Stay up to Date
Get our weekly insiders guide to political and policy news (Saturdays)
What a difference four years makes.
At this time in 2012, voters were facing big decisions.
The mayor’s race pitted four of the city’s highest-profile politicians against one another, generated national attention thanks to the presence of a party-switching candidate and cleaned out the city’s donor class. There was a major initiative to take pensions away from new city employees.
Things have been comparatively quiet in 2016. Some of the most exciting races and issues have burned out before they even really got started.
Still, there are contests with major implications.
The city attorney’s race brings five strong candidates competing for the second-highest city office, but it’s hard to get voters excited over a position for which few understand the job responsibility.
Control of the City Council is at stake, with a race for District 1 that went from straightforward to messy in the course of a week.
A minimum wage vote that looked divisive when it was first put to the ballot back in 2014 has fizzled. A statewide increase blunted the measure’s significance.
The mayor’s promise to put a convention center expansion initiative to voters never materialized. Voters won’t decide the Chargers’ future until November.
Yet the decisions voters make will nonetheless shape local politics. There will be at least three new Council members. The mayor and Council will come away with a new legal adviser. We could change the way we budget for infrastructure improvements.
Here’s a brief guide to help you know where the candidates stand come Election Day. We’ve included links to stories we’ve done on each race and candidate, op-eds they have written and appearances they’ve made on our podcasts.
Also check out the most recent episode of San Diego Decides, which took a rapid-fire look at the entire primary ballot.
Four years ago, San Diego elected its first Democratic mayor in decades and it appeared a long-term demographic shift in the city had broken the Republican Party’s hold on City Hall.
Then Mayor Bob Filner resigned in disgrace, and Mayor Kevin Faulconer won the special election to replace him. The budget got bigger each year as the economy expanded post-recession, and a moderate, business-friendly Republican mayor approaches another Election Day with approval ratings at his back.
Running against him are independent Lori Saldaña, a former assemblywoman who has since left the Democratic Party, and Ed Harris, a Democrat, lifeguard union chief and former interim city councilman.
Saldaña acknowledges hers is a long-shot campaign. Harris, who received the Democratic Party’s endorsement, says he doesn’t bother with odds.
The tandem is a far cry from a year ago, when Councilman Todd Gloria and Assemblywoman Toni Atkins were rumored challengers.
Faulconer has taken his lumps in a public spat with the Chargers over funding a new stadium, but it doesn’t appear to have hurt him. He vetoed a minimum wage increase and supported the coalition that collected enough signatures to put it on the June ballot. That minimum wage hike will share the ballot with him and is expected to pass comfortably, but that decision hasn’t stuck to him either.
Saldaña says she got in the race to offer voters a clear contrast. That contrast, she said, is about income inequality. Faulconer supports business interests and those who are already doing well. She’ll support those who’ve been left behind.
Harris, meanwhile, says the city is a mess despite the impression that things are gradually improving as the budget grows. Police retention issues, for instance, make clear there’s a lack of leadership in the mayor’s office.
Faulconer is touting the spending decisions he’s made as the budget increased. He’s increased money spent on street repaving, made emergency response time improvements and increased library and recreation center hours.
Mayor’s Race Reads
San Diego Decides podcast: Saldaña Talks About Running as an Underdog
San Diego Decides podcast: Harris Says the City Is a Mess Under Faulconer
City voters might not have a clear sense of what a city attorney does, but the elected legal counsel for the mayor and City Council has left its mark on city politics in recent years.
Republican Jan Goldsmith, who organized what he called a “de facto impeachment” of Filner, is termed out. He succeeded Democrat Mike Aguirre, whose combative role against the mayor and Council regularly landed him in the news.
It’s a crowded and qualified field on the June ballot, where the top two vote-getters will move on to a November runoff, assuming no one gets over 50 percent of the vote.
The lone Republican in the race, Deputy District Attorney Robert Hickey, is likely to advance to the November election, where he faces a less favorable electorate. The career prosecutor has said his experience would help him deal with the city’s homelessness problems. He’s backed by most Republicans in town and has plenty of money.
Port Commissioner Rafael Castellanos leads a pack of Democrats vying to join Hickey on the November ballot. He says his experience as a land use lawyer makes him the candidate to implement the city’s Climate Action Plan. He came up just shy of landing his party’s endorsement but won more votes than his opponents, is a prolific fundraiser and is supported by Councilman David Alvarez, Attorney General Kamala Harris and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Gil Cabrera, former chairman of the city’s Ethics Commission, has likewise raised enough money to run a robust campaign and has support from high-profile Democrats like Assemblywomen Lorena Gonzalez, Atkins and Gloria. He’s pledged to publish the legal opinions he offers the mayor and Council, so residents know where he stands if other elected officials go another way.
Deputy City Attorney Mara Elliott hasn’t raised much money, but she’s got a built-in advantage: The job she’s running for is right there in her current title. In a low-information contest, that could push her over the edge. She’s said the office needs to be de-politicized, and that the city attorney should simply provide the best legal guidance it can on behalf of its client.
Environmental attorney Bryan Pease was the last entrant into the race and is running a grassroots campaign. He ran for the City Council four years ago and has filed high-profile cases against the city, most notably to stop the removal of harbor seals from Children’s Pool in La Jolla.
City Attorney’s Race Reads
VOSD Podcast: Hickey on His Prosecutorial Career
VOSD Podcast: Castellanos Says City Needs Development Expertise
VOSD Podcast: Cabrera on His Time at Ethics Commission
VOSD Podcast: Elliott Wants to Take Her Boss’s Job
VOSD Podcast: Pease Says He’d Renew Aguirre’s View of City Attorney
This race was simple, until it wasn’t.
Democrat Barbara Bry was well-funded, had her party’s support and was facing off against Republican Ray Ellis, for which those first two things were also true.
They both ran on the basis of successful business careers. Both supported pension reform for city employees. Both say they oppose public funding of a football stadium. One major point of disagreement was a minimum wage increase, which Bry supports but Ellis opposes.
The race was on track to end in June – with a low-turnout electorate favoring Ellis – after community planning advocate Joe LaCava dropped out of the race. Then the flood gates opened.
Bruce Lightner, husband of the district’s current representative Sherri Lightner, announced he was running as well. He says he’s self-funding and suspects to surprise people with the support he receives from residents who are thrilled with his wife’s mentality, which he’ll continue. Though his wife’s a Democrat, Lightner is a registered Republican. He says he’s running to protect neighborhoods from developments like One Paseo and from the effects of short-term vacation rentals.
Self-funded candidate Louis Rodolico is also on the ballot. He’s primarily staked his candidacy on a promise to build the Regents Road Bridge, a $40 million project intended to ease congestion in the University City area. It’s been a local controversy for years, and Rodolico says he’ll get it built.
Current Sherri Lightner staffer Kyle Heiskala also jumped into the race at the last minute. He’s an advocate for transit and bicycle infrastructure. Ellis and Bry remain clear frontrunners, with party endorsements and enough cash to flood homes with mail pieces that up their name ID. Ellis’ best chance is to win outright in June. If he can’t get to 50 percent support in the suddenly crowded field, Bry could move on to November, where the electorate will be more favorable to Democrats.
This is potentially the most significant race in the cycle. A Republican victory would likely give the party control of the City Council, meaning the GOP could potentially control the Council, the mayor’s office and the city attorney’s office, all in a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans.
D1 Race Reads
VOSD Podcast: Bry Turns Entrepreneurial Experience to Council Race
VOSD Podcast: Ellis Takes Second Shot at City Council
District 3, which covers downtown and the core urban neighborhoods surrounding Balboa Park, is an open seat, and little from a policy standpoint separates the two veteran Democratic staffers vying to succeed Councilman Todd Gloria.
Chris Ward is chief of staff to state Sen. Marty Block. He took the Democratic Party’s endorsement and tapped into the party’s donor network early on to emerge as a favorite. Ward has been on the board of Uptown Planners, the planning group for the Hillcrest, Bankers Hill, Mission Hills area and says he’ll prioritize infrastructure, public-safety spending and addressing homelessness.
Anthony Bernal has worked in Gloria’s office throughout his term and says he’ll pick up right where his boss left off. He’s raised money from the restaurant and building industries, he says, because business owners in the district know they’ll be able to work with him, even though he’s a Democrat. He also accepted money from developer Doug Manchester, a staunch conservative who contributed to California’s anti-gay marriage bill in 2008. The support Bernal has received from conservative groups and donors persuaded the Democratic Party not just to endorse Ward, but to openly campaign against Bernal. Bernal capped off his support from the center-right establishment with an endorsement from Faulconer.
D3 Race Reads
Councilman Mark Kersey managed to take the open seat vacated by Carl DeMaio four years ago without a challenger. Now he’s an incumbent running against two opponents with little funding and is an overwhelming favorite to win outright in June and maintain his seat.
Kersey spent the last three years pushing an open-government initiative that’s beginning to bear fruit for the city, and is currently pushing an initiative to counteract the city’s infrastructure deficit. He failed to pull together a ballot measure that would do that, but he’s put together as an alternative one that would sequester half of all revenue increases and force future councils to spend it on infrastructure.
The Democratic Party endorsed Frank Tsimboukakis, who has pledged to roll back water rate hikes and increase police hiring. Political newcomer Keith Mikas is also on the ballot.
D5 Race Reads
It’s a similar story in District 7, the district that covers the area just north of I-8 including Mission Valley, Serra Mesa and San Carlos, where Republican Scott Sherman won in June four years ago and now gets the decided advantage of running as an incumbent.
Sherman injected himself into the city’s push to build a new Chargers stadium in Mission Valley, rolling out his own plan that would turn the existing Qualcomm site into dense housing, employment opportunities and a state-of-the-art stadium. He’s also become the Council’s most unapologetic conservative, railing against liberal priorities like the minimum wage increase.
His opponents are Justin Decesare, who won the Democratic endorsement and says he’ll emphasize infrastructure spending and neighborhood improvements after Sherman was too focused on the Chargers issue, and Jose Caballero, a self-styled progressive running to Decesare’s left who says he’s breaking up establishment politics a la Bernie Sanders, who he’s proudly endorsed.
Councilwoman Marti Emerald could run for another term but decided to resign after a bout fighting cancer. A field of Democrats from across the liberal spectrum seeks to succeed her.
The best-funded is frontrunner Ricardo Flores, Emerald’s chief of staff. Like Bernal, he’s promised to keep the city’s business moving without a hitch, and like Bernal he’s received support from traditionally GOP donors, such as developer Tom Sudberry, a member of the Lincoln Club’s board of directors.
Democrat Georgette Gomez is an environmentalist and community organizer who, in her day job at the Environmental Health Coalition, was active in the fight for a plan to keep homes in Barrio Logan segregated from heavy industry, which was eventually tossed by city voters in 2014.
Sarah Saez is a labor organizer with valuable endorsements from the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council and the local chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers. She won her stripes in the labor movement leading the push to lift the cap on taxi permits for the United Taxi Workers of San Diego. She’s come out in favor of participatory budgeting – where a city’s budget comes together with significant input from city residents – and has called for rent control in the city.
All three candidates were rated acceptable by the Democratic Party. Grassroots candidates Sam Bedwell, Araceli Martinez and Rebecca Paida are also on the ballot.
D9 Race Reads
San Diego Decides Podcast: The District 9 Divide
Four years ago, County Supervisor Dave Roberts became the first new member of the Board of Supervisors since 1995, and the board’s only Democrat. His first term didn’t go as he expected, though: He weathered a scandal after a former staffer filed a wrongful termination claim against him in which she alleged Roberts had an inappropriate relationship with one of his staffers. The county paid out $310,000 in settlements to three Roberts staffers who filed claims against him.
Roberts has denied that anything inappropriate took place. He’s running for another term and touting his record of supporting strict restrictions on new developments and other environmental standards. He even spoke out against Carmel Valley’s One Paseo development, a project the county had no say over.
He’s running against two Republicans who’ve split the conservative establishment, Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar and Escondido Mayor Sam Abed.
Gaspar is positioned in the mold of longtime supervisor Pam Slater-Price, a development-wary Republican in a development-wary district. She’s been endorsed by the conservative Lincoln Club.
Abed is a more traditional conservative than Gaspar, promising to bring small-government conservatism to the seat. He’s won the support of the county Republican Party.
D3 Race Reads
Two years ago, it seemed the minimum wage proposal would be among the most disputed items on the June ballot.
San Diego City Council Democrats in 2014 passed the increase on a party-line vote. A coalition led by the Chamber of Commerce and Faulconer, with significant financial support from out-of-town business groups, collected enough signatures to put it on the June ballot.
But after working to force the issue onto the ballot, business groups didn’t pump much money or effort into combating the minimum wage. Polling showed the measure was popular and likely to pass regardless. Then, the state Legislature passed a measure to increase the minimum wage statewide – to an amount even higher than San Diego’s measure.
If approved, San Diego’s hike will nonetheless raise wages faster than the new state measure. City workers would get a bump above the statewide $10 floor to $10.50 in June of this year and $11.50 at the start of 2017. San Diego’s wage would then increase along with inflation beginning in 2019. By 2020 the state’s minimum wage would take over until it reaches $15 in 2022.
The citywide measure would also employers to provide 40 hours of paid sick leave to their employees.
Prop. I Reads
This was supposed to be the year San Diego would solve its infrastructure deficit. With four years to work on it, city leaders would streamline their infrastructure spending and build a project list so they were equipped to ask voters to increase taxes for a $1 billion-plus spending plan. As it stands now, the city can’t repair enough roads, sidewalks and storm drains to keep things from deteriorating further. The plan was supposed to reverse that.
Consider this plan B.
Instead of a measure that would generate enough cash to make substantial repairs, Councilman Mark Kersey wrote a plan that would instead create an infrastructure fund and fill it with future tax revenue – money that would normally go to the general account the city uses to pay for all its core services.
Kersey’s plan would set the city’s 2016 budget as its base; as revenues increase each year, half of that increase would go into the newly created infrastructure fund. Let’s say the city collects $1,000 in taxes in 2016, and $1,200 in 2018. In 2018, $1,100 would go into the city’s general fund, and the infrastructure fund would get $100. And the city wouldn’t be able to decrease the amount it spent on infrastructure from its general fund, so the infrastructure fund’s spending would all be extra.
In short, the measure takes the money the city is already expected to receive, and mandates a certain amount of it is spent on infrastructure needs each year.
It’s hard to say how much money the plan would divert to infrastructure projects long-term. The city’s independent budget analyst estimated it could divert up to $4 billion to infrastructure projects from other needs over the next 25 years.
Assuming current revenue growth holds steady, the measure would bring in between $140 million to $200 million in the next five years. The IBA says it already knows of $1.4 billion in infrastructure needs over that time, and that number will only increase as additional needs assessments are finished. So the measure wouldn’t be enough to get the city to begin improving the state of infrastructure. It would slow the rate at which things are getting worse.
Faulconer supports the measure, as does former mayor and Chamber of Commerce CEO Jerry Sanders. Democratic Councilmen Todd Gloria and David Alvarez have come out as harsh critics, joined by the left-leaning Center for Policy Initiatives.
Prop. H Reads