By Doug Porter
It seems like ‘neighborhood’ is the new ‘sustainable’ for candidates in San Diego as the campaigns for the mayoral special election on November 19th get underway. Yes, indeedy, it seems as though this buzzword is on everybody’s lips.
What the word ‘neighborhood’ actually means to the various candidates is what we’ll be looking to find out in the coming weeks. Both the effen (my new shorthand for the anointed candidates that “everybody knows” will win) brothers emphasized the new ‘n word’ in their initial pronouncements.
Meanwhile things are going on in San Diego’s neighborhoods and communities of interest that are symptomatic a return to the business as usual mentality that has dominated the local landscape for generations.
A Community of Interest
Bike advocates, who became energized by the city’s decisions over the past year, ran into a buzz saw a few nights back in Hillcrest/Bankers Hill over plans to enhance cycling infrastructure.
From Voice of San Diego:
The city’s efforts to build dedicated bike lanes through Bankers Hill didn’t please everyone at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Uptown Planners.
The meeting made two competing truths quite clear: The city is on track to boost its bike infrastructure; and plenty of people aren’t happy about it.
The Uptown Planners considered two bike related items, and though neither received a vote that changed much of anything, the meeting became an occasionally heated stand-off between the packed room of cycling advocates and those who see bike investment as an encroachment on their lifestyle.
Fortunately those plans are far enough along so the NIMBY types in the area won’t be able to stop them. This time.
It was claimed, at various points, that the loss of parking would hurt local business, that residents who wanted to use bikes as a means of transportation should move to New York, that the benefits of the project were limited to social engineering and that the beneficiaries of similar projects are disproportionately white.
But all the tension didn’t amount to much: The city is installing bike lanes on Fourth and Fifth Avenues, and SANDAG is still planning for its Uptown project.
Move to New York? Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. And four exclamation points!!!!
The political vacuum in San Diego is encouraging pushback that would have unthinkable just a few months ago. If we just had somebody who’d be “abrasive” in these situations…
Ugly Secrets About Neighborhoods
You may think of neighborhoods as the socio-economic villages that provide the backbone for San Diego, but for some folks see them as opportunities that have little to do with actual community and everything to do with creating vehicles for harnessing cash flow into special interest projects.
Business improvement districts and other mechanisms have been and are being used (and sometimes abused) to pay for services that are often no longer provided by the city government. Some of these programs have been terrifically successful. Some have acquired the stink of corruption.
Sadly, unless residents band together and/or take legal action there remains little oversight into these public/private ventures.
Attorney Cory Briggs and San Diegans for Open Government have a lawsuit pending that could call the legality of the city’s 68 business improvement districts into question. A little background via the San Diego Reader:
In 2007, a group of Golden Hill and South Park residents sued the City over their assessment district. After a long, protracted legal battle, the residents prevailed. The judge ruled that the vote was improperly weighted and that there was no real distinction between “specific” benefits for property owners and “general” benefits for non-paying members of the public.
Despite the ruling, elected officials, developers, and property owners continue to push for the formation of assessment districts.
In Barrio Logan, an assessment was levied with only 44 percent support (see my article from April 25 for more.) The proponents of the so-called “community benefit district were mostly landowners or developers such as Kevin McCook from Shea Properties or low-income housing developer, MAAC. In all, only 14 landowners were responsible for 70 percent of the weighted vote.
Dorian Hargrove at the San Diego Reader has continued to ask the hard questions about Barrio Logan, reporting today:
There’s a pot of money sitting on the east side of the Coronado Bridge in Barrio Logan. The money has been collected to get the Barrio Logan Maintenance Assessment District off the ground and running. Unfortunately for the 82 property owners who voted for it, the pot of money can’t be touched.
The Barrio Logan Association, the entity set up to manage the district has not yet obtained 501(c)3 non-profit status from the IRS, a task in which maintenance assessment guru Marco Li Mandri charged the Barrio Logan Association, among other items, $25,000 to complete.
Hargrove reveals emails obtained via public records request showing that Li Mandri is pressuring interim Mayor Todd Gloria’s staff for his payment. Meanwhile the Barrio Logan association will be waiting for another year for its IRS approval.
Attorney Briggs is threatening a lawsuit claiming Li Mandri’s services were part of a “scam on taxpayers”.
And in City Heights…
Speak City Heights reporter Megan Burks sat down with Councilwoman Marti Emerald to talk about efforts to keep things rolling with funding and political momentum for projects in that neighborhood initiated during the Filner administration.
It’s an informative story, if for no other reason that she puts to rest (not running) rumors about Emerald’s entrance into the mayoral campaign. An accompanying article in Voice of San Diego talks about the progress being made on nearly a dozen major projects in City Heights.
One issue, related to City Heights by way of its large immigrant populations, doesn’t appear to be moving: reforms for taxi drivers. From VOSD:
Emerald said she’s waiting for guidance from the mayor’s office on a feasibility study Filner commissioned to look at returning oversight of the taxicab industry to the city. Taxi drivers banded together this spring to call for better wages and working conditions, placing blame on the Metropolitan Transit System, which currently oversees the industry.
Gloria’s communications adviser, Alex Roth, said taxi reform is “on a list of dozens of issues that we’ve inherited that Todd is looking closely at.” He said Gloria’s team would have more information in a few weeks.
Case Study: Grantville
I like the example of Grantville’s redevelopment funding because it shows that it’s just not our city’s poor neighborhoods that get screwed by downtown. Grantville ain’t La Jolla, but it is (barely) north of Interstate 8.
While state law specifically prohibits redevelopment money to be spent on beautifying existing government buildings and bars transferring tax increment funding to outside the boundaries of a redevelopment area, that’s exactly what happened to Grantville.
The City and the County hatched a scheme whereby $30 million in redevelopment funding was miraculously transferred via a trolley project to fund the renovation of the County administration building.
This is old news. Citizens sued and lost, mostly because the deal was already done. And, yes, I know this story’s vastly more complicated, but the essential point remains: downtown takes the cash it wants at the expense of neighborhoods.
Bruce Coons: Getting Down to the Neighborhood Nitty Gritty
I had a long chat with Bruce Coons, the mayoral candidate “everybody knows” can’t win yesterday.
He’s a smart guy. His heart’s in the right place. He’s totally NOT a one issue candidate.
And, no, this is not an endorsement. It’s waaay too early yet. I can’t even name most of the candidates, much less understand what they all stand for.
My biggest takeaway from the meeting was that the strength and popularity of the “we’re pro-neighborhoods” argument being advanced by the big name candidates could turn out to be their biggest weakness.
If they want to define neighborhoods as the funding mechanism for future privatized city services, as in “sure, just pay a few fees and you can have [fill in the service]”, which is what I suspect they’ll end up endorsing, then this special election represents an opportunity to do some real work on exposing just how rotten the system is.
Coons’ arguments (which I interpreted as) building democracy through neighborhood empowerment struck me as a real antidote for our historical flavors of ‘business as usual.”
Like his candidacy, such a solution is a long shot. But if you frame the campaigns of the effin brothers (you know, the two guys whose last names both begin with F that “everybody knows” will win) this way perhaps people will understand just how phony their “neighborhood” slogans are.
That said, I’m calling for “neighborhood watches”. Let’s see if Nathan Fletcher or Kevin Faulconer have the cajones to actually show up in communities that aren’t chock full of donors.
Starting later this month we’ll be instituting an election scorecard, marking actual campaigning (not media events) outside (and south and east of) downtown. And we’ve got some other cool tricks coming.
On This Day: 1882 – The first U.S. Labor Day parade was held in New York City. 1917 – Federal raids were carried out in 24 cities on International Workers of the World (IWW) headquarters. The raids were prompted by suspected anti-war activities within the labor organization. 1986 – Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” won the MTV award for Best Video.
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