Editor’s Note: Starting Line columnist Doug Porter is taking a few days off. Since he’s spent the last six months flogging the importance of the County of San Diego primaries (last day to vote is June 5), we’re reprinting some of his early observations. Updated parts of these stories are in red.
An Overview (Originally published January 22)
The motto for San Diego County is “The noblest motive is the public good.” Questions to be answered in 2018 will decide if this is possible in the future.
I hold that the government of the County of San Diego is the single biggest factor standing in the way of solving many of the social problems facing the region. Voters have an opportunity to do something about it, starting in June.
San Diegans have the means at their disposal to make meaningful inroads into challenges surrounding child development (prevention), health (addiction, mental health), housing (affordability/homelessness), and economic inequality. All we need is the political will.
The problem in discussing just how much the County should be doing versus what it actually does is that most folks eyes glaze over about 15 seconds into the conversation.
I’ve come up with the analogy of a camping trip, hoping to get your attention long enough to grasp what’s at stake. Like all analogies, it’s imperfect.
So we’re going on a tent camping trip. The campsite where we’ll be staying represents the State of California, our tent represents the County of San Diego, and whatever we have to sleep in represents the cities. People who are Chartered cities, like Chula Vista, get sleeping bags. Everybody else gets to huddle together under a sheet.
In theory, this overnight adventure could still be fun. Except nature happens: bugs, snakes, coyotes, wind, cold, heat, wind, rain, etc. are things potentially impacting the quality of our stay. And if the tent we’re staying in has holes, no flooring, is threadbare, or isn’t properly secured, our experience is going to be a bad one.
Needless to say, Murphy’s Law applies to our camping trip. A plague of locusts descends upon us. The wind howls. A cold rain falls. And we campers end up retreating to the relative safety of our cars.
We had the money to buy a nicer and more sturdy tent and sleeping bags for everybody, but the folks who organized the trip thought the old tent we used was just fine. “If it was good enough for us back in the day, it’s good enough for your trip.”
This, my friends, is the state of the County these days. In years to come, we have the opportunity to have our recreational excursions aka government organized by people who can anticipate what our needs might be and do something about it.
End of analogy.
Here’s a short overview of the problems at the County level for those wanting a bit more substance.
The County is the legally mandated entity with the responsibility for the health and welfare of all San Diego residents. California state law says very clearly, “the role of county government, as a political subdivision of the state, is to deliver the services mandated by the state and federal governments, for instance, health, welfare[…]”
It has $1.7 billion in unrestricted funds in reserve and near $1.1 billion in dedicated reserves. The County could spend $1.2 billion of these monies and still maintain a healthy balance of reserves for bond rating purposes.
The County’s top funding priority is public safety–mostly dedicated to policing and incarceration,– which eats up 61% of its local tax revenue. This is a spending strategy rejected by California voters when they overwhelmingly supported Proposition 47, The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act.
What they –despite a boatload of promises– won’t spend time and money on are the main safety net programs impacting the 604,190 San Diego County residents (14.7% of the population) living in families with incomes at or below the federal poverty level.
The County’s failure to enroll eligible families in safety net services costs the local economy nearly $1 billion a year.
Elections are coming up. And we need to look past the high profile contests and pay attention to officials making/enforcing policy and overseeing operations on a daily basis.
There’s a primary on June 5 deciding critical County functions affecting our criminal justice system (District Attorney), public safety (Sheriff), and how the bureaucracies (Assessor/Clerk/Recorder) we contact as citizens function.
Installing a new set of faces in those offices come June would be a good first step in making a difference. As things stand now, candidates for county office can win outright during a primary if they get a majority of the vote.
Come November, with all the vaunted “Blue Wave” organizing, partisan frenzy, and media coverage, these offices won’t be on the ballot.
It’s a long-shot for challengers in these races. The incumbents all have name recognition and significant support from the minority of citizens who actually benefit from the status quo. They have all benefited from not having to face the consequences of their (in)actions thanks to primary elections with typically low and conservative-skewing turnouts.
The incumbent County Assessor, Sheriff and District Attorney don’t believe in the possibility of a big voter surge in June raising the odds they’ll be looking for work elsewhere. They’re counting on certain classes of people not voting.
Let’s take a look at a couple of outrageous situations, giving proof to these assertions.
[t]he current District Attorney’s policies enable a broken police culture placing the police first, not the victims, the defendants — or justice.
One need look no further than the case of Tony Diaz—a homeless man whose conviction for a misdemeanor violation was overturned when body cam evidence surfaced proving the arresting officer lied under oath about the circumstances leading to the arrest.
The earlier actions of the San Diego police officer in question, Colin Governski, led to a $15,000 settlement by the City to settle a harassment lawsuit filed by homeless human Zack Green.
Governski was subsequently transferred out of the so-called SDPD quality of life team and an ‘internal investigation’ was initiated. Three months have passed and charges have yet to be filed by the DA’s office… it must be one hell of a complicated investigation… or… some people are more equal than others when it comes to the administration of justice.
five nine months with no action since I wrote the above. If you or I lied in court, somehow I don’t think it would take five nine months to resolve the case.
13 15 women now. Incumbent Sheriff Bill Gore went on KUSI recently to assure the public the investigation was moving forward. One might think with more than a dozen accusations there might be more effort to protect the public than administrative leave for the officer in question. Nope…
You’d think in any election season, regardless, these officials would be out there showing the public just what good public servants they are. But you’d be wrong.
Interestingly enough, the low man on the totem pole here–County Assessor Ernest J. Dronenberg–has moved to make sure there are no surprises come June.
The County of San Diego is now paying Republican apparatchik Jordan Marks as a ‘Special Assistant’ for Dronenburg. Marks comes to the position from the staff of Diane Harkey, currently serving as Chairwoman of the Board of Equalization, another powerful government entity flying below most people’s radar.
If the name Diane Harkey seems familiar, it’s because she’s the Teapublican candidate for Darrell Issa’s Congressional seat.
Apparently, one of the duties of Dronenburg’s Special Assistant involves sending out fundraising letters at hours indicating he’s supposed to be working for taxpayers, as this letter sent just before 11 am on Friday, December 29th indicates. (Links & personal id info removed)
Subject: A Lincoln Club Member needs our help
Dear fellow LC Members,
One our own is need of help. Ernie Dronenburg, Jr. – our Lincoln Club endorsed candidate for County Assessor/ Recorder/ Clerk – has a challenger that is real.
Two National PACs from the progressive left are considering supporting his opponent. Click here to read a POLITICO article discussing one of the PACs and the SD Assessor’s race.
THE NATIONAL PACS WILL BE MAKING THEIR DECISIONS BASED ON END OF YEAR REPORTS.
Lincoln Club leaders like Sudberry, Turk, Hom, and Malcolm have already stepped up to help Ernie and are helping close the gap.
Ernie needs our help to raise $11,260 by 12/31. Every dollar – big or small count – that is why I am personally making an appeal – our contribution today can help keep hundreds of thousands of dollars from these national PACs out of San Diego. I personally confirmed this is real.
Can you help? Max contribution is $800 personal / $1,600 per couple.
No lobbyist or corp dollars.
CLICK HERE TO CONTRIBUTEIf you’re a club leader and can do $800 that would be amazing or a young leader that can do $250 – every dollar will count.
Contribute at: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Many of you know Ernie far better than me. Some of you served with him during the Vietnam war, worked with him during his 20 + years in Sacramento (yes he helped draft prop 13), and especially for the last 8 years where he led numerous enhancements making it easier for homeowners and the real estate community hit hard during the downturn.
Ernie hasn’t kicked off his re-elect campaign and will do so in January, but after our meeting alerting him to the nations PACS considering to target his race he has spent the last two weeks raising funds. He is also committing personal funds.
Thank you again for considering a contribution at XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
I’m personally in and appreciate your consideration and support! Look forward to success in 2018! I’m always here if you need anything. Any questions I’m on my cell at xxx-xxx-xxxx.
Challenger Matthew Strabone is one of two local challengers (the other is Jordan Beane, in the D2 City Council race) to be endorsed by Run For Something, which seeks to support the election of under-35 candidates with progressive values. An astounding 37 of the 72 first time candidates endorsed by the group in 2017 won their elections. (The usual rate is about 10%)
The union representing 11,000 San Diego County government employees is working on a ballot measure to change how county elections work. Service Employees International Union Local 221 would like to see a future where every candidate for county office faces voters a general election.
In the meantime, I’m stuck, trying to get readers interested enough to vote in a primary election.
The real fireworks for June will come from the Democrats running for County Supervisor District 4, which includes much of the City.
I’ve posted profiles of the three leading Dem candidates, all hoping for the opportunity to take on GOP candidate (and former DA) Bonnie Dumanis. (The races are technically non-partisan, cough, cough.)
After interviewing Lori Saldaña, Omar Passons, and Nathan Fletcher in recent weeks, I’m of the opinion that any of the three high-profile Democrats in this race would be acceptable. There are differences in both style and substance in how each of them views the task of changing the culture at the Board of Supervisors. (Democrat Ken Malbrough did not respond to a December 4, 2017, emailed interview request.)
Note: Since this was published, the San Diego Free Press endorsed Omar Passons for District 4 Supervisor.
Passions are running high with supporters of the Democratic candidates if the social media feuds I’ve observed in recent weeks are any indication.
My intention with these interviews was to simply introduce each of them, leaving aside any enmity I may have encountered along the way.
District 4 Supervisor Ron Roberts is termed out of office this year, thanks to an earlier union-backed ballot measure born out of frustration with decades of incumbency by Republican, white, and San Diego State University grads.
District 2’s Supervisor Bill Horn is also termed out this year. His district, covering the northern reaches of the county is considered safely Republican. Oceansid
e City Councilwoman Esther Sanchez is the Democratic candidate. The Democratic candidates are Michelle Gomez and Jacqueline Arsivaud.
Note: Since this was published, the San Diego Free Press endorsed Michelle Gomez.
Oceanside Council member Jerry Kern and San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond are the GOP candidates. Whichever one of them gets the County Party’s endorsement on April 9, will likely be the winner in that contest. Jim Desmond received the GOP’s blessing.
The five County Supervisors –who get to draw their own districts– are vested with legislative, executive and quasi-judicial powers affecting the estimated 3,317,749 residents.
In the 2016 Presidential election, Democrat Hillary Clinton carried San Diego County by a nearly 20% margin. And the county, like much of California, is increasingly less white than it used to be.
In 2020, Democrats have the opportunity to capture two more seats on the Board of Supervisors, giving them a majority on the board.
For 2018, all eyes are focused on District 4.
(h/t to Center on Policy Initiatives for some the data used in this story)
Click Here for the complete list of SDFP endorsements.