Mayoral candidate Nathan Fletcher lays out a surprisingly progressive policy agenda.
By Andy Cohen
Part 2 of the SDFP interview with mayoral candidate Nathan Fletcher. See Part 1 here.
Listen to Nathan Fletcher talk about his policy ideas and positions and it’s hard to believe that he ever considered himself a conservative, a Republican. These are not the thoughts of the anti-tax, business-is-always-right crowd. This is a guy who has given this stuff a lot of thought and understands the historical significance of the issues. He understands that history can tell us a lot about what works and what doesn’t.
And, he says, it’s time we started focusing more on workers and wages than on protecting and promoting business interests at all cost. He understands that protecting the American worker is protecting business interests. The two are inextricably tied together, a concept that evades his former colleagues on the other side of the aisle.
For example, the minimum wage. “We should have a real conversation about minimum wage, because what you see is a real erosion of the middle class. It’s real. It. Is. Real. When you look at the average hourly wage of American workers, they’re going down. The stock market continues to go up, and the average hourly wage of American workers is going down.”
There is a real and tangible erosion of the middle class, he says, and that is what is putting our economy at risk. “We’re losing that middle class. And if we don’t get serious about it, and we don’t tackle it, we’re going to end up like some of the third world countries,” he said. Raising the minimum wage, he says, benefits everybody. People have more money, and they tend to spend that money, putting it directly back into the economy. “The people who are complaining the most are the ones who will stand to benefit the most,” he said.
“This idea that it’s going to destroy businesses is just not true. It’s never been true in previous increases. What do we see when we increase the minimum wage? We see that people have more money, and that they spend more money.”
The minimum wage needs to go up, he says, and that it should be indexed to inflation. He supports the steps taken by Governor Brown to raise the minimum wage in California to $10 per hour. He also says he supports the Living Wage Ordinance that was enacted in San Diego in 2005, and expanded in 2008, and that he is willing to look into more broadly expanding it.
“I watched Jerry Sanders (in an interview) say that it will destroy one-quarter of the minimum wage jobs, but that’s JUST NOT TRUE. That’s never been true. That’s never been the case. So I think that when we look at these issues, it’s important to look at what has happened in the past. We can go to other cities and see what happened and we can see if it really drove all of those businesses out of town,” citing the examples of Long Beach, San Jose, and San Francisco, who all have more broad LWO’s than San Diego.
“What I’m willing to do day one is go and look at other cities that have expanded it broadly, go look and see what the impact has been. So let’s go look, and let’s take an honest, no bullshit assessment of what has actually happened. We can go to other cities and see what happened and we can see if it really drove all of those businesses out of town.”
On a larger economic development scale, Fletcher says that San Diego has a real opportunity to remake itself and become a leader not only in the innovation economy, but in manufacturing. He acknowledges that our “innovation economy,” as it’s called, is a vital part of San Diego’s future economic growth, but that since so few people qualify for those highly skilled engineering and science based jobs, it’s only a part of where we need to be.
The label of “America’s Finest City,” he points out, came from the city’s pursuit of the 1972 Republican National Convention, which eventually went to Miami (where Richard Nixon was nominated, “so there’s Karma there”). It was based on the notion that San Diego is the best place to hold conventions, the best place for tourism, which has been the entire focus of our economic development for the last 30-35 years.
“I want to rebrand us as the world’s most innovative, most creative city. Because that’s the future. We were an agrarian society, then an industrial society, and we’re now an innovative society. And if we would embrace that with the same zeal as we have (tourism), a) I think it would position us better for the future, but b) those are better jobs. They are good paying jobs.”
But just being the place where innovative ideas are born is not enough. He says San Diego not only needs to be the birthplace of those ideas, but it must be where those ideas become reality, actual products. “If we say we’re the world’s most innovative city, we create the idea, we build it, we sell it, then we start aligning all of our interests to that. And we’ve done that with tourism. We’ve moved heaven and earth, we’ve had commissions and studies and tax increases and all types of things to do that. I think if we orient that same focus in the other direction we can have success.”
“I want us to embrace the innovative economy, I want us to invent the idea, and then we want to make the product here. And I think that on the Otay Mesa border there’s a huge opportunity for a high tech manufacturing center, and we should partner with Mexico. Because a lot of it will be done here, but you know what, if it can’t be done here, I would rather it be done in Northern Mexico than be done in China. Because that still benefits our region.”
Companies will relocate manufacturing facilities here if they’re asked, he says. If they’re approached by the mayor with a plan illustrating why it’s in their economic interests, and by-the-way, it’s also good for the city, then they would do some of their manufacturing here. They just need to be asked.
Relocating manufacturing to the region would also bolster port operations, he says. By working with the Port District, companies would then begin shipping their goods out of San Diego instead of transporting them to Long Beach and Los Angeles. Eventually it would create an economy of scale, making it less expensive to ship goods directly from San Diego. It might take a little time to ramp up those operations, but it could transform the entire San Diego economy, and he believes businesses will come to see and embrace that.
The other major challenge, he says, is the fact that these businesses lack the available workforce to make relocating those facilities here more attractive. There aren’t enough workers with the necessary skills. “That’s why a big part of our economic plan is with the Workforce Partnership on job training. A lot of people want to work hard, but they don’t have the skills that are needed. So if we would train people in precision welding or computer animated design, work with our community colleges, those types of things, we create the workforce, then (those businesses) will locate here as well.”
He said that the governor’s actions on Enterprise Zones, eliminating the sales taxes on manufactured goods and providing incentives for hiring workers gives San Diego a great opportunity.
Fletcher says he also supports the idea of increasing the linkage fee, pointing to the Independent Budget Analyst’s plan to phase them in a little more gradually than the City Council’s plan does. “Clearly they need to go up. I think we can phase them back in. I think the IBA’s approach is better.”
One of the biggest controversies in this mayoral race has been the City Council’s vote to implement the Barrio Logan Community Plan, which has led to a referendum promoted by the shipping industry and championed by Kevin Faulconer to overturn the Council’s vote. There is a myriad of blatant falsehoods being propagated by the opposition to the Barrio Logan plan, which has been well documented by the local media.
Fletcher says he is “100% against the referendum.” It’s the wrong approach. But at this point, he’s not willing to go all in, as has David Alvarez, on the side of the Barrio Logan Plan itself. One of the biggest criticisms against him is that he has thus far refused to take a definitive stand.
Asked why he was hesitant to take a stand: “I have, I’m opposed to the referendum. And I’ll admit, they’re saying things that are not true. But I’ve said that when I’ve been asked. It’s not right; the things they’re saying about the number of jobs, the things they’re saying about condos, those are just not true. And you can agree or disagree, but I think you should sell your point on the merits. And I think that it’s wrong, and it’s why I’ve been opposed to the referendum at all, and I’ve been opposed to the tactics that are being used by those who are trying to perpetuate it.”
He says he is simply not well enough versed on the specific issues in that community, and as such he just doesn’t feel comfortable coming down on one side or the other. There are people who have been working on this block-by-block issue for five years, he says, and “it’s an issue that I haven’t worked on for five years,” so he doesn’t feel qualified enough to step in definitively, although he obviously leans toward the Barrio Logan community side of the fight.
“They’ve been working on it for five years, I haven’t. But I am working on it. I’m spending more time on it. I think there are real concerns in the community as it relates to health that need to be addressed. And I think that we can all agree that we don’t want to see those jobs go. Those are good working class jobs, good middle class jobs.”
“One of the problems we have is you have someone, Kevin Faulconer, the folks doing the referendum are his biggest financial backers. If he would go to them and push them to get back to the table, I think you could get this worked out.”
“I think if there was mayoral leadership you could get the shipyards back to the table, and you could lean on them to find a solution that works. Maybe that’s naive, but I’ll tell you what you’re gonna get right now: You’re gonna get a referendum that’s going to qualify, and it’s going to pass.”
He points to his efforts at averting a janitorial strike in 2012. He said the biotech CEO’s involved in that dispute were some of his biggest backers. “I called them and said ‘I’m asking you, and strongly encouraging you, to work it out and take care of your janitors. It’s not in anyone’s interest to have a strike…….And what happened is they went back to the table and they worked it out, and there was no strike, and the janitors got better healthcare. But you have to have a mayor who’s willing to do that. I think this is a case where Kevin Faulconer is unwilling to stand up to them and do that.”
Nathan Fletcher has faced a lot of criticism in this race. His campaign for mayor, coming so soon after his party switch, has been viewed with a lot of skepticism. He understands that, and he understands why. But this race snuck up on everyone. The timing certainly could have been better. “I wish I had had more time in the party,” he laments.
But that’s not the reality of the situation. San Diego is in a crisis of leadership (although he acknowledges the job done by interim Mayor Todd Gloria). He was asked to run, with no qualifiers attached (unlike Kevin Faulconer, who he points out only got into the race because he was the “chosen one” by the local GOP and business establishment; Doug Manchester, Jerry Sanders, Tony Krvaric et al), by a lot of prominent San Diego Democrats—and independents, for that matter. And he truly believes that he is the best candidate to fill that void. He wants to be San Diego’s next mayor. “It’s the only job in politics that I want.”
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