Politics Report: End of Year Politics Awards

Politics Report: End of Year Politics Awards

It’s Christmas Eve and the seventh night of Hanukkah and Boxing Day for Festivus and dark and foggy and there was very little political news this week that we absorbed.

So we compiled a sort of “best of” issue for the end of the year.

The Biggest Deal

Measure B: The city of San Diego is the only city in the region that collects trash without a special fee. If you can get your bins to a city-maintained street, the city will collect the refuse and recycling. However, most apartment and condo-dwellers had to pay private haulers. That inequity and arguments about it have been part of the city’s political conversation for decades.

But this year, voters decided to allow the city to start charging a fee. That does not mean a fee is coming anytime soon. The City Council will have to commission a study about what the service really costs and then decide how much it wants to charge and that will depend on what services it wants to offer. It could take years and the Council members may not want to implement a fee until they are safely through the next round of elections.

Regardless, Measure B changed San Diego more than anything else this year.

The Biggest Whiff

The SANDAG tax SANDAG didn’t push: San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria will give his State of the City speech in a couple weeks. Last year, when he gave the big speech, we noted what he didn’t talk about: He showed no preference or interest in any of the major initiatives that groups were lining up to put on the ballot in 2022 to raise taxes in some form even though they aligned with some of his goals.

One of them got his support as it made its way to the ballot: The initiative to raise sales taxes for SANDAG’s regional transportation plan.

The RTP, as it’s known, is ambitious. To pay for all the transit improvements and mobility hubs and all the things, SANDAG needs residents to sign off on three sales tax increases. Three. The board adopted a plan that assumes voters will vote not once, not twice but three times to increase their sales taxes. The plan also assumes the state and region will someday pass a driving fee, charging people for the miles they actually travel.

Despite the pressing need and assumption that they’d pass a sales tax increase, SANDAG didn’t put one forward. It relied on private parties, namely unions, to do it. Nobody in San Diego has yet successfully taken advantage of the legal loophole that lets governments raise taxes with a vote passed by a simple majority of voters (as opposed to two-thirds) if the initiative is run by private parties (and not put on the ballot by the government itself.

“We can’t wait any longer. We have the resources we need to qualify for the ballot and then some. I’m confident we’re going to qualify for the ballot, and then we’re going to win,” said Dan Rottenstreicht, the consultant managing the initiative.

The rhetorical pledges started flying.

“If this measure passes, San Diego County residents will see less gridlock, cleaner air, safer roads and better transit,” San Diego Councilman Raul Campillo said at a rally.

We’ll have to wait to test that claim. Despite raising millions and with more than a million left in the bank, the signature gathering team and consultants failed to turn in enough valid signatures and the measure never made it to the ballot. Among colossal ballot initiative failures – of which we have seen many many – this was the grandest whiff of them all.

SANDAG still assumes it will receive three new sales tax increases and the driving fee will be implemented.

Savviest, Most Cynical Chess Move

Sinking Saldaña: Councilwoman Jen Campbell had a wild first term. She arguably got more major policy achievements than any member of the City Council in 20 years but she was ousted from the Council presidency and she ended up with only 30 percent of the vote in the primary of her re-election bid.

It wasn’t looking great! But her supporters had taken the bank-shot of the decade by driving money and support to Republican Linda Lukacs’ campaign, enabling her to make it through the primary with Campbell. They also ran an intensely negative campaign against Democrat Lori Saldaña, who was also hoping to make it through the primary. Campbell’s supporters, which included Mayor Gloria and the business and labor leadership knew that Saldaña posed a much more difficult obstacle to Campbell’s re-election in the runoff.

It worked, Campbell was easily able to vanquish Lukacs and she just began her second term. I wrote an analysis up here if you missed it.  

Most Interesting Beefs

Ikhrata vs. Board: SANDAG’s CEO Hasan Ikhrata will either be a transformational figure remembered for decades in San Diego or he will be gone within the next six months and SANDAG will “right size” his plan. In a fascinating interview with us, he explained why he stands steadfastly behind the idea of implementing a driving fee. In short, if the region is truly going to hit its ambitious goals to reduce carbon emissions, the system must be “priced” appropriately. So if not a driving fee, than a toll on every lane of every freeway.

You have to both a) collect money and b) discourage driving, to build what’s needed and to get more cars off the road.

In short, according to Ikhrata, SANDAG’s board, including Mayor Gloria, are living in a fantasy land if they think they can oppose the driving fee and still hit the climate goals they’re so vocal about supporting. He’s calling them out essentially as frauds and it feels like that can’t last.

Alvarez vs. Gómez: A regular fountain of content for us has been how politics will work with Democrats dominating so much of the local elected landscape. Politicians will still fight. So how will Democrats divide themselves. When Lorena Gonzalez left her job as a powerful member of the California Assembly, two close friends went for the job. Former City Councilman David Alvarez and former Council President Georgette Gómez. Gómez ran as progressive Democrat with major support from Gonzalez and unions. Alvarez ran as almost a Republican and enjoyed even tacit support from the Republican Party as he talked up law enforcement and business needs.

Alvarez won. What it means, if anything, is still to be seen. But it is notable that he has yet to have any big blowups with labor or left leaning activists.

Alvarez and Gómez are no longer friends.

And Sentences We’re Still Grappling With

San Diego is becoming an aging region with negative growth.”

“Being on the freeway is very, very unsafe for a sea lion.”

“For years, local officials had assumed that because voters, rather than the City Council, approved the 30-foot height limit, it couldn’t be trumped by state law. That was wrong, the state declared, and now a 100 percent affordable housing project in eastern Pacific Beach, on Garnet Avenue, could be built up to nearly 70-feet tall.”

“My partner and I were terrified, and for sure, I had no moral confusion: I was aware that we were running a scam. I’d dodged a bullet, and I knew it.” That time the U-T’s business columnist Neil Senturia confessed to running a fraud and getting away with it after writing a book about a fraud the former political maven Gina Champion-Cain didn’t get away with.

The Politics Report is taking next week off. We’ll be back in the New Year. Have a safe and relaxing week unless you’re writing the mayor’s State of the City speech, in which case you’re probably filled with anxiety. If you have any ideas or feedback, send them to scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org.