Politics Report: Port Dealmaking
The Port may be willing to help the city pay to get control of a piece of land crucial to the planned expansion of the Convention Center. Also: What is the Real Justice PAC? And the airport bill gets gutted.
Here’s a thing: The Port Commission spent several hours Friday talking about “price and terms” regarding the property at Fifth Avenue Landing.
This is drama. Really: That’s the bayfront land the city needs to expand the Convention Center. The mayor has no bigger priority than the ballot measure to raise hotel taxes to expand the facility, pay for homeless services and repair roads. Supporters are collecting signatures for that measure right now.
The land is owned by the state of California and managed by the Port. A partnership has long leased it and controls it. The city of San Diego had a deal to buy them out of the lease but then … just stopped paying.
So the partnership drew up plans to build a hotel. The Port is obligated to consider it. They’re only a few steps away from getting to build that hotel. A hotel on that land would mean the end of the vision to expand the Convention Center as planned.
It also gives the partners, Art Engel and Ray Carpenter, great leverage. They have a good chance of getting a lot more money from the city than they would have had the city just paid its bill.
Back to the news: The Port has to disclose its closed session discussions. Friday, it discussed participating in this deal. But Port commissioners did not decide anything they have to tell us about at the meeting.
What’s next: The timing of the deal is going to be interesting. The Port is scheduled to discuss the hotel proposal in just a couple weeks.
If, for some reason, the proposal to build the Convention Center falls apart or fails at the ballot, Carpenter and Engel will lose their leverage (but maybe get to build a hotel).
On the other hand: Proponents of the ballot measure need to assure potential supporters of the campaign that they have the land for the Convention Center secured. So they want the deal done too.
The news again: The partnership would only confirm to us they’re in mediation.
If the Port is being asked to help the city to put money in the deal, that means it’s probably a big deal.
What Is the Real Justice PAC?
This week, thousands of San Diego voters received text messages like this.
They were from real people with their real phones. If the recipient responded, they began an exchange.
It was the work of the “distributed organizing team” at the Real Justice PAC. The group has developed a software platform that helps volunteers send many text messages from their own phones to ask for the smallest of efforts from more and more volunteers.
And in San Diego, the man behind the effort is Max Cotterill, a young guy from Riverside who studied at UC San Diego. While volunteering for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential race, Cotterill built the massive People for Bernie Sanders Facebook page, which now has nearly 1.5 million followers.
Real Justice is his latest gig. The PAC existed last year in a “proof of concept phase.” It campaigned hard for a reformist district attorney in Philadelphia, Larry Krasner. It worked. And the group got a jumpstart earlier this year when it joined with writer/activist Shaun King, who put electing reformist DAs as the highest priority for those mobilized by concern about police shootings, mass incarceration and other criminal justice issues.
Now, one of the group’s top priorities is getting Genevieve Jones-Wright elected district attorney in San Diego.
We asked Cotterill some questions.
Text messages aren’t usually the kind of thing we see from PACs.
We’re a pretty atypical PAC. We’re using mass organizing tactics pioneered on the Bernie campaign and other races. Texting is one of those. Peer to peer, digitally enabled but volunteers are able to do it at a high scale. It’s not a mass text, just one person on the other end.
Is this funded by the out-of-town Soros money we keep hearing about?
Totally separate from Soros. Most of the funding is small-dollar, digitally raised. Couple higher-dollar donors but I don’t know much about them. Do know that none of them are George Soros.
(We looked up some of the funding. The PAC got a major donation last year from Cari Tuna, who is married to a Facebook founder.)
How much of a priority is electing Genevieve?
We are really, really excited about the San Diego race. The tactics will be similar to what we did in Philadelphia. But it’s a different situation. In Philadelphia, it was an eight-person Democratic primary. In San Diego, there are two candidates and a much starker contrast. She is definitely one of the stronger candidates we’ve endorsed.
Jones-Wright: No Justice With Republicans
Some local Republicans took umbrage with a recent tweet from Jones-Wright. She wrote: “The last time we had a Democrat as DA in San Diego County was in 1995. That’s 23 years of Republican Rule. That’s 23 years of the People being denied justice. …”
That brought this take from a local conservative, Mason Herron, who is Assemblyman Randy Voepel’s chief of staff: “In order to raise money, a candidate for District Attorney just claimed that millions of people have been denied justice because for a generation because her party hasn’t been in power.”
Jones-Wright responded: “I firmly believe the average prosecutor wakes up every morning wanting to seek justice. But, here in San Diego County, they have had their hands tied for the last 2+ decades by leadership focused on convictions and winning at all costs.”
RIP, Airport Bill
San Diego’s political class was abuzz for weeks about Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher’s bill to fold the Airport Authority back into the Port of San Diego’s portfolio.
But Thursday we got news that Gonzalez Fletcher had abandoned that effort and replaced the bill’s language with a new compromise. The bill now would create a new committee of Port, airport and other stakeholders to grapple with mobility around the airport. It would be obligated to turn in a report by the beginning of 2020.
Gonzalez Fletcher said the bill sparked a lot of conversations among regional leaders about how to handle the issues the bill hoped to address. She said she became convinced that Kim Becker, who has been the airport’s president and CEO for not quite a year, was not trying to fight the bill, but figure out how to solve problems.
“I thought the best way was to give everyone an opportunity to come up with a realistic plan, and make the airport have a requirement for accountability,” she said.
April Boling, the chair of the Airport Authority’s board of directors, said that the proposed bill as it was had frustrated airline companies. The agency had been in the midst of negotiations with the airlines to increase rents at the airport to fund a reconstruction of Terminal 1.
“Those are the conversations we were having that have been influenced by this pending legislation. The feedback has been very negative,” she said, before the new deal was announced. Southwest Airlines had even written a letter to Gonzalez Fletcher pleading with her to reconsider the bill. The letter said the bill threatened to derail progress on Terminal 1 and delay its design and build phases.
After the new bill came out, Boling said she was excited.
A committee of regional agencies had already been meeting to sort out the transportation problems on and around Harbor Drive, including how to connect the airport to the region’s trolley system. But that group couldn’t make any final decisions. It didn’t have any teeth.
“This doesn’t do that either, but by creating a requirement for a report going to the Legislature, I think it could identify where the funding shortfalls are,” she said.
County Considers Bundling Big Land-Use Decisions
Multiple large-scale development projects that don’t meet the county’s existing growth plan have been inching toward a vote from the County Board of Supervisors for years.
Those projects are potentially facing a new hurdle. Opponents are pursuing a November ballot measure that would force all general plan amendments to a countywide vote.
What’s new: Mark Wardlaw, the county’s planning director, has a plan to get a bunch of those projects approved this year.
State law prohibits counties from approving more than four general plan amendments a year. The county already approved one, the Lake Jennings Marketplace shopping center in Lakeside.
But many others are on the way, and Wardlaw said the county wants to have a way of approving them all before the end of the year.
“We will be grouping them, and bringing them forward to the Board of Supervisors,” he said. “Obviously, these are large projects, and there will be controversy with them.”
What’s included: Wardlaw specifically name-checked six projects that could be included in the plan to group amendments together for a single board vote. They were:
Newland Sierra: 2,100 units near Bonsall
Warner Ranch: 781 units near Pala
Otay 250: 3,158 units in East Otay Mesa
Valiano: 326 units in San Dieguito
Harmony Grove Village South: 453 units in San Dieguito
Lilac Hills Ranch: 1,746 units near Valley Center
What’s confusing: “Moving too fast” is not a common problem for large land-use decisions like this, which have each been in the pipeline for years. Rather, the process tends to get delayed at each step, extending decisions beyond their stated timeline. The idea that the county needs a contingency in case the board can approve a half-dozen projects within the next eight months doesn’t jibe with history.
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Correction: An earlier version of this post identified Mason Herron as a spokesman to Sen. Joel Anderson; he is chief of staff to Assemblyman Randy Voepel.