Roundtable: Convention center expansion, Saaid Gadhafi not coming to Mexico and Escondido Latinos want representation.
December 9, 2011 1:28 p.m.
Guests: Katie Orr, KPBS News metro reporter
Ricky Young, Watchdog editor, San Diego Union Tribune
David Garrick, reporter, North County Times
Related Story: Roundtable: Convention Center Expansion, Foiled Gadhafi Plot, Escondido Voting Rights
CAVANAUGH: How to pay for a bigger San Diego Convention Center, calls for Escondido election reform, and international intrigue. This is KPBS Midday Edition Roundtable.
I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, it's Friday, December†9th. Today's Roundtable guests, KPBS metro reporter, Katie Orr. Hi Katie.
ORR: Hi, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: And David Garrick, Escondido reporter with the North County Times. And Ricky Young, Watchdog editor for the San Diego Union Tribune.
YOUNG: Hi, nice to be back.
CAVANAUGH: Give us a call. The number, 1-888-895-5727. %F01 another week, another step forward on the man to expand the San Diego Convention Center. Remind us what kind of expansion is proposed and how much it's going to cost.
ORR: This would be the third expansion of the Convention Center. Right now, the latest number I heard, it would cost about $520†million. It would increase the size of the Convention Center by about 33%, more than 200,000†square feet of exhibit space, additional meeting space, ball room space, and a park on top of the convention center as well.
CAVANAUGH: Who is backing this plan and how are they selling it to San Diego?
ORR: A lot of people are backing it. The mayor is one of the biggest proponents of the plan. He's enlisted Steve Cushman, a business leader around town to spearhead the effort. Laborer unions are backing it as well because of the jobs that it would create in building this construction. They say that it's an an economic emergency, that it's generate said $70†billion since it opened here in the late '80s. I have heard on the other side of that, because you don't hear it a whole bunch except for the financing cost that the argument is that right now, San Diego is a little bit of a big fish in a medium sized pond. And if we expand we might be a smaller fish in a huge pond. So we'd be eligible for more conventions, certainly, and obviously whenever you talk about the Convention Center, they talk about the need to expand so we don't lose Comicon that's the one everyone references. But there would be a lot more competition. Although San Diego, 70†degrees in December definitely has that going for it.
ORR: It might be successful
CAVANAUGH: Now, this, I'm going to get to the vote this week, but just to give some context to this, last week, city officials secured an approval of $60†million for from the port commission. This week, the City Council voted on another funding source for this Convention Center expansion.
ORR: In both of these -- the officials involved stress they're very preliminary approvals because we haven't seen a formal financing plan for the Convention Center expansion. And the CFO of the city says that likely won't be able until May, actually. But what the city did last week was allow -- it took steps to begin creating a special taxing district, which would allow hotels within the City of San Diego to increase their room rates, and then that revenue from those increased taxes would go to pay for the majority of the Convention Center expansion.
CAVANAUGH: Hotels closer to the Convention Center would actually be able to charge their occupants more, right?
ORR: Right. It's like a tiered system. If you're in downtown San Diego, you would increase your room rates 3%. If you're in mission valley, mission bay, it would be 2%. If you're further out in the city, like Rancho Bernardo or San Ysidro, it would be a 1% increase
GARRICK: What would that bring the maximum percentage to? I know it was like 10%, 12%.
ORR: Downtown it would be 15%.
GARRICK: Is there any concern that tourists are going to become price sensitive? When they get home, they're going to go, hey, whoa! That was more expensive than I thought?
ORR: I think that is a concern for hotels not within the downtown area. Bill Evan, the hotelier, he owns several hotels in mission bay, he was saying they don't like the plan they have to increase their room rates, and he's not convinced that his hotels will see a benefit. Certainly not hotels in Rancho Bernardo. People who support the Convention Center say it's an economic engine for the entire region. But the hoteliers have to vote on this tax, and the vote is weighted so that if you would see a bigger increase your vote would count more. And that's -- bill Evans was concerned about that as well. That means the downtown hotels, that will benefit more from the expansion, have a bigger say in the vote.
GARRICK: Do you think there's going to be a geographic division among hotels?
ORR: They were saying, why not Coronado? The Lowe's Coronado resort is the same distance away as some of the motels in the mission bay area. But Coronado is a different city. We can't tell them to pay this tax, even if they might benefit
CAVANAUGH: Just to make it clear, we're talking about an occupancy tax, a tax on tourists who rent the rooms in these hotels. This was a recent report that found three downtown hotels would profit the most from the cocaine expansion, and that report found that they're going to really profit a lot.
ORR: I believe voice of San Diego wrote it up. They would profit about $273†million over the first 6 years to be their expected revenue. And then what these hotels will tell us is that, yes, they are benefiting, but they're also generating hotel taxes, transit occupancy taxes, that goes into the city's general fund. So the whole what is it? A rising tide lifts all boats?
GARRICK: That is the point of the thing, for them to have more business that will spill over and be a boon to everyone. I'm interested in your terminology, because you keep calling it an increase in the room rate. But it is, I think, a tax.
ORR: Right, yes.
GARRICK: It's set up like a Mellow-Roos district. And if 2/3 of them approve, then it gets exposed like a tax, I think. Not just an increase in the room rate.
GARRICK: But they're allowed to pass it onto the people who stay in the rooms.
YOUNG: Well, that's what you do with a tax.
ORR: And it is. It's a 33%, 2%, 1% increase to the taxes.
YOUNG: And I think in terms of whether that's going to have an impact on tourists where they're deciding where to stay, I've thought about this, and when I'm booking travel, they quote you the room rate! And you don't find the -- you don't find what the taxes are till you click the purchase button.
ORR: Right, well, yeah.
YOUNG: And I do think even with this increase, we'd be lower than a lot of areas. I know I used to cover Anaheim, which was up at, like, 17%, if I remember, 10 or 15†years ago. And maybe where further Convention Center expansions, they have gone higher than that. I think it's very common for cities to use increases in these taxes to fund Convention Center expansions and bring in business. And what I've seen over 20†years is that's a assistant, leap frogging kind of thing. We're on our second or third expansion here. What I'd be interested in to keep an eye on is the cost. You mentioned 520 million. I looked at the documents on the City Council agenda, and they approved it for up to 575 million.
ORR: Right. The bonds that the hoteliers are -- the special taxes district would be allowed to take out are for up to $570†million.
YOUNG: So they're building in wiggle room there, and with each of the past expansions. And even the original building of the Convention Center, it came in at significantly more than the original price. At first, it was 95 million estimate, I think to build it, and it came in at 160 million. Which was a scandalous figure at the time, I think. Now, we're exponentially more than that.
ORR: That's one of the concerns that they were talking about at the council meeting. The bonds are fixed to some extent, the port is fixed, if the project does exceed the cost expectations as Ricky was say, who's on the hook for that? The council members were concerned because so far right now, the city's current contribution is about $105†million over 30†years. There's not a cap in place yet. And the CFO and all them stress when the financing plan comes out in May, perhaps we will have that, and some of the members were arguing for a cap. But that -- that's money that comes out of the city's general fund. Now, the city -- just to give you the other side, the city argues that, yes, that comes out of the general fund, but that will be covered by the increased taxes we get from a bigger Convention Center.
CAVANAUGH: I just want to tell our listeners is our number is 1-888-895-5727. David garret?
GARRICK: How they made the case that the Convention Center needs to be expanded?
ORR: They say they're booked, first of all, they can't fit anyone in. And that several conventions have decided not to come here because of the space limitations.
GARRICK: And in this economy, is that in other words when the economy of gets back, if you have a waiting list in this economy, you'll have a really rong one in a good one?
ORR: I believe they believe if this is the expanded, they'd be able to meet these needs, have several conventions at once, a big one, a smaller one. It will make them more flexible and bring more visitors into San Diego. That is -- again, I've heard from critics who say, listen, conventions not the wave of the future. Telecommunitying, video conferences is the wave of the future. In 20†years, maybe you don't have this demand. Supporters of this Convention Center don't see it that way.
CAVANAUGH: Councilman Kevin Faulconer Faulconer was on the show last week. He described the way they're putting together the funding as putting together pieces of a puzzle. And he said one of the pieces they'll waiting on is a decision in January to see what part redevelopment funds might have in securing funding for this Convention Center. Now, I -- what is that we're waiting for?
ORR: That goes back to the infamous decision earlier this summer by governor Jerry Brown to eliminate redevelopment as we know it and then say, okay, you can keep going if you contribute significantly more to local schools. The redevelopment agencies hate that idea. They say that it would basically tie their hands. A lot of them think they would have to go out of balance because they couldn't afford to pay the schools, so that's in court. So in January, we should get a ruling on whether or not Governor Brown's legislation stands or if the redevelopment agencies says it violets prop 22, which limits what the state can take from local entities. So they believe that it is a violation, obviously Governor Brown does not. That is a piece of the puzzle. The people at the city say they have figured out the financing so far, assuming redevelopment is not a part of it.
CAVANAUGH: But they started out figuring that redevelopment was a part of Tright?
ORR: Right. Back before this decision when this whole thing was getting going, yeah, I believe they started looking at it in 2009 and that was -- redevelopment was still a part of it. Now -- and then it went away. So J. Goldstone, the COO thea the City Council meeting said the latest thing was done assuming that redevelopment would not be a part.
GARRICK: That's probably the safest path. It may survive January†15th but there's no guarantees. And it seems unlikely it would survive in its old form.
ORR: I think it'll be a diminished form of what it was.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Ricky Young.
YOUNG: I just wanted to bring up some important aspects of this. I was reading a ComiCon blog last night where they calculated this would allow for thousand more slave lairs, and also a significant increase in aching legs from walking around a sprawling Convention Center. I of theed to ask one serious thing. Katy, the Chargers plan to say never mind about that expansion, let's do it as part of the stadium, has it signed on for that? Or is it just them?
ORR: I think it's just them. The mayor and them have made it pretty clear that the Convention Center does not want to include the stadium in their plans. They are adamant that a contiguous facility is what they need, and that it would not work for the stadium to be there, even though there is a beautiful pedestrian bridge just built from the end of the Convention Center over to where a new stadium would be located, they say it would not work. Haven't heard a whole lot about that. So maybe if they put wings on the pedestrian bridge.
CAVANAUGH: The wings of pedestrians they could call it. My final point on this, there have been suggestions that mayor Sanders wants to leave a big Convention Center as part of his legacy when he leaves office. Are they under the gun when it comes to ComiCon and Sanders leaving office? Do they have to make this decision in a timely fashion?
ORR: I think they do. I believe we have and please correctly if I'm wrong, Comicon at least one more year here in San Diego. But other cities are wooing Comicon they would love to have it. So they definitely feel the pressure from that. At the City Council meeting last week, council members Alvarez and Leitner, and even emerald argued for continuing this so they have more time to look at it. And the city officials said, no, you cannot do that. We need a decision because they needed to go back to some major -- I'm forgetting the name. But a major convention, they were afraid they were going to lose it if they didn't say, yes, we are music forward on this expansion. So they say there is definitely pressure. And Alvarez and Leitner kid not agree to go forward with this plan because they thought they needed more time to look at it. And the city's independent budget analyst declined to make a recommendation on this because the financial picture is too murky right nought.
CAVANAUGH: Too many pieces of that puzzle not in place. Thank you very much for the discussion. %F01
CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition Roundtable. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. My guests are KPBS metro reporter, Katie Orr, David Garrick, Escondido reporter with the North County Times, and Ricky Young, editor of the watch dog team at the San Diego Union Tribune. We're taking calls. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. %F01 Ricky, a tale connecting a San Diego security firm to international intrigue surfaced in your paper and others this week. It has to do with -- Puerto Vallarta and colonel Gaddafi's son. Where does this all start?
YOUNG: Saddy Gaddafi, he was a professional soccer player, a Hollywood movie investor, and the son of Muammar Gaddafi, is is in nijer at present where he's being held without extradition for charges of brutal suppression of the up rising there. And what Mexican officials announced this week is that they busted up a ring who had planned to secret him away to a resort near Puerto Vallarta to presumably live a life in secret, more pleasant than whatever might be coming for him otherwise.
YOUNG: Like the fate of his father or what not.
CAVANAUGH: Let me break it down for you. This is a really convoluted tale, if I might say so. It seems to have started last month. There was a Canadian woman who got arrested in Mexico City. Then everything started to hit the fan, so to speak. Why did Mexican authorities take her in and and who is she?
YOUNG: Cynthia Veneer. She was a supporter of the regime for whatever reason in Canada, and needed a way to pull this off and brought some people into it, into what the Mexican authorities describe as a criminal network. And four of these people were detained this week, and two of them were associates of the company you mentioned. There's always a San Diego angle, right? There's a security company based in San Diego called veritAS worldwide solution or security, they're closely linked companies. So the people arrested down there were associates of that company who they say all they did was book her a plane, they had no idea what she was up to on a flight to Tunisia. And -- but the authorities say it was more than that. If you look at their website, it says they're involved in all kinds of clandestine operations, special ops kind of stuff, but when we talked to the guy who's an attorney here in town, Joseph Casas, he said that the website does not really describe what they were up to. It was an idea. But the company never got off the ground. Now, his partner, I guy named Gregly gillespy told us he was at least chattering planes, and the reason his associates were down there in Mexico was to collect some money that this woman owed them for the flight to Tunisia. And that's all they were doing. But obviously the Mexican authorities think otherwise.
CAVANAUGH: Now, the person that you're talking about, I believe, is a retired marine by the name of Gregory gillespy. He called this plot, this whole story, a "freaking Tom Clancy novel". And he said basically people are making this up out of whole cloth, at least when it comes to veritas's part in it. But the Mexican authorities have a different idea. They've called this operation gast. Do we know how the Mexican authorities found out about this?
YOUNG: I don't know how they found out about it. We have focused largely on a local connection here which is that Chula Vista police chief was the executive vice president for law enforcement training for this company. Again, he says that, you know, he kind of lent his name to the operation months ago, but never heard from the people again on this subject. But again, if you look at the website, it's got a fancy bioof him on this page with pictures of the guys with the S.W.A.T. uniforms on. So maybe you can't believe what you see on the Internet or maybe he was doing more than he let on. Upon it's hard to know. The guy who's the CEO of the company, again is an attorney in town, who has represented beher anno in a dispute in Chula Vista with a partner in another company. So the police chief of Chula Vista is not supposed to be involved in outside security companies, but he had a previous issue with this. And this guy, who's the CEO of the company was his lawyer in that case. So it is rather tangled. We had one of the council members say this seems like an intrigue novel. And he'd like to have some more answers. The city rather quickly yesterday put out a statement saying beher anno has cut his ties with this company. Never mind. But it remains to be seen how accepting the community will be of it. Wendy Frye who did some great work on this story, got a number of calls yesterday from angry residents saying what do you mean our police chief is tied up with these people? Again, he says he's not. He was sort of the vice president on paper only. But I guess time will tell.
CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, a little bit more about saddy Gaddafi. You go into that a little bit in your article. He is, as you say, in nijer now. The reason that he can't go anywhere on his on is what?
YOUNG: He's wanted by interpol for brutally suppressing the up rising in Libya.
CAVANAUGH: And they can't --
YOUNG: He can't just travel about the world freely
CAVANAUGH: And they can't arrest him where he is now?
YOUNG: No, because they're holding him without extradition, which means at the moment it's kind of a safe place for him to stay there they're not handing him over to the authorities?
GARRICK: Is he in a prison cell or resort or somewhere in between?
YOUNG: I don't know. Of I think he's not in a resort which is why he was trying to get out.
CAVANAUGH: And I think he's not in a prison cell
GARRICK: Is this like ososwhere he could pay a team of people to to protect him for 15†years?
YOUNG: I think he's probably got some stuff squirrelled away. But the public records act doesn't cover it
GARRICK: Could he say I'm going to live here, and you're going to smuggle me there and give me caviar and lobster for first years?
YOUNG: Maybe 25†years.
>> Where is does the U.S. law enforcement come down on this company? Certainly it can't be legal to hide war criminals in Mexico.
YOUNG: I have to make clear the ties are a little tangential. The company here and the guy who's the partner, they told us that the people arrested down there were their coworkers, was one of the terms they used, that associates. But they were tied to another company called GMG. I think there's a lot of different incorporations, limited liability and things going on that may insulate these guys from the kind of follow-up that you're talking about by law enforcement here.
CAVANAUGH: I want to talk about the involvement, quote unquote, of Chula Vista police chief David baher anno in this. It sounds to me from what you're telling us us and from what he said about it, it's one of these things where someone lends their name to an organization and perhaps receives a fee but is not terribly involved in the organization itself, is that it?
YOUNG: I think the plan was for him to do some more hands on training, provide a curriculum, go out to San Antonio where the training ground was going to be for some law enforcement training. But what they say is they never got off the ground. Certainly he lent his name, and his biois there. I think they were trying to sell the idea that people could use thirds requirement services. It's unclear to me whether they ever did. They say it never got off the ground. They called it a start-up that never got up.
CAVANAUGH: And the chief was even surprised it existed in a form that could do anything, even send a plane to Mexico City?
YOUNG: Right, yeah. He did express surprise, as did the other guy, the -- his lawyer, Joseph Casas, who's the CEO of Veritas worldwide solutions. He said he did not know where Gregory gillespy had gotten with Veritas worldwide security in terms of providing these plane arrangements.
CAVANAUGH: You're article opens up so many questions. As Katie was saying, there are a number of international security firms in San Diego who provide planes and support and we don't know exactly what to other areas of the world. And I'm wondering, doesn't it seem to you that this might -- it opens up the question of who is monitoring this?
YOUNG: I think that's a very legitimate question. When -- they've actually scrubbed a lot of references to this company off their website. When they had it on there, they were bragging about San Diego's border situation and how they're uniquely qualified to provide protection and such for people on both sides of the border. So I think that the international location here allows them to get involved in some international things. I think there may be something to that.
CAVANAUGH: Do we know what's going to happen to the people who were arrested in Mexico?
YOUNG: Well, I guess it'll go through the Court system there the same way it would here.
CAVANAUGH: Interesting. It's a very interesting topic. I think we have to move onto the next one right now, but I want to thank you all very much. Thank you. %F01
CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition Roundtable. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. My guests are KPBS metro reporter, Katie Orr. David Garrick, Escondido reporter with the North County Times, and Ricky Young, editor of the watch dog team at the San Diego Union Tribune. Our third topic comes from the North County. Escondido officials have been at odds with the city's Latino population over several issues. Now, a Latino group says the city needs to change the way lawmakers are elected and is threatening a lawsuit. Once again, we invite our listeners to call. What is your idea about this potential lawsuit to force Escondido to change the way it elects its officials?
David, if you would, walk us through the situation in Escondido. City Council members are elected the large now. What does that mean?
GARRICK: That means the entire city elects each individual member. You're not elected by a geographic area. Every resident of Escondido votes for each of the four counsel members and the mayor. The idea of dividing the city -- the mayor would continue to be elected at large. But dividing the four counsel seats into separate geographic areas came up earlier this year when the city was thinking about becoming a charter city. And Olga Diaz said she supported it, it would be cheaper to run for office, because you'd have to canvas and send mailers to fewer hours and really allow people to get to know a neighborhood a important issues. Of the rest of the council said no, we want the council members to know about the whole city, so it was dismissed. There wasn't enough support to go to geographic districts
CAVANAUGH: The San Diego City Council is elected by districts, right?
ORR: There will be nine next year
GARRICK: That's the only city in San Diego County to have election districts. And it's about 30 out of the state's 480 have districts. But more and more are starting to get them because of a group called the lawyers' committee for civil rights. And they have studied the California voting rights act of 2001 and decided that a lot of cities are vulnerable to, I guess the rules within that act, that say if there's racial polarization among the voting block, then you need to create geographic districts so that people who are part of a minority group can get their voice out there and be heard. So they have gone to a lot of cities and they've threatened to sue. One element of the the voting rights act that some critics complain is that the losing side in any such suit has to pay the attorneys' fees for the winning side. A lot of 73s and some school districts arguably have done this out of fear, not necessarily agreeing there's racial polarization, but saying we can't afford messy years of lawsuits and then paying our attorneys' fees and their attorneys' fee, so they figure it's simpler just to go to districts
CAVANAUGH: When it comes to racial polarization, let's talk about the case that this Latino group and the group who want elections, what's the match-up of Escondido?
GARRICK: It's 49% Latino
CAVANAUGH: No, I mean the City Council
GARRICK: There's one Latino. Three Caucasians and a Lebanese woman.
CAVANAUGH: What is the ethnic match-up of the Escondido population?
GARRICK: Most recent census, 49% Latino, and 40% white.
YOUNG: And what% Lebanese?
GARRICK: I don't know!
CAVANAUGH: So what -- they want to see district elections happen because it would make it more likely that the City Council would be more representative of the population as a whole?
GARRICK: That's the theory. And Olga Diaz, are the current member, in 123†years in the city, she's the first openly Latino to be elected. There was someone in the '90s who didn't even mention he was Latino until years he left office. He was maybe half. The point is, she's the first 1 to run on Latino issues. But the City Council who was against the district say she's proof that we are polarized. If she can win, she's proof we don't have a problem. Her argument is that she was more of a fluke, she won when Obama was elected, she's a liberal accident progressive, and she doesn't live in the city's Latino neighborhoods. The city is generally close to apartite. There's a doughnut, outside there's a bunch of white, wealthy neighborhood, and in the center is a relatively poor, Latino urban core. And that district, theoretically, if they created a district with the urban core as 1st†District, that would continue continuously elect a Latino person, and the other three, I guess, that theory would elect white, but at least the Latino issues would be out there. And I can tell you covering the City Council, Olga ga-Diaz's arrival has certainly changed what topics get covered. And even though she's on the wrong side of a 4-1 split and has essentially no power she has at least the ability to bring up things. And the dialogue has changed dramatically since she arrived. And that's the argument. You want a Latino on the counsel to bring up those issues so people can remain in touch with what the Latino community's concerns are.
CAVANAUGH: Let's talk about some of the people who are actually behind this move toward district election. Tell us about David Gomez
GARRICK: David Gomez. I don't know who --
CAVANAUGH: He says for years Escondido has been led by people with no concept of the Latino experience. And he's brought this issue to the attention of the City Council. I'm sorry.
GARRICK: No worries. Dimitrio Gomez. He lived in Escondido for more than 40†years, and watched for years, and been frustrated that the council never cared about the Latino community as it grew. And he said they're completely out of touch with them and they need to have district elections so all the different neighborhoods of the city have a City Council member they can go to and bring their issues to instead of having these at-large representatives who the people who are in the city's largest Latino neighborhood, they never meet them, never see them, don't rub in the same circles. They have no connections.
YOUNG: The term you used a couple times is polarizing. They have to be polarized. By that, do you mean segregated? Polarizing, I think of as being characterized by loud arguments
GARRICK: Right. I think speaking to the attorney, that's a legal term that means that vote in blocks based on their ethnicity as opposed to something else.
YOUNG: How would you know that? Are they poling voters to see how Hispanics vote?
GARRICK: I believe that is part of the process. But again, the situation is that it's on the city -- the city has to defend itself against this team of lawyers going around the state doing this, and the idea is that -- and as far as I know, modesto tried to fight it and they ended up spending thee million dollars and losing. Even though the burden of proof should be on these lawyers, it appears that the burden of proof is on cities maybe because they don't have the deep pockets. And I think Escondido is hoping maybe a large city will fight this, and that Escondido is toying with the idea. It appears to fight it themselves. But Escondido is 144,000 people. And modesto is roughly the same size. And I think the question, if they went to Oakland or Fresno or something like this -- and this is just speculation.
CAVANAUGH: I want to take a call. Jason is calling us from Valley Center. Welcome to the program, Jason.
NEW SPEAKER: Good afternoon. I'm reading this article, and I know I live in neighboring Valley Center, but what happens in Escondido does affect Valley Center. And the citizens over there. Why do we now want to change the voting over there in Escondido and simplify it into factions and possibly, I'm speculating on this, if they change this, it's going to rig an election. And may I also note that Sam efEd, and Olga Diaz, they are part of a minority. They're being represented. I don't see where the union's case is on this. If this is ended up passing by unions, does this make it look like the elections that happened over in Russia over there? There's people protesting over there because of that. We change our voting rights over here, we're going to become like Russia?
CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you very much. I think that part of Jason's -- what he's talking about can be described by what happened at the City Council meeting in Escondido where -- when this idea of the lawsuit was brought up during public testimony, there was a very loud support by some union members in the hall.
GARRICK: Well, it's an interesting thing. It appears to be some sort of a perfect storm against the City Council. The City Council was already conservative. In November, 2010, it became significantly more conservative. And they're pursued some policies since then that have upset the liberals and progressives and laborer. They've tried to become a charter city and to eliminate prevailing wage. Those are union wages you get paid for construction job, the city does. They have had a lot of sparring with unions this spring and summer about that. And as that has turned uglier and uglier, and as I've been writing about the idea they were maybe going to adopt districts, and the city said we're never going to adopt districts. It seems like the unions and this lawyers' committee for civil rights have come together in an alliance against the conservative City Council. At least that's what it appears to be.
ORR: I just think it's interesting. We might be seeing more of this. Because the demographics of the county just continue to change. And I believe it's the entire county now is a majority/minority county, meaning no one ethnic group has the majority anymore. So government has to catch up a little bit as voting people change. Maybe that's one of the arguments you make for at-large as the population changes, the match-up of the counsel will naturally follow that change. But do you do something to try and hurry the process along?
GARRICK: That's a dangerous element too. Because if you have this one central core electing a council person, then you'll have one Latino but always have only one until 30, 40†years, right? So you'll never get a majority but you'll always have someone with a voice. And I guess that's the two choices.
ORR: It's shown that certain groups vote more often and more regularly than other groups do. And so even if the population changes, perhaps that's not being reflected in the city elections
GARRICK: One question too about San Diego, you said they have theiron districts
GARRICK: Are there fights among districts? Sam Abed, the mayor, thinks he thinks the biggest concerns would be counsel members would start fighting over projects.
CAVANAUGH: I want to take a call. Lisa is on the line from east county. Welcome to the show.
NEW SPEAKER: I think we need to be cautious regarding legislation that provides for the prevailing party to obtain attorneys' fees. In those situations, the legislation was drafted for a reason, in this case it was to protect certain minorities in their ability to vote. And so I just wanted to put it out there that we should be cautious about criticizing those. There are many laws that provide for attorneys' feed that provide a great benefit to society
CAVANAUGH: Thank you for making that comment. Well said. Derrick is calling from La Jolla. Welcome to the show. %F01
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you. My question is, what are the issues that the Latinos have that are different there non Latinos if they had more representation, more voice, what would be some of the issues that would be addressed that are not getting addressed?
GARRICK: Well, in Escondido, there's controversial traffic safety Czech-points where people are -- several Fridays a year, they will pull people over and check for their license and lots of other things, and some people consider they draconian, and a lot of illegal immigrants or new residents can't get a driver's license. So that's considered by some to be sort of a racist city policy. And if the council had more Latinos on there, you could argue the policy might be different. This council has also tried to crack down to day laborers who tend to be more likely Latino. And they also try to create parking restrictions in the inner city neighborhoods where they suspect a lot of Latino families are sharing apartments and houses. Obviously everyone in the city wants jobs and a strong economy. That's not that they're polarized on every issue. But there are certain issues where wealthy whites in 4-bedroom homes might have different interests than families living in an apartment.
YOUNG: The city also tried to ban landlords from renting to illegal immigrants. I think you've seen a number of things that have maybe brought Escondido forward as an early test case for this
GARRICK: The argument against that would be illegal immigrants don't vote anyway. I think the question would be legal immigrants or Latino, and then just white voters. What are their differences?
CAVANAUGH: Robert is on the line from Bonita. Hello. Welcome to the show. %F01
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you. I'm Latino, so at first, I agreed with the districting. But then after I found out that the Latinos outnumber the Caucasians, the whole reason there's not more Latinos on the board is because the Latinos aren't going out and voting. If we're outnumber Caucasians, we should be able to elect more Latinos to the board. So we don't have them make rules special for everybody. We just need to get out there and vote
CAVANAUGH: Let me put this out. The point is not so much that in the whole city of Escondido there are more Latinos than there are other -- perhaps every other ethnic group but that in certain areas of Escondido, I think Latinos make up 49% of the population; is that right?
GARRICK: That's correct. And I would say in the central core, it's 85, 90. I don't know.
ORR: And I think it's important to note, I did some stories on this when San Diego was crafting its 9th district. Race is a consideration but it cannot be the only consideration when you're creating a district. They look at things like how contiguous the district is. Each district has to have roughly the same number of people as every other district. So you can't -- I don't know that they could just go in, not knowing Escondido very well, but you can't just go in and carve out this circle because that is where most Hispanic people live. If that works out given everything else, but you cannot just separate districts out based solely on race.
YOUNG: I know the two school districts in the city have agreed to move forward with more districts.
GARRICK: And it looks like the urban core would be contiguous enough.
ORR: And in San Diego, District eight is largely Hispanic. Of the new district nine, I believe, has a good size -- maybe even majority Hispanic district. District four is largely African American. District six has a concentration of Asian Americans, which is something they were very happy to see. But so yeah, it is a consideration. In San Diego, they were telling us, like, very much stressing that is not the only thing that they consider.
YOUNG: I just had I question. There is a third way. At the San Diego schools, and I think Chula Vista city elections, they elect from wards where the candidate has to come from a certain area, but the vote is still across the whole district or the whole city. Is that something that would address this concern or does that not go far enough under that law?
GARRICK: That's interesting. I think that's possible. I do think because of the higher voting propensity of nonLatino, that would be an interesting idea. But that has not come up at all.
YOUNG: I just wondered.
CAVANAUGH: I want to go back to your point, David, about the cost effect of this. There is the idea that if the city of Escondido has to fight a lawsuit based on voting rights, how much possibly could that cost the city?
GARRICK: Modesto spent 3 million, and they lost. So I guess to win might cost even more. One interesting element is that the reason a lot of school districts in the area have done this, apparently the office of education counseled them earlier this year, this is a dangerous situation financially for you, and they said it makes sense to do this to avoid this group of lawyers because it's too risky. And back to the caller's point, I wasn't necessarily criticizing legislation that forces the losers to pay the winners' attorneys' fees. But you have a lot of school districts adopting these districts not because they think they're a good idea or because they think they need them but out of fear. If the legislation is forcing hem people to do things out of fear that they don't necessarily support, that seems like a concern.
>> And there's a cost to doing the districting too. That takes a lot of time and energy:
ORR: Well, yes. San Diego, to create the 9th district they said would cost the city $1†million. But it was sort of -- they had to do that because they were creating a strong mayor form of government. So they need an extra person on the counsel to break up any potential ties. David, you had been asking me about whether or not the districts fight with each other and the City Council. It's more Republicans versus Democrats. There have been issues, when David Alvarez first elected, and they were allocating all this money for downtown projects, he was voting against all of them. He said, I don't want downtown to get all of this stuff. Hook at my district, barrior Logan, we don't have those things. So I think you do see these tensions. But it seems to fall more on party lines. Of
YOUNG: And they're fervently representing their area, which some people in that area I'm sure appreciate.
GARRICK: I think the mayor's argument was, let's all come together and try to advocate for respond as spoused to spending all our team -- Escondido is trying to get a ball park. All our energy was toward getting the ball park very as little money as possible, not having people from all the districts fighting each other to get it more in their district.
ORR: And I don't know if I see a whole lot of that in San Diego maybe because big projects can only physically be located in one spot.
YOUNG: I've definitely seen it over the temporary location of the homeless shelter.
ORR: That's true.
YOUNG: But again, they're representing their district.
CAVANAUGH: David, I'm interested to backtrack into what you said recently. Only the City of San Diego in the 18 cities in San Diego County have these district elections. Does that mean that other cities in our county may face a challenge?
GARRICK: I think that the federal justice department explored Vista in 2003, studied it, and decided they didn't violet the federal voting rights act. I don't know about the state. But I think there would be.
YOUNG: I don't know about the strategy of this group, the school districts went from district to district making this threat. Now maybe they've -- maybe they're onto the cities now
GARRICK: Could be. San Marcos has no Latino council member, and I think the city is 29 hears Latino. It seems to be vulnerable. I don't know.
CAVANAUGH: We'll have to find out as time goes on.