The San Diego City Council District 6 representative demonstrates a disturbing lack of knowledge on important issues.
Last night at Golden Hall, San Diego’s election central, I had the opportunity to participate in a live-blog along with the writers from CityBeat and contributors from SD Rostra, the OB Rag/SDFP, along with several other politically active contributors from around San Diego County. It was a great time, with perspectives from all over the political spectrum (but most of us were pretty squarely on the liberal side).
Refreshingly, the debate between the two political perspectives was entirely civil, often entertaining, sometimes informative, and always good natured. It was a lot of fun, and I’m privileged to have been a part of it.
The banter was not only limited to the live-blog “panelists,” though. From time-to-time one of the candidates or prominent political figures would stop by to participate in the chat. Defeated City Council District 7 candidate Mat Kostrinsky stopped in briefly. Newly drawn 71st Assembly District candidate Patrick Hurley came by (and what a disaster that encounter was, but I’ll let CityBeat’s David Rolland deal with that one). State Senate candidate George Plescia and Assembly candidate Rocky Chavez took their turns at the keyboard.
And San Diego liberal political icon Donna Frye came up with the one-liner of the night in response to being asked her thoughts on a potential Carl DeMaio mayoral tenure: “It would be the Highway to Hell.” (Ya just gotta love Donna! I have a whole newfound respect for her!)
But the most interesting—and illuminating, at least for me—encounter of the night was when City Council rep Lorie Zapf sat down to partake in the dialogue. Zapf was not up for re-election this time around, so she was there just hanging out with the other SD politicos, rooting on her favorite City Council candidate, Scott Sherman, Carl DeMaio’s handpicked guy for Council District 7 (he won outright—no runoff for him).
Zapf sat down to maybe answer a few questions, participate in the discussion, demonstrate her knowledge of city issues……..you know, communicate with her constituents like a good elected official is supposed to do. And she was kind enough to give us some of her stress-free time.
The Q&A with Zapf started innocently enough when Seth Hall asked her which, if any, races most interested her. She replied, “I’m focused on District 7, Scott Sherman.” To which she added, “We’ve been having a lot of success at City Hall…….we need Scott to keep the momentum going.”
OK, so I needled her a little (maybe more than a little) by asking “So what you’re saying is that City Hall needs more Republicans?” That was the clear implication, at least in my mind.
Sitting across the table from her, I could see and hear her reaction. She was clearly flustered, as she huffed in frustration and said “He’s putting words in my mouth.” It was at that point that I waved to her to let her know who and where I was and where the question actually came from. Let her put a face and an actual person to the question instead of just a name hidden by a computer keyboard. It was only fair.
“Scott is a small business owner like me……..” she replied. So I asked, “Why are you such a staunch supporter of Scott Sherman? What about him makes him the ideal fit for District 7?” An honest question, although I do have to admit that in hindsight it may have come across as a bit snarky. Wasn’t intended that way, though. CB’s David Rolland also asked, “What are the key issues coming up next year that you want Sherman’s votes on?”
Zapf: “We’ve got a lot of momentum at city hall. Scott would keep it going. Things have changed a lot in the last year and a half under Tony (Young?). I want to keep it going.”
I asked her to define “momentum.” “Well, it looks like we’ll be needing to implement Prop B, pension reform, so we really need someone who supports it…….not his opponent who opposes it,” she said.
Rolland asked if she cared “about anything other than employee pensions.” It’s at this point where things got really interesting, and as I said above, very illuminating. I mentioned that the “reform” bill doesn’t actually save the city any money (and according to the independent audit, could cost the city money) unless the pay freeze gets enacted in its entirety. There was also the myriad of lawsuits that are all but guaranteed to come as a result of the passage of Prop B that will cost the city even more money. Apparently not something of any concern to Lorie Zapf: “Everything seems to be mired in litigation these days. So…….business as usual.”
“The BIG 3 candidates for mayor vetted it,” she said “as well as taxpayers, the Mayor, and many others. I’m not a legal expert, but legal experts have vetted it and I’m confident in their analysis.” (I just caught the “BIG 3” backhanded slap at Filner myself…….too bad only one of the “BIG 3” made it through to the general.)
It was just as she was getting ready to bolt that she was confronted with the real meat of the Proposition, when I pointed out that it wasn’t properly vetted at all, since the independent auditor determined that the plan was fraught with problems. As the Voice of San Diego said in their headline to the story, the “pension initiative overstates (the) savings.”
I also pointed out that the Voice did a fact check of DeMaio and Filner statements, DeMaio saying that the initiative saved the city $965 million, and Filner saying the initiative saved the city exactly $0, determining that both statements were true.
“OOOOOHHHHHhh! They did a fact check!” she mocked. Yes, she actually said that! As if having the actual facts was a bad thing…but then again, when the facts are so entirely against you, I can understand why you wouldn’t want to be confronted by them.
It was here where the conversation went offline and continued in person, and where I had to explain to Zapf how Prop B actually worked. The only way it saves the city the $965 million as advertised, I pointed out, is if the pay freeze on city workers’ salaries is enacted for the full five years. That was unlikely to happen, I said, since it’s against the law to put workers’ salaries up for a popular vote.
“But it’s just pensionable salaries,” she insisted.
This is perhaps the least understood aspect of Prop B: “Pensionable salaries” refers to the workers’ bi-weekly paychecks. Whatever they receive as a part of their regular pay is considered “pensionable salary.” So what Prop B is indeed proposing to freeze is city workers’ salaries for five years. This would be in addition to the pay freeze the employees agreed to five years ago in a good faith effort to do their part in stabilizing the city’s finances. So all told, that would be 10 years of no salary increases: No step increases, no cost of living adjustments, nada. Bupkis. Zip. Zilch. For ten years!
What would not be subject to the pensionable salary freeze are any potential cash bonuses awarded to workers. Bonuses are not a part of their regular contracted salary. They’re not contracted at all. And so the only way for city workers to receive any increase in their earnings under the auspices of Prop B would be for their benevolent employer to award annual cash bonuses just out of the plain ole goodness of their hearts. For some members of the City Council, it’s not difficult to see them working to make this a reality. For others….well, let’s just say that for some of the others, it seems as though they’d be content seeing the city’s public employees rot in hell before they awarded any kind of bonuses. This was something completely lost on Lorie Zapf. Her reaction when presented with this bit of information was a befuddled, confused stare.
She had no idea what to say. She had no answer. She quite clearly didn’t have any understanding or knowledge of what we were talking about. This was a sitting member of the San Diego City Council who is an ardent supporter of a ballot initiative, and she had no clue how it actually worked.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention another little part of our exchange: When it was pointed out that city employees have already endured a five year wage freeze, and that Prop B was demanding an additional five years, she replied “We haven’t had a pay raise either.” City Council members currently earn $75,386 per year. “Do you know how much a fire fighter earns?” she asked.
For the record, according to the San Diego Fire Rescue Department’s FY-2012 adopted budget, San Diego Fire Fighter salaries are as follows:
- Fire Fighter 1: $39,166 to $47,112 (There are currently no Fire Fighter 1’s)
- Fire Fighter 2: $52,520 to $63,378 (Currently 354 Fire Fighter 2’s)
- Fire Fighter 3: $55,141 to $66,539 (Currently 51 Fire Fighter 3’s)
It’s all right there. In print. For everyone to see. Even the six helicopter pilots earn between $70,970 and $85,904. I don’t know about anyone else, but I sure want highly qualified, expert pilots flying our fire rescue helicopters.
When asked whether, with such a dangerous job, she didn’t think fire fighters deserved to be paid well, she cited a study done by a magazine (perhaps Forbes) that surveyed the most dangerous jobs. Fire fighter did not make the list, she said. “Running into a burning building sounds pretty dangerous to me,” I told her.
It’s important to point out that not all city employees are paid even as well as the fire fighters are, and to be honest with you, I’m not all that impressed by the salaries I see above. Looks like San Diego is getting a pretty good bargain to me considering the service they provide to the city when needed. And it was Zapf’s implication that there were simply thousands of city workers earning exorbitant salaries. Her use of fire fighters as an example pretty clearly demonstrates the falsehood of that assertion.
Zapf is an elected city official. As such, she should have a higher level of expertise on any proposed ballot measure or issue that comes before the city council. Certainly she should have a greater knowledge than the average citizen. Our exchange demonstrated a distinct lack of knowledge, which should be concerning to all San Diego residents. She later complained to David Rolland that she had had a glass of wine, and wasn’t prepared to answer such tough questions. Full disclosure: I had a shot of scotch and a beer by the time of our exchange, and was perfectly capable of articulating the details of what Prop B really meant.
If one glass of wine is all it takes to throw Zapf completely off her game, then she must be an awful lot of fun at parties.
Edit: It has been brought to the attention of the SDFP that the pay freeze called for in Prop B is technically for six years, not five, as the law calls for it to begin on July 1st, 2012. A mere technicality, really, since we’re already in 2012 and the freeze is currently in effect anyway. So really it extends it for an additional five years. But I still know more about it, apparently, than Lorie Zapf. Oh, and by the way: The person who pointed out the correction was Donna Frye. How come an ex-city councilperson knows more about it than a current city councilperson?