Last week was a rough week for the status quo in San Diego. The (mostly) unspoken private-public partnership between land developers and local elected officials couldn’t get it done. Not once, but twice.
A faux ‘citizens initiative’ run by hoteliers, and assorted Mayoral toadies won’t be on the November ballot. Visions of economic growth centered on convention center expansion ended amid finger pointing and raised middle fingers. Grift, incompetence and a failure to understand public weariness with past promises of economic benefits trickling down from the schemes of the rich and famous all played in role in the effort’s spectacular failure.
The days of San Diego County being a Republican enclave may be numbered. A Board of Supervisors’ attempt to deep-six a union-sponsored voting measure made its way back onto the November ballot, thanks to a judge’s ruling affirming that the 100,000+ people who’d signed petitions didn’t do so with the intention of fostering yet another pointless study.
There’s more, including a judicial rebuke of the City’s pension reform scam, and a revelation about one of the Mayor’s appointees to Civic San Diego being fined $11,000 by the ethics commission for pocketing a $100,000 fee from a developer whose project he voted on 10 months later.
Grade Inflation? Here are a few paragraphs from the Union-Tribune’s editorial assessing Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s job performance (D-), before they get around discussing to the latest screwups:
If this week wasn’t his worst yet, it’s only surpassed by the weeks his initial inaction and the bungling of his administration contributed to 20 deaths and 406 hospitalizations during the 2017 hepatitis A crisis. It’s hard to believe Faulconer was considered gubernatorial material 18 months ago.
Last Thursday, the state Supreme Court crippled the pension reforms Faulconer fought for in 2012, damaging his legacy as well as ex-Mayor Jerry Sanders’ and forcing city officials into contract negotiations that may require serious concessions, talks that were required by law and should have been held when the unions didn’t have the upper hand. As a councilman in 2012 who pushed for pension reform, Faulconer shoulders some but not all of the blame. But he should have seen that coming.
Faulconer’s penchant for political miscalculation on major issues became clearer this week. For one thing, the City Council had to shell out $30 million more on top of the $200 million it had committed to a real estate deal arranged to move some 1,150 employees into a better space. For another, KPBS reported that the city’s projections for three large homeless shelters were way off; it wants to move 65 percent of one-time bridge shelter residents into permanent housing. At the end of May, it had transitioned just 12 percent. As the manager of the team that worked with others to set that benchmark, Faulconer deserves some but not all of the blame. But he should have seen this coming.
Whoa! Need a comedy break? How about an unintentionally hilarious commentary at the Daily Beast by Liz Mair entitled Yes, Republicans Can Win in Cities. Here’s How.
Needless to say, American’s Finest City is exhibit A, with Mayor Kevin Faulconer as the poster boy for Republicans who aren’t Donald Trump who get things done.
San Diego, California isn’t as liberal as New York City was when Rudy ran and won. But it’s hardly on an ideological par with Alabama, South Dakota, Oklahoma or Utah, either. And yet, it has a Republican mayor, Kevin Faulconer, who won his first race with 54.5 percent and his re-election with 58.2 percent. Supporters talk up his commitment to transparency, something that matters greatly because of a major lack of interest on the part of Faulconer’s predecessor, Bob Filner, in exactly that. While Filner was forced to resign in the wake of a massive sexual harassment (and then some) scandal, a real problem under his tenure was his administration’s unwillingness to deal with a glut of Public Records Act requests.
Faulconer also was endorsed by former City Attorney and progressive Democrat Mike Aguirre—who had actually run for mayor himself but placed fourth—because of his belief in Faulconer’s integrity and Faulconer’s refusal to join San Diego’s retirement system as a councilmember. Aguirre evidently considered that an act of independence at a time when Faulconer would have to make difficult decisions regarding public employee compensation and pensions.
Faulconer campaigned on ensuring that San Diego would not replicate “financial mistakes” that he says came close to bankrupting the city. Good fiscal stewardship and transparency were top issues in his election, and he spoke to them. Evidently, the voters’ assessment was that his Democratic opponent did not.
Okay. She spelled everybody’s names correctly.
Apparently, Ms. Lair didn’t bother to follow up on what’s transpired over the past four years. Or, for that matter, how insider politics has defined perceptions and ignored fiscal reality in San Diego. Stewardship and transparency, indeed.
The latest version of selling convention center expansion used the homeless as window dressing. A portion of the proceeds would be used for homeless services, the actual depending on hotel revenues matching expectations and whether there were cost overruns in the expansion.
The charities whose funding stream includes taxpayer contributions all lined up to support convention center expansion. Meanwhile several initiatives with more specific goals, like building housing, died on the vine due to the overarching need for Comic-Con to have more space.
Here’s Michael Smolens at the Union Tribune:
It’s hard to overstate how stunning that is. There’s no way that some of San Diego’s most powerful interests — labor, business, tourism and construction industries, and much of the political class — should have failed at the signature-gathering task. How that happened no doubt will be a matter of dispute. The committee behind the initiative, “Yes! For A Better San Diego,” announced on Thursday that it will sue the signature-gathering company it hired, Arno Petition Consultants.
Later in the day, the City Council rejected a last-ditch attempt by the mayor to place a nearly identical measure on the ballot. The proposal probably would have been doomed in November anyway because simple-majority approval was out the window and opposition was growing.
Seth Combs at City Beat was less restrained in his choice of words
To make matters worse, the city council on Monday voted 5-2 to kill Councilmember David Alvarez’s hotel tax measure (an increase of 1 percent) where the money would have gone directly to homeless programs. The measure was seen as a longshot to make the ballot since the mayor’s convention center bill had already been approved for the ballot, but it stings nonetheless.
“I appreciated the straightforward measure that Councilmember Alvarez moved forward,” homeless advocate Michael McConnell told CityBeat. “In my opinion, based on polling, it would have had the best chance of receiving voter approval on the November ballot than the other likely measure containing homelessness funding. It is unfortunate that some members of the city council cannot see past their own political futures in order to make the best decision for San Diegans.”
The toothpick in the shit sandwich came on Tuesday. Just when this issue was about to got to press, KPBS published a story on the results of a report from Focus Strategies, an independent consulting firm hired by the city to study the results of the bridge shelter homeless programs. The bridge program emphasized permanent housing solutions and set a goal of 65 percent of people housed by the end of May. The program housed 12 percent instead. One of the main causes according to the story? Officials thought “that there was more permanent housing available than there was.”
Hmmmm… if only there were bond initiatives and measures that could help with something like this!
Lest anybody think the City’s failures on homeless issues were limited to using people from the streets as props to sell economic development, here’s another story.
One of San Diego’s Really Big Deal solutions is supposed to be a “housing navigation center” — an intake facility to guide homeless people into services and housing. Seven million dollars was coughed up to purchase a building constructed as an indoor skydiving center.
Residents in the surrounding neighborhoods felt very strongly about the burden of the city’s problems was once again being foisted on them. Their feelings and other procedural details were no match for the Mayor’s desire to point at something big and shiny as a symbol of his accomplishments.
Jeff MacDonald at the Union-Tribune requested emails about events leading up to the sale. The need for a conditional use permit prior to closing the deal was side-stepped by city officials. They were in a hurry and so was the property owner.
The need for an independent appraisal was also passed by. The County’s estimate of the property’s value was $5.8 million.
More than 50 pages of internal emails obtained by the newspaper show city officials making numerous concessions to acquire the 26,000-square-foot building, which still has two three-story wind turbines dominating an atrium and taking up much of the interior floor space.
Some of the emails show the seller’s agent saying the property was worth more than $20 million, but that his client would let the property go for half that amount — then rebate the city $3 million.
“The price we are asking is $10M. However … they agreed to accept $7M net ($10M sales price and make a $3M charitable contribution,” agent Jon Rodrigue of Aspen Growth Properties wrote to Thompson in November. “The beneficiaries were OK selling well below appraisal value because of a year-end closing.”
From a long-term perspective, Superior Court Judge Ronald L. Styn’s ruling against the County of San Diego on Friday may have more impact than the City’s troubles.
The Full Voter Participation Act ballot initiative, sponsored by SEIU Local 221, along with labor and community activists, collected more than 100,000 signatures in a petition drive to qualify it for inclusion on the ballot for the coming election.
The County Board of Supervisors effectively killed the measure for 2018 by tabling it until a study to access its potential to add costs to elections was completed.
Proponents were furious about the decision, vowing to go to court.
From the Union-Tribune:
Styn’s ruling requires the county and its Registrar of Voters “to take all action necessary to ensure that the Full Voter Participation Act of 2018 appears on the county’s ballot for the Nov. 6, 2018 election,” according to court records.
The Full Voter Participation Act would amend the county charter to force races for all San Diego County offices to a runoff in the general election, regardless of the outcome in the primary.
Under current law, candidates who receive more than 50 percent of the vote in a primary election are declared the winner.
The bottom line with this ballot measure, should it pass, is elected offices in San Diego County will now be decided in November when voter turnout is typically higher.
In 2020, assuming former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher prevails in Supervisor District 4, it’s probable Supervisor Greg Cox’s (who will be termed out) South Bay district will be represented by a Democrat.
This leaves Supe Kristin Gaspar’s reelection effort in the purple-trending blue-third district as the key race in 2020. Democrats envision a winning effort giving them a majority on the Board for the first time in decades.
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