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Roundtable: SDGE, Escondido Voting Rights, Education In The Mayor's Race

April 6, 2012 1:02 p.m.

Guests: Amita Sharma, KPBS News Investigative Reporter

Adrian Florido, KPBS Fronteras Desk

Kyla Calvert, KPBS News Education Reporter

Related Story: Roundtable: Fired Up! SDG&E Customers, Escondido Latinos, Mayoral Candidates

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

SAUER: This is the Roundtable on KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Mark Sauer. It's Friday, April 6th. Today on the Roundtable, Alison St. John joins me from north San Diego County. Hello.

ST. JOHN: Hello, Mark.

SAUER: How are you today?

ST. JOHN: Everything's going okay. I'm preparing to go up and see the press conference from the chairman of the NRC, visiting the nuclear power plant, and we'll be delivering his report.

SAUER: And what's the purpose of his visit today?

ST. JOHN: Well, he's coming because of the -- his name, Gregory Yasco, he's coming because of the fact that the NRC is saying they are very concerned about what is going on at San Onofre. They have sent investigators out, and the investigators are analyzing the data, but there are signs that San Onofre is a unique situation because even although other nuclear power plants around the country have shown signs of wear on their tubes, none of them have had to close down. And San Onofre has a new design system in the steam generators that were -- the tubes that were installed with a new mechanical design. And they're concerned about this design and what this might mean for the future of the plant.

SAUER: Okay. And this morning we had some antinuclear activists with the press conference up there.

ST. JOHN: Well, yes, the activists are demanding that the NRC require the study to find the root cause of the problem. They're pointing out that it seems to be that this design was something that they say Southern California Edison installed without properly explaining that it was different from the previous design and that if in fact there's hundreds of millions of dollars in costs to repair the plant that ratepayers should not be on the hook for that. So they're putting pressure on the chairman of the NRC to get to the bottom of this.

SAUER: Okay. And last week an environmental group claimed Edison had misled the NRC about design changes. What does the NRC say about that?

ST. JOHN: They're saying no, that Edison did not mislead them, that they were completely transparent about these design changes and the NRC signed off on them. The antinuclear activists are saying how come they were allowed to install something that is now showing signs of possiblying a problem, that is causing premature wear in these tubes? So the NRC is not blaming Southern California Edison. So the antinuclear activists are saying now somebody is at fault here. Who is to blame, and will the ratepayers be on the hook?

SAUER: Okay. And what if California's contingent operation plans if San Onofre stays dark this summer?

ST. JOHN: There good possibilities that San Onofre may not be back on track. It's not just the power that San Onofre generates. It's also the power that it allows SDG&E to bring into the area. It could affect 30% of our power. So apparently the independent system operator says San Diego is more at risk as a result of San Onofre's shut down than LA is, and they recommended opening a plant that was decommissioned that actually had holes already put into some of its equipment. So it'll need to be repaired to get it back online. And that could take a couple of months. According to the people who run that plant, they have not yet been asked to bring it back online. So that work has not even started yet.

SAUER: So we've got a lot of work and a lot of reports to do yet coming up on that.

ST. JOHN: Yes, and there's a good chance that if San Onofre doesn't come back online, there may be some heavy conservation demanded of San Diegans coming up this summer.

SAUER: Well, thanks very much for that report.

ST. JOHN: Sure.

[[[NEW SEGMENT]]].

SAUER: Joining me today at the Roundtable are three distinguished members of our KPBS news team. Investigative reporter, Amita Sharma. Welcome.

SHARMA: Good to be here.

SAUER: Adrian Florido from our Fronteras desk. Good to have you here.

FLORIDO: Thanks mark.

SAUER: And from the education beat, Kyla Calvert. Glad you're here.

CALVERT: Me too.

SAUER: Now, it's been nearly five years since October wildfires swept through wide sections of San Diego County. Two people were killed, 1,300 homes were destroyed, half a million people were evacuated back in 2007. A battle rages over who will pay the hundreds of millions of dollars in damages that remain. These are costs that exceed SDG&E's $1 billion insurance possibility. San Diegans pay the highest rates for power in the nation. Now the utility wants ratepayers to be on the hook for uninsured wildfire costs instead of its share holders. This is a complex story years in the making. Let's break it down for our listeners. State investigators determined that it was SDG&E's power lines that caused the 2007 fire, right?

SHARMA: That's right. Back in 2009, the arm of the public utilities commission called the consumer protection and safety division found that SDG&E actually started the 2007 fires because it failed to properly build or actually properly design, build, and maintain its power lines.

SAUER: There was never a full investigation by the state. Why?

SHARMA: Well, state investigators investigated. However, they said that SDG&E did not entirely cooperate with them, that SDG&E denied them access to evidence, to SDG&E workers, and as a result they were not able to do a timely probe. But they ultimately did reach that conclusion, that SDG&E's lines started the fires.

SAUER: Now, SDG&E has settled with hundreds of folks who lost their homes, but they've exhausted that $1†billion insurance coverage.

SHARMA: And they have remaining lawsuits to settle. And right now, the costs are about $500†million. The uninsured costs to settle those remaining lawsuits. But they could climb. And it should be pointed out that SDG&E doesn't just want to get uninsured costs from wildfires from 2007, but going into the future, whether the company is negligent or not in starting fires.

SAUER: And who's going to pay for that?

SHARMA: Well, SDG&E wants customers to pay for that.

SAUER: Okay. I'd like to invite listeners to join in again. Tell us what happened at yesterday's hearings.

SHARMA: Ultimately the California public utilities commission has to decide this issue. They're going to make the call whether customers should pick up this tab or whether share holders should pick up this tab. After getting a lot of pressure from the public, the PUC decided to hold two public hearings in San Diego yesterday, and hundreds of people turned up, both at 2:00 and at 6:00. And the feeling within that room when the actual hearing started was one of indignation, of anger, of frustration.

SAUER: Now, you had one woman who just stood up and shook her finger?

SHARMA: She was the second speaker who got up to the podium and she shook her hands in the air and said chutzpah! Chutzpah! And then she proceeded to define what chutzpah is, unmitigated call, and she said that's what this company is guilty of. They are showing absolute contempt for everyone but their share holders. Another interesting point is that Sempra has donated quite a bit to elected representatives in San Diego County, to their campaigns, and yesterday there were a couple of these elected representatives who stood up and spoke out against this plan. Supervisor Diane Jacob who's been a assistant critic of SDG&E said the flames may have died down from 2007, but the people in this room still feel burned. And that -- this is a matter of accountability, of fairness, equity, justice, and you cannot indemnify this company into the future and not expect safety violations to happen again. Supervisor Pam Slater price also said, you know, look, share holders -- I should preface that with Diane Jacob saying the company has awarded tens of millions of dollars in bonuses to its top executives. Supervisor Diane Slater -- or Pam Slater price stood up and said it seems to me that when times are good, share holders enjoy that. But when times are bad, they don't take a hit. And whenever somebody made a very pointed argument like that, are they just got sustained applause. And hoots and howls. At one point, a fire survivor from 2007 just spoke out angrily over the administrative law judge.

CALVERT: You said that they held these hearings after public demand for them?

SHARMA: Yes.

CALVERT: So was the plan initially to make this decision behind closed doors without a public hearing?

SHARMA: It appears that way. Because the request for a public hearing from rate payer groups came, I think, two years ago. And nothing was ever done about it. And then we started hearing cries or demands for a public hearing from elected representatives, I think. Diane Jacob said something. Some rate payer groups said something. And they did hold a public hearing in the end.

CALVERT: And the other thing I've been wondering because I wasn't here, I've only been here the last couple of years, you would think that share holders would have demanded -- were any executives booted from SDG&E once the culpability was placed on them?

SHARMA: No, no.

CALVERT: It seems to me that's something else that share holders would demand.

SAUER: And the company is saying that there really hasn't been a finding. They make that distinction.

SHARMA: That made that distinction consistently. And I think it's --

SAUER: And tell us specifically what they're saying there.

SHARMA: They're saying that the company was never found to be negligent, but the counter argument to that is that far once state investigators found that SDG&E lines caused those fire, there would have been a full hearing where evidence to support that assertion was put out. But that never happened because people representing regulators went into these closed-door negotiations with the company to reach a settlement. And ultimately, SDG&E paid $14 million in a settlement for a fire that caused $2 billion in damages to San Diego County.

SAUER: So are you folks angry about this? You think this is fair? Give us a call. Attorneys representing people who lost their homes thinks SDG&E's push to make ratepayers pick up these costs is premature.

SHARMA: They say it is important to put all the evidence out there. Just because regulators chose not to do this does not mean that the evidence shouldn't be put out in a civil trial. Lawyers who represent the homeowners who lost their homes in the fires have sued SDG&E. And some of those cases could go to trial, and these lawyers say we've taken hundreds of depositions from SDG&E workers, from witnesses of the fires, we've gathered all this evidence, including recordings of dispatch calls made by troubleshooters out in the field to SDG&E. And let us have a jury weigh in this, to really determine whether SDG&E was negligent, whether the company was reckless. And that the PUC is obligated to do that before it makes a decision that will put ratepayers on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars.

SAUER: So what's the status of that? Where are we in terms of a trial or the PUC making some sort of decision?

SHARMA: It's very, very murky. One of the larceny I've been in contact with said probably something won't happen in the way of a trial until some time next year. And in terms of when the PUC makes a decision, just not clear.

SAUER: Okay. And are there anymore hearings scheduled on this now?

SHARMA: Not that I know of.

SAUER: And it wasn't -- these hearings weren't necessarily even going to come about, were they in it didn't seem that SDG&E in it their filings wanted to simply proceed ahead.

SHARMA: Right. So SDG&E representatives told us back in February, I think, that they didn't oppose the public hearing. But then they ended up filing a brief with the public utilities commission saying they thought it would confuse the issue because people were sort of -- they could sense, I think that people were getting riled up about 2007 when their formal application was for future costs.

SAUER: Uh-huh.

FLORIDO: So if SDG&E could have just marched forward on its own to do this, what role does the PUC have and what kind of authority does it not have today now that it has gotten involved?

SHARMA: That's a very interesting point, Adrian, because there are portions of the PUC who represent ratepayers who are saying the PUC absolutely cannot reimburse SDG&E from customers for the 2007 fires because the terms of that settlement agreement between the PUC and SDG&E dictate that if SDG&E ever comes back to the well to get reimbursement, then people from the PUC can go after SDG&E and hold an evidentiary hearing. In terms of going forward for future uninsured costs, again people who represent ratepayers within the public utilities commission will come back and say, look, if the -- if regulators allow SDG&E to do this, then they are actually not doing their job, which is to make sure that power companies in California provide safe -- provide electricity in a safe way, and at reasonable and just rates. And that this totally turns that on its head. The amount of money that SDG&E can come back to ratepayers for is absolutely unlimited for future fires, and that the public utilities commission doesn't have to determine whether SDG&E was at fault. And so basically you're not giving them an incentive to keep their lines safe.

SAUER: Now if ratepayers, those of us who get power, and that's most of us in this county, from SDG&E, certainly the overwhelming number, what might we be on the hook for if we have to pick up these costs over the uninsured costs?

SHARMA: Well, San Diego gas and electrica lawyer, Michael Thorpe, stood up yesterday and said it's only going to amount to a couple of dollars a month, depending on the size of the household. However, people representing ratepayers say the total cost of this reimbursement will amount to anywhere from $350, up to $700 per meter.

SAUER: And that $2 a month, I guess that's in perpetuity then. Well, we're going to have to leave it there. Thank you very much.

[[[NEW SEGMENT]]].

SAUER: I'm Mark Sauer, and joining me today at the Roundtable are Amita Sharma, Kyla Calvert, and Adrian Florido. In the past decade, are the Latino population has grown to represent 49% of the population in Escondido. In the past 123 years just two Latinos have served on the City Council. That forms the basis of a lawsuit if success would shake up the election process in Escondido. Who's filing suit and what's the nature of the complaint?

FLORIDO: The lawsuit was originally file bide a union group along with five Latino residents of the city. And what they're claiming is that the city's current system for electing City Council members disenfranchises Latinos. What they want is for the judge in this case to basically throw out that current system and implement a new one. It would give Latinos a better shot at electing candidates of their choice to the City Council because as we know, Escondido over the last decade or so has had a sort of very tense history of -- an interesting history of tension between the Latino community --

SAUER: A lot of friction.

FLORIDO: And its council, yeah.

SAUER: So tell us how electing representatives at large can disenfranchise a minority group.

FLORIDO: The current system for electing council members in Escondido is an at large system. That means that every resident of the city, every voter in the city chooses from among the same slate of candidates. And the contention in this lawsuit is that that makes it difficult for the very large Latino community in that city to elect candidates of their choice because although they may represent a large -- very large portion of half the population, as voters, they're still very often outnumbered by the smaller but more highly concentrated white community of voters. And so what they want is to implement district elections. The difference being that in a district election, the city is sort of divided into geographic district, and each district elects its own representative.

SAUER: Now, Escondido mayor Sam Abed is opposed to district elections what. Does he have to say about that?

FLORIDO: He says a lot of -- he has a lot of things that he doesn't sort of agree with. One of them is that he says that while the population of Escondido may be 50% Latino, there are actually a much smaller percentage of the population in terms of voters. If you actually look at the City Council, it would in that context be more representative. It has one Latino on the council right now, which in a 5-member council is 20%, and Latinos are about a quarter of registered -- eligible voters in Escondido.

SAUER: I see. We'd love to have our listeners join the conversation. If you have a question or opinion. Didn't the School Board already move to district elections?

FLORIDO: It did. It also had an at-large voting system up until now. And part of the reason for that was that the San Diego County office of education undertook an analysis of School Boards across the county to find out whether or not they might be at risk of being challenged under this state law called the California voting rights act, which is designed to protect minority communities against disenfranchisement. They read the writing on the wall and said before we're challenged we're going to go ahead and implement district elections. Filing one of these lawsuits can be extremely expensive.

SAUER: And that's a pretty strong and clear law then?

FLORIDO: The California voting rights act is extremely powerful. It's based on the federal voting rights act of the '60s which was designed to protect minorities and give them representation on politically elected bodies. Here in California, it's much more powerful because the law doesn't require that a minority group show that it can draw a majority district for itself before it's allowed to trigger this switch.

SAUER: And go ahead, Kyla.

CALVERT: I'm curious how common sort of the at-large approach is in San Diego County versus a district election process.

FLORIDO: The overwhelming majority of cities in San Diego County are still at large. The only city that doesn't have district elections is the City of San Diego. But one of the interesting things is that cities across the state are being challenged increasingly. And to switch over to district elections as the demographics of the region have changed so much, giving a lot of lawyers and activists a lot of incentive to go out and say, well, let's see if we can shake this up a bit.

SAUER: We've got a caller. Travis, go ahead. You're with the Roundtable.

NEW SPEAKER: One of the things I was thinking about, we've seen in elections across is the idea of gerrymandering, where we carve this up into smaller and smaller ones where you can have a minority group that can dominate an election. And I guess I don't see how this is any different. And I want to get some comments on that in terms of is this really a good thing to gerrymander our districts even further than they already are? The minorities sort of overtake particular districts rather than be represented in general.

SAUER: Thanks for that comment.

FLORIDO: That is one of the big issues in Escondido and one of the big arguments that opponents of breaking cities up into districts make. But they also say we do this on a national level. We have congressional districts. And the idea being that the more local you have a representative, the better that person can represent a very local community. One of the things that mayor Sam Abed told me was that Escondido is still a pretty small city. So we as representatives of this small city do have a good feel on the pulse of the community and can represent it very well. The opposing view is from Latino activists in the city who say that the City Council has been targeting undocumented immigrants, and in their opinion, the Latino community at large in the community, and clearly that demonstrates that the majority of the council doesn't have the best interests of the entire city, the entire city in mind.

CALVERT: Isn't the term gerrymandering -- doesn't that tend to be used in terms of protecting a seat for an incumbent or for a political party?

SAUER: Right.

CALVERT: Whereas I think that the goal of drawing districts like this would be to more accurately represent the people living in the community?

FLORIDO: Right, exactly. And if you think about, for example, the City of San Diego, it just finished redrawing its City Council districts.

SAUER: Adding a district nine.

FLORIDO: Adding a ninth district which was designed to help because the Latino population has grown so much in the last decade to give Latinos a better shot at electing here. That wasn't really thought of as gerrymandering so much as allowing a redistricting commission to better help its residents get appropriate representation.

SAUER: Is that a pretty parallel situation to what we're talking about here up north in Escondido?

FLORIDO: It's different because here in San Diego -- I mean -- in Escondido, this has never been done before. So the idea is that we need to implement this for the first time.

SHARMA: Adrian, you said that about a quarter of the Latinos in Escondido were actually eligible to vote. Typically when you have large immigrant community, there's not a lot of -- well, there's not high turnout when it comes time to voting. Any sense of what the level of civic activism is within the Latino community in Escondido?

FLORIDO: It's much -- it's much less than it is among the white community. And one of the sort of arguments that's being made by proponents of this lawsuit is that, well, look, the at-large voting system has so diluted and overpowered the ability of the minority communities in this city to elect representatives that it's essentially pointless for them to come out and vote because they don't think they'll be able to elect their candidate regardless. And they point to some recent elections in which a couple of Latino activists have vocal, strong campaign, got a lot of support from the Latino community, and yet were not elected. And so what they're saying is that if we implement district elections, we're not only allowing Latinos a better shot at getting elected but also giving Latinos a sort of -- encouraging them to come out and vote because now they have a better shot. So by doing this, you motivate more civic participation within the Latino community.

SAUER: Now, there's some interesting examples of cities without Latino representation, and city government. Tell us about other California cities.

FLORIDO: Yeah, so this is a big issue kind of across the state as the Latino populations exploded here. California watch just did a great report in which they found more than 30 cities in which there are majority or plurality of Latino or minority communities, and yet no or only one representative on the City Council. So cities like month Claire in San Bernardino county, modesto. And even in places like Compton, which is not a white city by any means. In fact, in that case, it's a black City Council which was being challenged by the now majority Latino community there. So it's not only Latinos and blacks against whites. Research

SAUER: Christian from Carlsbad.

NEW SPEAKER: I just wanted to make the comment, I think this breaking it down into further district representation would probably encourage more voters to come out. I guess I was thinking of it more kind of analogous to maybe a school setting of you have students that may not necessarily speak up in a larger classroom setting, but putting it down to a little bit smaller environment maybe group settings, and someone being more willing to speak up and voice an opinion, I think that could -- that's comparable to what maybe voters would feel more comfortable knowing that their representation is on a little bit more of an intimate level as opposed to a more broadly expanded --

FLORIDO: That's exactly the point that the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are making. And that even legal advocates and attorneys who follow these cases very closely, what they're saying is like I just mentioned, if you feel like you don't have a shot at electing a candidate of your choice, regardless of what you do, are you going to come out at all?

SHARMA: Sam Abed --

SAUER: Thank, Christian.

SHARMA: He's against this, but any sense of other people on the council and whether they might compromise and reach a settlement in the lawsuit?

FLORIDO: The council and the mayor specifically have said un-Egivically that they're going to fight this to the end, regardless of the cost. The interesting thing is that a case brought under the California voting rights act, no case has been litigated to completion since the law was completed

SAUER: And that was 2002, right?

FLORIDO: Yeah, about ten years ago. So it'll be interesting to see whether Escondido becomes the first place. Modesto up in central California spent a ton of money, I think something like $3†million trying to fight it. And ultimately when it realized they had no shot, settled and finally implemented district elections.

SAUER: And what about in San Diego County? Other cities here that are seeing the same situation?

FLORIDO: A lot of people are looking into this now because part of the reason this is becoming such a huge issue right now this year is that we just got the first batch of census data since the law was passed. And so people are looking, especially in North County cities, where you have had -- an increase in the number of Latinos, to find out whether this will become an issue that they can challenge up there. And people are going to be mostly looking to the North County. If you look to the south bay cities, you do have very large Latino communities and also very Latino-dominated councils

CALVERT: In the cities where across the state where they have had these struggles and maybe gone to districted elections, a districted elect process, has it changed the makeup of City Councils in other cities in the state?

FLORIDO: It has in some. In others it has not. Modesto in San Bernardino county. The hope there was that Latinos once this happened would be able to elect someone. And of it happened and they didn't. A Latino ran against a white candidate in the district that was drawn to give Latinos a better shot, and the white was still elected.

SAUER: I think that's in northern California, not San Bernardino. Is month Claire the one in San Bernardino?

FLORIDO: I'm sorry, I was just talking about Modesto.

SAUER: All right. And it's interesting that it really hasn't gone all the way on that. Is that a function of how powerful the law is that -- they've seen the handwriting on the wall and haven't had to carry these right through to jury decisions I imagine?

FLORIDO: Exactly. The California voting rights act was really sort of very powerful. The federal voting rights act applies obviously across the country, and it allows for similar challenges. But it does require before -- that before a city be drawn into districts that the minority group that's challenging it prove that it can have a majority and draw at least 1st†District in which they are a majority. The California voting rights act doesn't require that. All it requires is that they prove that there's been racially polarized voting, which essentially means that you can prove that the minority community votes differently from the white community and that because of that, it essentially has its vote diluted. And you have -- that's why the California one is so much more popularity. It just requires that you show this. And it seems clear from people I've spoken to in Escondido that they might be able to prove that both of these are the case.

SHARMA: Given that fact, has the city attorney weighed in on this? Aside from the City Council?

FLORIDO: The city attorney has said that the city is going to sort of continue fighting it.

SHARMA: And has that city attorney provided any legal arguments as to why, other than the fact they want to?

FLORIDO: I haven't taken a real close look at the city attorney's sort of legal assessment of this yet. But I think if we look even at the history of Escondido's politics --

SAUER: There's been some friction up there.

FLORIDO: There's been a lot of friction. And there seems to be a lot of justification being, you know, this just not what we want to do, and we're going to find a way to get around it. Of the ACLU, we've been covering, has been trying to challenge the -- sorry, the sobriety and DUI checkpoints that a lot of activists are accused of targeting undocumented immigrants, and the city has been dragging its feet and releasing a lot of documents that -- attorneys have been requesting.

SHARMA: And at times they've caved. I remember when they tried to require landlords to look at --

SAUER: Check the papers.

SHARMA: Check the papers of people who were trying to rent. And they ended up caving in on that one. Sometimes when their back is against the wall and there may not be a choice, and you've said this law is quite strong --

FLORIDO: In that case you just mentioned, it became so clear that it was going to be overturned in courts, they realized we're just going to go ahead and repeal this. And that is what a lot of people suspect will happen in the district election case that's just been brought that it's so clear that there's racially polarized voting, a history of discrimination within Escondido that ultimately will not prevail in this case. And they're hoping the City Council realizes this before they spend millions of dollars trying to fight it.

SAUER: How is this playing out in the real world up there? In the five votes in the one Latino member is I imagine getting outvoted a lot.

FLORIDO: A lot. Very often. And the hope by the people who are bringing this lawsuit is come next election, if the lawsuit has prevailed, they'll be able to draw districts in which Latinos will have at least two council members to shift the balance.

SAUER: Thanks very much, Adrian.

[[[NEW SEGMENT]]].

SAUER: You're listening to the Roundtable on KPBS. I'm mark Sauer. My guests are Amita Sharma, Kyla Calvert, and Adrian Florido. Now, three of the four candidates running for San Diego mayor say that in addition to running the city, they'd like to take a big roll in managing the financially strapped city school system. District attorney Bonnie Dumanis says she's going to fix the chronic budget problems in her first term in office. Kyla, give us a snapshot of what she and candidates Carl DeMaio, Nathan Fletcher, and Bob Filner are saying about the mayor managing school district affairs.

CALVERT: This conversation about the role the mayor should play in schools started in November when Fletcher and Tony Young had this sort of wrap-up of this educational listen think tour that they'd been doing for six or seven months and saying it was time for City Council and the mayor's office to get more involved in the city schools. Then in January, Bonnie Dumanis put out her plan for reforming the governance of the city schools. She wants to see four mayorally appointed members added to the board of education, add an educational liaison to the mayor's office, support technology in the classroom and some other things.

SAUER: And run the city while she's doing all this.

CALVERT: Right, run the city as well. Carl DeMaio has said that he'll lead by example by reforming the city's pension system, and freeing up money by doing that for things like rec centers and libraries. And Bob Filner was sort of the most hands-off. I wouldn't say that DeMaio was -- saying that the mayor has a lot to do already but should be a leader in terms of lobbying Sacramento for greater funding for public schools. He was saying that in the last few years, we've seen funds for K-12 education in the state cut by about 20%. They all made the sort of claim that they would be the education mayor for San Diego.

SAUER: Why do you think it's become a focal point of this campaign? I've been around a long time in this city. I don't remember this coming up in terms of mayor races or mayors wanting to weigh in.

CALVERT: Well, I don't know why for San Diego right now but I would say that education sort of tops the list in terms of voter concerns. A poll done by UT San Diego showed that 2/3 of voters said this was one of their top concerns. That's the case in statewide polling all the time.

SAUER: And it's a national trend too.

CALVERT: Definitely. The mayor in New York City is in charge of city schools. It's the governing board has a majority of his appointees on it. In Detroit, Chicago.

SAUER: How has that worked out in some of those places? Has it worked well with the mayors in cities and other schools?

CALVERT: Some will tell you that mayoral involvement improves everything. And other groups of researchers say you -- there's really no evidence that it increases student achievement. There is some evidence that it might stabilize funding if they come into a school system that's within wildly mismanaged in terms of finances. It's sort of a gam welin terms of taking on an area where people get very emotional. I think it's a political gamble, certainly.

SAUER: Now, you cover education, you're on our education beat, a number of stories that we've done regarding governor brown's proposal to increase tax revenue and help schools on side, how do these candidates who are weighing in on the mayor getting involved in schools, how do they feel about the statewide initiative coming up on taxes?

CALVERT: Only Bob Filner said he supported it. All four candidates said they did not believe that raising city taxes to support schools was the thing to do. And only Bob Filner said that he supports the governor's initiative to increase the sales tax in part for schools. And the rest of them said that it's about cost management and efficiencies, and that the taxpayers shouldn't be asked to pay more.

SAUER: And how much have we cut in recent years here?

CALVERT: In San Diego unified, they have cut by over $100†million, now they're facing another $120 million cut. So state funding for education has gone down by about 20% over the last couple years.

SAUER: And if this tax thing doesn't pass here, the dire consequences have been outlined by a number of people.

CALVERT: The school district has issued 1,600 preliminary notices of possible layoffs, and that's just the teachers and other certificated staff which include nurses, councils. They haven't reached the deadline for sending out these notices of possible layoffs to the classified staff like bus drivers, people who work in the cafeterias, people who work in the school offices. So that isn't even the total number of people who will be notified that they could lose their jobs in the fall.

SAUER: By Dumanis has a very detailed plan. We touched on that a little bit. Nathan Fletcher has a detailed plan does he not?

CALVERT: He does. He's said that he would create a foundation to support technology in the city schools, that he would focus on developing the city's workforce, beyond just K-12 education, and that he would also like to see things like experimental academies set up in lower performing schools to see what works and then scale it up when we find things that work. And then also the thing is that for each of those plans people who are in the city school system say, well, we're doing a lot of these things already. Nathan Fletcher says he wants to have every child with some kind of personal computing device by 2016. There's a plan already they're rolling out that will give net books to all of the city's students by 2014. Bonnie Dumanis has the financial oversight.

SAUER: Her plan requires a change in the city charter?

CALVERT: Sure. That's another point that people who have been involved in education reform in San Diego have made, that that component to add the four appointees to the board of education, there was a group trying to get it added as a ballot initiative. It has to be one because the composition of the board of education is determined by the city charter. So it would be a charter amendment. And people tried to get signatures to get that on the ballot, and they couldn't even get the signatures. That same poll that UT San Diego did that says people are concerned about it, they upon the mayor to support the city schools. They also say that they want -- a similar portion don't support adding those appointees to the board. Then the financial oversight committee, there is a financial oversight committee within the school district already. And it includes representatives from outside organizations. And they sort of go over -- it's an independent audit committee.

SAUER: Speaking of polls, Ms. Dumanis is down at the bottom of the latest polls that we've seen in terms of the mayor's race itself. What's behind her push to try and make this bold statement she made the other day which was we're going to wrap all these chronic problems up in my first term? What do the other candidates say?

CALVERT: Well, she threw that out in the closing comments. Everyone in -- I think everyone in the room was taken aback when she said that she was going to fix the city schools by the end of her first term.

SAUER: And she had all sorts of specifics on that. She's got her plan, obviously. But it's just hard to imagine you can make that kind of a bold thing. Is that a hail Mary pass by a politician who can read the polls as well as we can?

CALVERT: Well, I can't pretend to read her mind or sit in on her strategy meetings. I imagine it, you know, I imagine it was an attempt to make a splash and set herself apart from the other candidates. They each sort of had their moments of displaying that they didn't entirely know about what was going on in the school system. Bob Filner didn't know what the parent trigger law in California is, which is a law that if a majority of parents in a school sign a petition, they can institute a couple of reforms, either have their school turn into a charter school or have the staff replaced in the hopes of turning the school around. And it's generated a lot of headlines

SAUER: Yet he's the only candidate with actual School Board experience.

CALVERT: It's true. And Carl DeMaio was talking about changing the pension system in the schools but the local School Board doesn't manage the teachers' pensions. So that's a number of places where they each sort of had a a stumble in terms of their knowledge.

SAUER: Pretty new coming to this tropic is what you're saying

CALVERT: Because this hasn't been an issue for the mayor before

SHARMA: So I understand why people within a city would want their schools to do well. Will I know the problems facing schools are acute, they're struggling financially, we're not graduating kids who are prepared to go into the work world prepared for college. But the city has its own problems. Their financings are teetering, they've got pot holes, all sorts of will problems. And to take over at least, at least have a lot of say within a school district, that is another massive bureaucracy.

SAUER: Who needs it

SHARMA: Why would they want to take this on? And aside from Bob Filner's School Board experience, what expertise do they bring? And what clout do they have to do this?

CALVERT: Well, Bonnie Dumanis's claim to expertise or knowledge in the area is that she's worked in the juvenile court system, she's seen what happens when kids don't get a proper education and sort of seeing that end result is what makes her the candidate to really reform schools. Again, as I said already, it's definitely a political gamble. So I don't know why you would want to take on this other government agency. Basically school districts are set up as separate municipalities. They have different revenues and -- I personally can't imagine why you would want to step into that fray.

FLORIDO: And someone like Nathan Fletcher who is a member of the state legislature actually does have clout and authority to do something about this. And as mayor, it's the position that would position him to do that, that seems a bit strange that he wouldn't have done something in the state legislature but wants to do something as mayor.

CALVERT: Right. Well, Bob Filner actually took him to task for not supporting the governor's push last year to temporarily increase taxes to fund -- to give more funding to K-12 education, and Fletcher's response was that he worked on alternative legislation, that he couldn't get the support for, and that he couldn't support the governor's budget for several reasons but that he did try to work on this bipartisan legislation. But it was thwarted in that effort. So he basically painted the picture of himself as the frustrated advocate for schools. The but that does remind me of something that researchers -- when I worked on a story in January about mayors getting involved in city school, and I talked to researcher who is looked at mayoral involvement in city school, one thing that mayors can be very effective at is building public/private partnerships, and bringing in private money to city schools.

SAUER: Now, do you think any of these four candidates strengthen their position in the mayor's race through this forum we had on education? I guess it's tough to call that one.

CALVERT: Yeah, I think it is tough to call. They all had those moments where they sort of stumbled, and I don't know they would say that any of them came out looking better or worse than the others on this particular issue. I think they're definitely tired of sitting on panels and hearing each other talk. There was a lot of sniping amongst them. But more personal jabs than about anything about the specific policies they're talking about.

SAUER: It seems to me if you're going to win the job and be an incumbent, you're open in the four years to run on your record as we're seeing in the federal election with President Obama now, and with the City of San Diego, Amita pointed out, has so many problems of its own, you're opening a whole second side. So maybe you do real well as mayor, but the school didn't work too darn well. So you're really opening another front for liabilities it seems.

CALVERT: I would definitely agree.

SAUER: All right, we're going to have to leave it there. My guest, Amita Sharma, Kyla Calvert, and Adrian Florido of the KPBS news team, thank you.