Desmond and Kristin Gaspar closed the door on a request to spend $900,000 on the March election to help address an expected crush of people who will register to vote on Election Day thanks to a new state law, SB 72. 

It set up another standoff for Monday, after Board Chair Dianne Jacob came up with a way to bypass Gaspar and Desmond’s opposition and make the change anyway. 

The challenge: Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 72 last month, allowing same-day voter registration at any polling location in California, including the roughly 1,600 locations in San Diego. 

County Registrar Michael Vu is worried that a rush of voters registering on Election Day would create a ton of provisional ballots.

(Definition digression: If you go to vote and you’re not on the list, you can still cast a ballot, and the county can later work to verify you were a legitimate voter in order to count that ballot. This is called a provisional ballot, and they take a long time to count because of the steps involved. California’s existing leniency to accommodate this is partly why it takes so long for the vote-counting to finish after Election Day.)

The plan: Vu proposed opening four new satellite voting centers in the county. They would be in addition to the actual Registrar of Voters office that offers the same service. 

The county would staff those five total locations with trained county workers, along with electronic access to the full range of county information to get people registered. They would make sure they’re eligible to register, that they’re registering in all of the right jurisdictions, etc. as quickly as possible. 

Then, the county would start a communications push to tell everyone who wants to register on Election Day that they should do it at the satellite centers — not at their neighborhood polling place. 

The hope is that doing all this would cut down on the provisional ballots the county gets, and keep polling places from running long lines for the folks who are already registered and just want to vote. 

The cost: about $900,000. Vu thinks he can reclaim about a third of that from state, local and federal governments. 

The risk:  Vu –along with the county’s general counsel, and Chief Administrative Officer Helen Robbins-Meyer – warned the Board of Supervisors (repeatedly, and in no uncertain terms) that they’re worried about their ability to pull off the March election without these centers. 

Counting all provisional ballots already takes weeks. The county only has 30 days to count them all and certify the election results. Vu said the county could be at risk of missing that deadline if it doesn’t do something to minimize the number of provisional ballots it receives. 

“We should not underestimate what this means,” Vu said. Those who are registered, and are not registered, are coming.”

After hearing an hour of discussion, Desmond and Gaspar were unmoved and said they’d be voting no.

Robbins-Meyer jumped in, sounding desperate to prevent what was about to happen. 

That will complicate this, and make a very risky election that much harder, and it really does jeopardize our ability to conduct this election and certify it in the timeframe,” she said. “I urge you. I need a fourth vote.” 

Why she needs a fourth vote: The county’s allocating new money, so it needed four votes to approve the item. Even though Supervisors Greg Cox and Nathan Fletcher were already with Jacob, a majority wasn’t enough to move the item. They needed either Gaspar or Desmond’s vote. 

Gaspar and Desmond’s complaints: Desmond was brief. SB 72 is an unfunded mandate – the state made the county do something, and didn’t give it money to help. 

This is an unfunded mandate and I won’t support it,” he said. 

Gaspar had more far-reaching complaints tied up in a hypothetical change to the overall voting model that the county uses.

Another digression: The registrar is considering and studying a change like what Los Angeles County has done. 

That change, which San Diego could consider as early as 2022, would mean that every voter in the county gets a mail-in ballot, not just those who request one. And instead of having 1,600 voting locations open on Election Day, with everyone going to the one that corresponds to them, there would be fewer locations. They would be open for 11 days, and anyone could go to any of the locations.

It’s called the “vote center” model. 

But that’s not on the table. At least not now. 

In any case, Gaspar doesn’t like it and her concerns about it laced this discussion. 

“We’ve seen that special interest groups are focused on registration, but it concerns me about how these same special interest groups could potentially exploit vote centers in our community,” she said. 

She had previously requested that the county conduct an independent audit of its voter registration roll. Vu reported this week that doing so isn’t feasible. Gaspar did not like that.

This is extremely concerning when it’s been shown to you today that we can’t, even if we want to, conduct an independent audit of our own voter registration list,” she said. That should bring up a red flag. 

The workaround: After Jacob, Vu and Robbins-Meyer failed to persuade Gaspar or Desmond to come around, Jacob came up with a new route to fund the new satellite centers. 

She scheduled a new item for discussion Monday that would fund the centers, but this time, it won’t need four votes. 

“I am bringing this item forward to request the Board of Supervisors transfer funds from the Finance and General Government Group to the Registrar of Voters,” Jacob wrote of the agenda item. “These funds have been appropriated and can be transferred with a majority vote of the Board of Supervisors.” 

This might surprise you: That maneuver upset some people. 

So this is what govt has come to? If you don’t like the outcome of a Board of Supervisors’ vote, you have a ‘special meeting’ needing only 3 votes instead of 4?” Gaspar tweeted. 

Tony Krvaric, chair of the Republican Party, called it a “hastily pulled together meeting” that “reeks of Brown Act violations.”  

“Shame on @dianne_jacob for letting @LorenaSGonzalez’ husband play her,” he tweeted. 

Bry’s a Nope on MTS Sales Tax

City Councilwoman Barbara Bry at Politifest / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

We got a call this week from someone who heard that Bry came out against the transit tax hike the Metropolitan Transit System is driving toward putting on the November 2020 ballot. He couldn’t believe it.

But she was very clear. Here was her answer on it:

“I do not support it at this time. In 2016, the voters defeated Measure A which if it had passed and Mr. Gloria did support it, if it had passed, we would’ve been building all the wrong things. And as Voice of San Diego uncovered in some great reporting, you found out that SANDAG was lying to us about revenues from the past and revenues that were going to come in the future. I think we still haven’t regained the trust of the public. And I think if we’re going to pass a tax measure, we need to do it on a regional basis after we’ve regained the trust of the public. And after we’ve demonstrated that we can make transit work on the blue line, which will connect downtown to the UTC area, which is the number one employment center in the region.”

This is a sweeping take: SANDAG is not MTS. Conflating the two like this is a way to suggest that the entire body of transportation advocates lost the public’s trust and must restore it somehow.

What it means: This was the second live podcast we have done where a Democratic elected official has expressed either ambivalence or outright opposition to the MTS plan. The other was Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas, who told us months ago she is kind of in favor of the tax if it can be something … different than it will be.

The tax hike was San Diego City Council President Georgette Gomez’s top priority … until she decided her top priority was to be in Congress.

Having any opposition, or for that matter, not having almost unanimous, full-throated support from Democrats for a measure like this is an inauspicious sign for the measure.

Bry: Protecting Single-Family Homes … From Something

We also asked Bry for her explanation of this ad, which ran on Instagram. The illustration is from CityBeat, but again, her campaign transformed it into an ad.

So what is she, Barbara Bry the superwoman, protecting North Park and single-family homes from? She said she was referring to corporations that had bought up homes and, specifically, the book “Homewreckers”:

It’s documented that Wall Street bought hundreds of thousands of single-family homes in our country, tens of thousands in California during the great recession. I want our neighborhoods to be for us, for the people who live and work in San Diego, not for out of town, wall street corporations.

VOSD: So, so it’s not that you’re protecting them from more people?

No, I’m protecting them from out-of-town business interests that own many homes in single family neighborhoods in San Diego when the individuals who live in those homes have no control over their rent.

This is a little odd because corporations invest in multi-family housing too. Bry’s ad was specifically about protecting single-family homes and North Park(?). It was yet another example of her obviously trying to seize the benefit of being seen not as someone protecting single-family home neighborhoods from corporations but from all the things that may change them. But then backing into a safer place when pushed to explain.

The Fight on SOS Is Just Getting Going

Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

One of the things we clearly love to do in San Diego is to vote on voting and vote on when to vote and what things we will be voting on and how much votes should matter compared to other votes. This week, a bevy of community leaders launched the campaign against the so-called SOS initiative – the measure intends to stop sprawling housing developments in unincorporated areas of the county.

Right now, if a project conforms to the county’s general zoning plan, it can get a permit. If it does not conform to the plan, it must go to county supervisors for approval. There are several major housing projects proposed that don’t conform to the zoning plan.

The new measure would force all of them to get approved by voters countywide. Voters get to decide on that in March. Opponents say it isn’t fair or good government to take this role from elected representatives and hand it to voters.

“This measure would allow voters in La Jolla and Carlsbad to stop housing in the county and force all new housing into our communities,” Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas said at the launch of the anti-SOS campaign.

At Politifest, we heard from more county supervisor candidates who were against the measure – just as Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said he was on a recent podcast. But we also heard an endorsement from Olga Diaz, the city councilwoman in Escondido, who is running for county supervisor.

“I support it. The city of Escondido has something similar in place. It’s called Prop S. it was passed two decades ago. And essentially what it does is it freezes the general plan. The general plan that was devised with community input agreed to in terms of zoning and density and all the different types of land uses that we have in our city. And then it was voter approved and then after the voters approved it, it’s frozen. So if there’s going to be a significant change, that’s when the public would then be asked again if they approve of that change.”

Gloria: We Didn’t Need More Density

Assemblyman Todd Gloria at Politifest / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

We also asked Assemblyman Todd Gloria about his own experience considering new density in San Diego neighborhoods. He has aligned himself opposite Bry with the YIMBYs and, in particular, he launched the city’s Climate Action Plan, which now mandates a grand retrofit for the urban landscape. Basically it says the city must group people together better so that vastly more people commute via trolley, bus and bicycle.

And yet, when Gloria was on the City Council, he helped shepherd to completion three community plans — North Park, Uptown and Golden Hill — which did not retrofit those areas for more density.

In fact, the Uptown plan offered a 0 percent density increase, and it actually downzoned some core urban corridors; Golden Hill’s new plan also came with a 0 percent increase in density and North park’s new plan accommodated 7 percent more density. The plans were not just approved by Gloria but they were initiated in 2008, meaning the process of writing them was done entirely during his eight-year term.

We asked him to explain, and here was his response:

“I think you’re missing a key piece of perspective, which was that in perfectly in the case of the Uptown community plan, it was a very forward-looking plan, the previous one, right. And dealt with a lot of challenging projects during my time on the City Council and maybe just before where people weren’t aware that the corner of Third and University that you could propose and potentially build a fifth, 13-, 15-story structure. I think that illustrates what the old plan already had. Now, sadly that’s the side of a Walgreen’s today with no housing attached to it.

More Politifest Photos

Thank you to everyone who came and helped with Politifest. It was a resounding success — even in a non-election year. No doubt, we have set it up big for 2020. Let us know who you would like to see next year.

Todd Gloria, Tasha Williamson and Barbara Bry took part in a mayoral debate at Politifest 2019. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano
Councilwoman Georgette Gómez and Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey take part in a Politifest panel. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano
Former state Sen. Kevin de Leon and San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher talk about the impact of air pollution on housing and transportation at Politifest 2019. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano
Liam Dillon of the Los Angeles Times, and Matt Levine of CALmatters hosted a live recording of the Gimme Shelter podcast at Politifest. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

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

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