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Roundtable: SDG&E & solar; Brown's State-of-the-state, San Diego Mayor's Race.

January 20, 2012 1 p.m.

Guests: Amita Sharma, KPBS News

Kent Davy, Editor, North County Times

Scott Lewis, CEO, Voiceofsandiego,org

Related Story: Roundtable: SDG&E's Solar Charge, State-Of-The-State, SD Mayor's Race

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Read Transcript

PENNER: SDG&E wants a piece of the solar power action. The governor wants high taxes and more cuts. And San Diego mayoral candidates carve out their territory. This is KPBS Midday Edition Roundtable.

I'm Gloria Penner, and this is Friday, January 20th. And we're going to be taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. With me at the Roundtable are Amita Sharma, she is KPBS investigative reporter. Welcome to the Roundtable, Amita!

SHARMA: Thank you for having me, Gloria. And I'm glad that you're back.

PENNER: Thank you. Kent Davy, editor of the New York Times, it is really good to see you again, Kent.

DAVY: Nice to see you too, Gloria.

PENNER: And Scott Lewis, CEO of VoiceofSanDiego.org. Scott, it's like old times.

LEWIS: Always a pleasure, though I'm not very happy to see you. No, I'm kidding.

PENNER: Thank you, thank you.

[ LAUGHTER ]

PENNER: We begin with SDG&E which has raised the ire of solar users by trying to charge solar customers a separate fee to use the electricity grid that we all use. One of the plans was to charge solar customers $20 to $30 a month for use of part of the SDG&E grid while generating their own power. I'm going to ask you. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. Amita, how is this supposed to work?

SHARMA: Well, last fall, SDG&E came up with a rate design that they thought would insure that all customers using the grid are paying their fair share. So that proposed charging solar users anywhere from 20 to $30 extra a month, depending on how much solar power they're actually generating for the cost of using the grid infrastructure. Again, SDG&E thought this was fair, that this was equitable. When solar users found out about this, they were astonished. They thought it was unfair, unreasonable. Of they said, look, we do get credited for the solar energy that we generate that we use, but what about the excess energy that we generate that goes back to the grid that SDG&E turns around and sells at market price? So they thought this was wrong. This week, the PUC told SDG&E that they could not do this under the California solar initiative. They said that that initiative basically says that you can't charge the same class of customers different fees. So this wasn't the venue to do this. And SDG&E has made it clear that they're going to go to the legislature and try to get legislation.

PENNER: So they're going to try to bypass the regulators?

SHARMA: Right. They may find a sympathetic Senator or assemblywoman to carry this legislation forward.

PENNER: Well, that is most interesting. I can't imagine it would be a good public relations move. What do you think about that, Kent?

DAVY: I think in the long-term it'll have to happen. One, SDG&E and the other two big utilities in the state are going to face an increase being projected as you move forward with an increasing number of roof-top generators and so on. There is a -- there will be a demand on the part of those utilities to come back in to the legislature and change the rules of the game underneath it to try and recapture some of the costs of this infrastructure. It won't surprise me at all.

PENNER: What would that new billing, if that went into effect, have on the industry on the solar industry?

DAVY: I don't know. They've gotten $3 billion to put solar on roof tops so far in ten years. So this is a whole game of money and pushing elbows back and forth on who pays the bill and what kind of incentives you put forward to increase your solar use.

PENNER: Scott, is that what it's all about? Is it all about money? Or is there something else going on between the utility company and solar power users?

LEWIS: Of course it's all about money. What SDG&E will argue and does argue is that the -- these homes still be connected to the grid. You still have to put up poles, you still have to have wires. If the poles go down, they're going to call SDG&E and say fix it. So who pays for that service in who pays for that infrastructure and those materials and that equipment and that work? And that's what they're saying. If more and more people get onto the grid with solar, then a smaller population of people, ever-smaller population of people, will pay for that infrastructure. And therefore their rates are going to get out of hand. And there's some sort of pooling effect. It's not just this part going up. There's a lot of other rates that would be going down.

SHARMA: The worry is that this is be a disincentive for people to install solar panels at a time when it is being encouraged because of climate change. And it's a -- it's like $30,000.

PENNER: And it's taken a while for people to even consider putting solar on, because it is expensive. Let's take a call now. Again, we're talking about solar users and the attempted proposal by SDG&E to charge solar users, people who actually have solar panels on their property, a user's fee of 20 to third dollars a month. And that's an average. Andrew from Ocean Beach, welcome.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you, love your show.

PENNER: Thank you.

NEW SPEAKER: I'm an electrician, been doing it for 16 years, dealing with SDG&E all the time. They just hiked up their permits, a ridiculous percentage, almost 300% to get a building permit. They're making huge money. They make money off of the inspections that they have to do, they do multiple inspections on everything. So long story short, I think he's right. It's a money thing. It's greed. Money, when these people are doing the solar, they're going to have less drive, less sucking on SDG&E, which will make less work for SDG&E to worry about blackout, brownouts. All of us can't have solar panels on our house. It's not like 80% of their income is going to be shot out because of the solar explosion. It's just a greedy thing, and it's sad to see that they try to make loopholes that will get them around it.

PENNER: Thank you, Andrew. Kent?

DAVY: Well, I think it's a little bit unfair to say it's just simply a greed thing, except to the extent everybody has their hand in somebody else's pocket trying to find an extra buck. We as a community or society have said about our utilities, they will be regulated utilities am we guarantee them a rate of return on all of their working collectively. They're not out there a competitive market like, I don't know, banks or auto dealers or somebody else. They go to the PUC, they're guaranteed money on their investments. So this is a kind of shifting around inside of a great pool that's already predefined.

SHARMA: He's absolutely right. And it's a profit-making entity.

PENNER: But are we hearing anybody or any entity or company saying we're for it? We love the idea?

SHARMA: No. In fact you're hearing the opposite. You have -- at least in terms of the entity, you have the City Council in Encinitas butting their heads against this idea. Will there are big businesses who have installed solar panels. I think Kaiser Permanente has undertaken a project, and I think what's going to be interesting in the months down the road is is a corporate giant like Kaiser Permanente going to take on another corporate giant like SDG&E?

PENNER: There is another plan in the works that SDG&E, but I'm going to hold off on that till we hear from don in Carlsbad. &%F0

NEW SPEAKER: Yes, I just heard mention of the guaranteed rate of return, and it's my understanding that to build transmission lines, there is a guaranteed rate of return of 13% to California's investigator owned utilities. I think a large part of this whole disagreement gets down to whether the utilities are going to be age to build utility-size renewable energy plants in the desert, hundreds of miles away, or whether we entrepreneurial folks are going to -- by the way, which require transmission lines to get the power from where it's generated back to where it's used, or weather the more entrepreneurial developers are going to be able to develop distributed or decentralized locally-produced generation plants that can tie into the existing utility lines.

PENNER: Okay. Let's hear from Kent Davy.

DAVY: The caller has a clear point on this. You listen to someone like Steven Chu, the energy secretary, talk about the idea of having white roofs or having rooftop solar all the way across America, a distributed network does in fact alleviate a whole bunch of costs for things like lessened loads on transmission lines. Nonetheless, you still have to have a network connecting all these people, and there has got to be some equitable way of making sure everybody is in fact participating on a fair basis.

PENNER: What kind of pressure is there, Scott? On SDG&E to make more money let's say from its parent company, Sempra? If if you've been watching the stock prices, they have been going up.

LEWIS: That's what the issue is, and that's what Sempra and SDG&E will always face. Whenever there's a concern about their infrastructure or costs, the public will tell them, well, why do we have to worry about your shareholders? You should take it out of their cut. I think what SDG&E is trying to articulate is that these solar users are by and large these high users of electricity. When they switch to solar, that's a pool, a tier at the top of high-energy users. When these people switch to solar, the burden of that money from high users falls on those other normal users of the electricity. And so the worry as SDG&E articulates it is that those people are going to have to pay more and more. When you talk about an entity that might be worried about this change not occurring, it would be those people who aren't planning on switching to solar. Because basically they'll get to the point where everyone has to switch to solar to keep their bills handy. And who's going to pay for the infrastructure that SDG&E needs? I'm not going to shelf the share holders. But they have to answer that question, and make the case we still need to have this market-driven incentive. On the other hand, that is their argument.

PENNER: Let's hear from somebody who actually has solar. Mike in Miramar you're on with the panel.

NEW SPEAKER: I've got a system. And what I haven't heard from anybody in this argument is -- we get a year-long contract, and at the end of that, they even it up, and only last year did they say that if I made excess, I'd get some money. Well, are the money I believe is about $0.03 a kilo watt hour. I generate power for SDG&E during the day, which is the high-priced power, if you check anybody. And they charge people anywhere from 24 to 36 or $0.48 a willow watt hour for for it. So they're making a bundle.

LEWIS: Except they have to ship it from your house. They have to maintain that, they have to keep those lines going. It's not just a plug in.

PENNER: Thanks so much for your call. I did mention that there was another man in the works. I think we really need to talk about that. Although regulators have held up the charge of those who have solar panels on their roofs, right now this plan is for utility customers that do not have to use their own roof top solar panels but would depend in some way on SDG&E's proposed installation. How would that work, Amita? Oh, you have --

SHARMA: I haven't actually covered that.

PENNER: Oh, okay. That was in the news yesterday, I think. Anybody read about that one? No?

LEWIS: Sorry. I know everything except that.

SHARMA: Me to!
[ LAUGHTER ]

PENNER: All right. I'm sorry, then I could fill in, but instead I'm going to go to Paul who is in Chula Vista. Come in with your question please or your proposal.

NEW SPEAKER: Well, yes, I'd like to see -- if it were going to be market-driven, I would like to see maybe a class of users paying for the maintenance of grid, not rated on the amount of electricity they use or generated. But maybe by -- start by a division between residential and commercial. And I know it has to be redined from terms of that. But I think in conjunction with that, any excess power generated by solar installations would have to be bought at a market rate. And that would seem to take care of maintaining the grid and also not disincentive to having solar power.

LEWIS: I think that's what they say they've done, isn't it?

SHARMA: That is exactly what they say they've done.

PENNER: All right. Well, before we have to end this segment, Amita, this week there was a big problem with SDG&E's parent company, Sempra. I mentioned that earlier, involving bribery. Tell us about that.

SHARMA: Well, this is actually a case that surfaced last year. A gentleman by the name of Rodolfo Michelin, who is the former controller came out last year and alleged that Sempra paid abroad to get the land that the electrified natural gas facility was built on in Baja, cawillical. So justice department began looking into it, they quietly closed the case some time last year, I think in June. And this week, the Washington post did a story on how the justice department, when investigating white collar crime is outsourcing the investigation of that crime to the target of those investigations. In other words, they're having companies investigate themselves. This story hooked it up to the self radio investigation. Basically, the story said that when the US Department of Justice started looking into these allegations that Sempra paid bribes, they relied on the attorneys, on Sempra's attorneys, to give them the facts of the case. And despite the fact that the FBI said there might be some information here that points to criminal activity, they closed the case.

PENNER: Okay. So where is it right now?

SHARMA: It's closed, it's closed.

PENNER: Okay. So it's a nonissue at the moment.

SHARMA: At this moment.

PENNER: Okay. Very good. Well, thank you very much. Thank you all, panel, for your discussion. And up next, the governor mixes some cheer with his call for increased taxes in the state of the state speech. Will the voters give him what he wants?

[[[NEW SEGMENT]]].

PENNER: This is KPBS Midday Edition Roundtable. And we are about to talk about the governor's state of the state address that came on Wednesday. We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727 of the my guests are Amita Sharma, Kent Davy, and Scott Lewis. Curious about what you felt that the governor had to say about how healthy California is in his state of the state speech. Do we need higher taxes, and are you willing to vote for temporarily raising the state sales taxes and taxes on the wealthy? Kent Davy, the governor was in San Diego yesterday to start pushing his program. Was there any other purpose for him coming here?

DAVY: Absolutely not. He was in San Diego, Orange County, he is doing kind of a whistle stop to try push some momentum ultimately toward November where the tax proposals will be on the ballot. They're currently collecting signatures on petitions to get it there. He will --

PENNER: Bypassing the legislature.

DAVY: Bypassing the legislature. He will try to convince other -- there's some other competing tax proposals out there, to perhaps step down and step away, get basically all behind one tax proposal because I think he astutely realizes if there are several tax measures on the ballot, they're likely to all go down in flames.

PENNER: What I thought was interesting, Scott, and I don't know if you were there or not, but if you weren't, it was a group mostly of community and business leaders. And I'm wondering how they would have received a request like this from the governor.

LEWIS: Well, you know, there was one really interesting point that we've been highlighting this week was from the head of San Diego City schools. He sent out an almost alarmist memo saying he's concerned about the conversations he's overheard in the halls of their building, where he said, look, everybody seems to be thinking that we're out of the woods, that things are going to get better, and that we're going to be able to solve some of these scary budget problems, well, I'm here to tell you that's false, and we're facing some very serious problems, and you need to deal with that. And I think that was a really interesting point because even if these tax measures pass, we're going to be very lucky to come out even with where we were with school funding. And that's bad for San Diego unified, the largest school district in San Diego because they've got a lot of costs that are skyrocketing right now, and they don't have a man yet to deal with them. So --

PENNER: Amita?

SHARMA: Well, and yet, the governor a state of the speech address was very, as you said in your intro, cheery. It was very optimistic, and he sort of glossed over the fact that more austerity cuts are in store. And if you're trying to get these tax initiatives passed, how are you going to do that if you're glossing over the need? Maybe his last approach didn't work.

PENNER: Let me just throw out to our listeners and see how they feel about that. Of what's your opinion of Governor Brown's performance, not just in the state of the state, but as governor generally? Is his on the right track to mend California? Is what we need what he's Espousing? Kent?

DAVY: Worry about current austerity between now and November. If those taxes don't pas, the budget plans for shifting or basically pulling $4 billion back out of schools, which is an enormous amount of money for the schools to absorb.

PENNER: Is that the only place that money and come from?

DAVY: Well, it could come from anywhere. But that's the plan. I think it was $4.8 billion that come back out of schools.

SHARMA: And that's been cut down to the bare bone. They're now talking about reducing the school year by a couple of weeks.

LEWIS: Yeah -- sorry.

SHARMA: And this is coming at a time when the rest of the world has an already -- a much longer school year than the United States does. Imagine what that's going to do to our education system?

PENNER: That's Amita Sharma of KPBS. Scott Lewis?

LEWIS: The local teachers' union responded to this alarmist memo from the superintendent and was, basically, like, oh, this is yet another example of them crying wolf. We're not going to face these major cuts. We should wait and see. Well, look, last time they cried wolf, they cut hundreds of teachers! Laid them off! It wasn't they were crying wolf and they didn't do it. They did!

SHARMA: I don't understand the disconnect

LEWIS: Yeah, and these are the least experienced teachers which means they come from often the schools with the fewest neighborhood resources and support. So it's like -- these are very serious consequences. And to just brush these things off or assume that everything is going to be okay, and that's only if taxes are passed. And that's hardly a given.

PENNER: It sounds as though our panel feels education might take the hit. And if that's the case --

SHARMA: Well, it will take the hit

LEWIS: That's Jerry Brown's prerogative. And the Republicans will say oh, they're holding education hostage. You should just cut pensions and make more efficient government.

SHARMA: But they're on the hook too, right?

LEWIS: It's, like -- when is everything enough? You're right. Pensions in Rhode Island and in New York, they've come up with much more comprehensive pension reform plans. So could we do something like that here? I'm not sure. But the point is, we've got to do something or else we're going to continue to face some pretty serious cuts.

PENNER: Is that basically the Republican response, Kent?

DAVY: Oh, the Republican response has been basically saying we're not talking about it, period. No new taxes. That's our pledge. And there is an intransigency about them that kind of defies reasonable discussion. However, let me turn slightly. If you look back in the appendixes of Jerry Brown's budget, and employment numbers, state employment numbers, because I think this is a tell to exactly how state government works, the decrease in the number of state employees from last year or this year to next year's budget is.8%. If indeed we are in this crisis of -- which government is being cut so dramatically, wouldn't you expect to see more of a decrease than .8% in the number of state workers?

PENNER: Here's a number of information that I researched that even adds to that on the same day that the governor spoke, sunshine review, a nonprofit organization that looks at government transparency, showed that California had the largest number of public sector employees making over 1 first thousand dollars of the eight states they investigated. What does this mean? How would this impact the govern's plan to have this kind of information out there when it comes to going to the voters?

LEWIS: All those nuggets are very difficult for him and others to deal with because they've got to earn the trust and say, at some point, look, we've cut as much as we can, be we've made this as efficient of an entity as we can, and now we need you to invest in it so that we can protect our future, education, and all these infrastructure investments. But if these things keep solidifying in people's headings, well, that hurts trust in government, the idea that things are performing as well as possible, and we can expect the best outcomes. And it's going to be fodder for arguments for time coming. The point that Republicans need to make, I think, is where the line is. Right now, they have a perfect storm situation where they can keep saying, oh, you still haven't crossed the line, you you still haven't gotten to the most efficient government, and that line never comes. Where is the line? You tell us where investment would be okay, and maybe Jerry is the guy that could actually get us there.

PENNER: Well, assuming that the taxes come through, I'm wondering what's going to happen when the governor says, okay, well, are we still have to cut welfare and social service programs. Of

LEWIS: That's the argument all the time. Look, these are -- not finally, these are really going to hurt the least vulnerable people and our investment into the future. And that's why the cuts to education are so powerful. If he continues to hold those up, look, we're going to see more turnover and layoffs in school, and it's not just a boy crying wolf. This is real. So what are we going to do? Everybody needs to answer that question.

SHARMA: It's interesting. We're talking about these cuts, these massive cuts. What we haven't talked about this 520-mile $100-billion bullet train that's being proposed to link northern California to Los Angeles. There was an independent panel that came out against this, and there was a shakeup on that panel within days by governor Jerry Brown. So I don't know how easy of a sell this tax increase is going to be when you've got this huge project.

PENNER: Well, it certainly made a lot of news. In fact, that the governor is pushing for this high-speed rail. And most of it really sounded as though there wasn't a lot of support behind this. They could see it as the rail line to nowhere, if you build it in segments, and then you run out of money.

DAVY: The first segment is is up in the central valley around Fresno and modesto. First of all, that it is then a train to nowhere to nowhere, that is going to be built first. Second, that the cost overruns -- remember, this started out as being billed as a 45 billion dollar project. Now it's $80†billion dollars. There's some people that are speculating it'll be be $180†billion by the time they're done with it. Of

PENNER: All of these issues we've raised, none of which seem to be the answer, what happens if the voters don't give a stamp of approval to the governor's programs? Except maybe the millionaire's tax?

LEWIS: Well, right, there's that tax and a sales tax. Obviously he has a plan for what happens when that happens. And that means more sort of cuts as opposed to efficiency measures. He has his own pension reform plan just like local governments. The pensions that have been promised state workers have never been actually funded. To fund them as they retire costs more and more. And that's dragging a wet blanket on top of the state's budget. So are they going to more fully address that? I don't know what's going to happen if they don't pas these taxes. But he has laid out that plan.

PENNER: I can't help but think, here we are in San Diego, how will all this affect us? Let me ask our listeners. Assuming that the governor gets what he wants, or even assuming he doesn't get what he wants, how do you feel you are going to be affected by the governor's proposal to raise sales taxes, raise stakes on millionaries, and if none of this works, take education to task? How will this affect San Diegans?

DAVY: I think there will be a lot of pain through this because right now, I would goes, if the taxes don't pass, there is still a very large residual heartburn over the whole notion of paying taxes. It's part of the national political debate with the Republicans trying to figure out who they're going to nominate. So it's implicit, and that message is out there all the time. Once that happens, the big cut to schools is going to be fantastically enormous. Already inside this plan are major cuts to various winds of welfare programs and child services. We've already got in the works the emptying of the prisons and pushing parolees back to counties that don't necessarily understand or have good plans in some cases for how to deal with these people. Of the whole of California's social infrastructure, if you will, seems to be getting very creaky.

SHARMA: In LA County, and this to some extent might be happening in our neighborhood in a couple months, where you have inmates who have been -- who are being sent to San Diego County from the California prison system, some of them are going to local probation agencies, and they've got mental illnesses that are ultimately going to cost our social services that will cost our county, our responsibility is now with them.

PENNER: So Amita, how will, let's say, the ordinary citizen, if there is such a cat in San Diego, feel this? How will this affect us?

SHARMA: It's the teacher next door who gets the pink slip. It's your child in school who doesn't get computer education, who doesn't get science education, who doesn't get art education. It's the after-school childcare program for your neighbor or yourself that doesn't get funded anymore. It's the great new teacher in your inner-city neighborhood who finally got your child to read. That's how you're going to see this effect.

PENNER: Okay. Well, let's hear now from Madark in Clairemont. You're on with the panel.

NEW SPEAKER: I really just like how they're putting education up on the chopping block. It seems they're putting that up as a sack nice, knowing people will avoid having education. They should cut other programs before education. And also my comment here is we've been raising taxes. And every time they've done that, we've lost revenue. You would think they'd clue into this by now and try something smarter.

PENNER: Let's try that out on our panel and see. Raise taxes, we lose revenue. How do you see that working out, Kent?

DAVY: Well, the theory on the millionaire's tax is simply that very wealthy people have the means to shift their resources and move. It's the idea that you pick up and make your domicile in Nevada or Texas or some other place that is not quite so burdensome. This tax proposal would bring an extra 1% on taxable income earned between 250 and 500, then two hears from 500 and above, as I recall.

PENNER: Is that earned income?

DAVY: Yes, it's earned incomes, capital investments, the whole pool of taxes.

PENNER: Whatever you pay taxes on. Okay.

DAVY: A 2†percentage point increase from 11 to 13 doesn't sound like a lot, but it really is. That's almost 20% a hike on the marginal tax rate there on some people. So I can understand why somebody might pack up and say I'm going to Florida or wherever.

PENNER: Or run by business away from California. How will that affect businesses?

DAVY: Well, if the -- if you are a geographic business that can't move, a newspaper circulates in a particular area, so it doesn't move, but if I manufacture shoes, if there's still a shoe manufacturer in America, I can move to another state.

PENNER: Scott? You get the last word.

LEWIS: One of the projections the governor has in his budget is that Facebook will go public. And I think that illustrates right there just how big a deal businesses are to the state's planet. If these windfalls of cash come in, are state will get a cut. If people get job accident, they'll start getting more taxes. . The governor's team always mocks this though. Last year, taxes went down a cent, and they said where, there's the jobs? You said if we kept this tax, we would be hurting jobs, well, where were the jobs? But the connection between our economy and our state has never been clear.

PENNER: We're going to follow this very, very closely. And next, we're going to talk about the race for mayor of San Diego. Closer to home than the governor, certainly. It's starting to take shape as community leaders transform themselves into candidates.

[[[NEW SEGMENT]]].

CAVANAUGH:s this is Gloria Penner. And is this the KPBS Midday Edition Roundtable. Just months to go until the June primary in the San Diego mayor's race with four leading candidates hoping to be one of the top two vote-getters. If they're the top two, they get to move onto the November election. There are three Republicans, as if you didn't know. The district attorney Bonnie Dumanis, City Councilman Carl DeMaio, and California assemblyman Nathan Fletcher. Of the only Democrat is Congressman Bob Filner. Scott, of course, we're always open to opinions from our audience. But we're going to start with your opinion. These are all high-profile candidates with records of community leadership, and their elected office as well. How hard is it going to be for the juvenile courts to choose from among them?

LEWIS: Well, I don't know that they have had such an exciting choice in many decades. I talked to somebody yesterday who's been in and around politics, and he said he's never seen anything like this in all the years that he's watched this. This is -- these are four very impressive individuals, all with unique styles and completely different takes on what's going to happen. And I think that voters have an excellent chance to really make a determination about the future of the city based on these choices. There are basically 2†generations running. You have Bonnie Dumanis and Bob Filner representing experience and always making fun of how young their rivals are. And then you have on the other side, this new vision from Nathan Fletcher asking you to believe in him and invest in him and his vision, and you have Carl DeMaio who's doubling down on the anger that people feel about their city, and making the case if you're angry about the way things are run, I'm your guy, and the guy that's going to really shalack this entity. It's fun. It's an exciting time for us.

PENNER: Do you see it that way?

SHARMA: Well, it is 2†generations. There's a pretty wide age difference. And I think that's an interesting perspective to say that it is 2†generations running against each other. And I think what's interesting about these candidates is they're pros. You know? There's not someone from the outside who doesn't have a lot of political experience. Although Nathan Fletcher is somewhat new to the business of politics. But he still has made a name for himself in the short time that he has been -- that he's held political office. So I agree with Scott. The choices are pretty spectacular for San Diegans. And I do wonder how hard it's going to be to make a distinction between some of them, are with the exception of Congressman Bob Filner who seems to be hanging his hat on the fact that he's a Democrat.

PENNER: As a Democrat, is it automatic that he would receive the laborer vote, the vote of the unions, and there would be a powerhouse of votes there?

DAVY: I think that it is probably the case. I don't know. First off, I don't know because I don't know San Diego politics that well.

PENNER: I'm asking general questions.

DAVY: But my gut instinct on this is that Filner commands a really solid base of traditional democratic voters. Not with standing that, you've got a fair amount of sheriffs deputies and so forth who have lined up behind Dumanis. She has some ties back to that, as well as all of the Republican endorsements that she's collected.

LEWIS: Everybody assumes that Bob Filner has this second or first place locked up in the first election because he's a Democrat. There's things to think about though. It doesn't just say Democrat next your name on the ballot.

PENNER: That's true it's a nonpartisan race.

LEWIS: So he'll have to market that he's the democratic in the race. The other thing, you're seeing people pull support away. Nathan Fletcher came up with a very comprehensive clean water measure the other day, he's clearly trying to be attractive to those -- on the side of Filner, but†-- I'm as organized as possible to really get that Democrat baselined up.

PENNER: And of course, Nathan Fletcher has some baggage too because he was associated with a midnight deal in the legislature.

LEWIS: Right. Of

PENNER: And I'm going to ask whether our audience has yet picked up on who you might support or not support, if you are planning to vote in the mayor's race, and if you're registered in the City of San Diego. And of course we're always interested in the why. The why is really important. So let's start with Mitt in La Mesa. You don't live in the City of San Diego, do you?

NEW SPEAKER: I live in La Mesa. And yeah, I just want to -- I was privy to some information. There were some people including retired generals and all kinds of people that wanted to have a veterans' center similar to the kind of things they do once a year in Point Loma. And a lot of generals were involved, and a lot of people involved in trying to push that forward because we really are a town with a lot of vets here. And a comprehensive center in an old hospital in Point Loma. And he was so evasive. Filner was just so difficult to deal with. He would say things like he wanted to do things, and then never follow through, and never answer anybody's phone calls. And all of these people got really, really discouraged with him. And I just have a feeling that he's all show or something. He's really been a disappointment, his reaction to things.

PENNER: And he apparently has somebody who is competing for the appeal to the military and to the veterans, if I recall, from what I've been reading, Scott. And isn't that Nathan Fletcher who talks about his years as a marine?

LEWIS: Oh, absolutely. And that's a really interesting comment about Filner and the vets. If Filner has anything that really stands out in his record, it's been his advocacy for veterans. So for that to not come through in a situation like that is an example of the kinds of problems he might have connecting with voters about it here. Now, all of the mayoral candidates have come up with veterans' plans that they're touting right now, and indeed, Fletcher has that sort of marine, just like Pete Wilson, you, the former marine ready to take things on. And he served oversea, and in the war zone, so that's a big deal. But the -- it'll be error interesting to watch that shake out.

PENNER: Amita?

SHARMA: Another commenting alluding to what the woman was referring to with Congressman Filner is that he is known to have somewhat of an abrasive personality. He has a bit of a temper problem. I think a couple years ago, he had a run-in with an airport worker. This has been an issue for him. How much he'll be able to keep that under wraps during debates and in interactions with the public remains to be seen. But it could be a demerit for him.

PENNER: Well, the first major debate took place last Friday, Scott. Weren't you there?

LEWIS: Absolutely.

PENNER: What positions were staked out? Are the differences becoming cheer?

LEWIS: Yeah, absolutely. It was a very great -- you had Bob Filner up there, he was like a baseball catcher sort of talking trash to the hitter who was coming up. He was right next to Nathan Fletcher. They've developed a rapport. And that's his way. He's very showman, up there, blowing his nose, and making nose.

SHARMA: That's a showmanship?
[ LAUGHTER ]

LEWIS: He's making joke, and he's just a big presence on the stage, and making fun of everybody. And Carl DeMaio knocked Nathan Fletcher for that late-night redevelopment deal. And so Carl was really lobbing some grenades. But for few are were coming at him. He was doing his whole, I've got a plan for the future. And I thought an interesting was Dumanis. She came off to me very hum wel, sincere, and almost, like, look, I'm not the best show person here, but I'm somebody you can trust. But what became very clear is that her own public pension, which is somewhere around $250,000 a year --

PENNER: For what?

LEWIS: Her pension in service as a county, and as a judge, and a long-time public employee.

PENNER: I think you have to be clear. You don't just pick up a pension.

LEWIS: Absolutely. She earned it, and she will I will say over these years. But the problem is, she doesn't want people to have problems in the future with pensions. So lawyers who would come up in the same route she did would not get a pension. She's having trouble squaring that. She's agreed to give away her mayoral salary to the education system. But will that nullify the concerns about this deep contradiction? I think she would have been better off arguing that pensions are deserved. Of not that hers isn't real or as big or something that we should worry about.

SHARMA: But is that a politically tenable arguments these days to say pensions are well-deserved?

LEWIS: It's more tenable than to say that hers is deserved but the future is not, I think.

PENNER: Well, I think you have to look at the candidates' positions on both public employees and pensions. It's a whole ball game there in terms of how they feel about each other.

DAVY: And there's nuanced positions in between, too. You don't have to go to either extreme. You can start talking about what we really need to do is cap pensions and all the litigations, so you can make an argument on whether it is almost entirely specious in terms of being possible to happen. But in terms of political posturing, he doesn't have to do an all or none.

PENNER: But she is making some of the points as well. And I think this is of entering to everybody in the state. And that is she's making points about education. She would like to see the mayor's office getting really, really involved in education. And so it's become a topic. I think even Nathan Fletcher is talking about education. And there is precedence for that because as we've heard on KPBS recently, some large cities now are having their mayors involved in education. New York, Los Angeles, Oakland, Chicago.

LEWIS: Right. And I think, had -- well, to think that it would be somehow more natural for her to talk about the chargers, for example, than the education system I think is wrong. And it's a perfectly legitimate priority to try to put on the mayor's docket. The question is, what are you going to do about the city that people care about? The streets are in terrible shape. The infrastructure is falling apart. Rec center hours, all that stuff. We need a plan from all these candidates about what they're going to do. It almost feels like she got in the race and said I'm going to walk in this room and the room is going to tilt toward me, and everybody is going to get out of my way. But that's not happened. So she's going to have to really start playing in these battles that Carl DeMaio set out. He has an encyclopedic plan of what he wants to do. Whether you agree with it or not. And same thing with Nathan Fletcher. He's asking people to buy into his vision, but where's the beef! How are you going to pay are for things? Your vision doesn't necessarily balance the budget. Let's see it.

PENNER: Isn't that really what politics is all about? Each of the candidates to distinguish each has to carve out a certain area, a certain territory and say this is mine. Has that happened as far as you can see, Kent?

DAVY: Only to a certain extent. But it's January. This is a June election.

SHARMA: And they have been running for a year.

DAVY: Yeah, but also how much of the public is paying attention yet? I would assert probably not that large.

LEWIS: Well, are the people who care are paying attention.

DAVY: Yes, yes. They care. But in terms of the great masses, there's a lot of ground to be covered yet.

PENNER: Okay, so where is the support coming from? Who's getting support from where, and is the money flowing in?

LEWIS: I think that's a fascinating discussion. Actually that's part of the plank that Carl DeMaio is setting out. He's saying, look, public employee unions like the police support Fletcher. So when they negotiate with him about laborer issues, he's going to feel like hey owes them something. If that's true, the people who support Carl might feel like they're owed something if they have business in front of the city. And if we're going to start evaluating candidates based on who supports them, that's an interesting discussion to have. There's a lot of contractors and developers who support various candidates. So are you buying their supporters or are you buying the candidate?

SHARMA: But candidates are always evaluated by who supports them. That's natural.

LEWIS: Sure, sure. But do you feel like politicians actually believe they owe --

SHARMA: Yes!
[ LAUGHTER ]

SHARMA: Absolutely I do.

LEWIS: There you go. Then that's interesting. So who will Carl owe?

SHARMA: Yeah, and I think that's a fair question. And it's a question that voters ought to evaluate very closely.

PENNER: And we must say, well, the community supports me, I'm getting small amounts from a lot of people, and approval from a lot of people. None of them are big names. And so I belong to all of them. And with that, I want to thank you all very much for being with me.

LEWIS: Great to see you.