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Roundtable: Water Rates, County Election, Sanders' Budget

April 13, 2012 1:22 p.m.

Guests: Mike Lee, UT San Diego

Chris Cadelago, UT San Diego

John Warren, editor, San Diego Voice and Viewpoint

Related Story: Roundtable: Water Rates, County Supervisor Race, City Budget

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: A bleak note for San Diego. Our bigger water bills ahead for the next two years. Is Jerry Sanders' new budget too optimistic, and could the first new supervisor in 20 years change the dynamic on the board? This is KPBS Midday Edition Roundtable.

Today is Friday, April 13th. I'm Gloria Penner. With me at the Roundtable today are Mike Lee, staff writer for UT San Diego. Welcome, are it's our first time working together.

LEE: I'm glad to be here Gloria.

PENNER: Looking forward to it. John Warren, editor and publisher of San Diego Voice and Viewpoint.

WARREN: It's good to be with you again, Gloria.

PENNER: And Christopher Cadelago, also with UT San Diego. It's good to see you again. We did television together. And now radio.

CADELAGO: Good to see you.

PENNER: Well, Mike, first of all, remind us where the Metropolitan Water District, which is located in Los Angeles, has gotten its power to raise water rates in San Diego.

LEE: Well, MWD, or met, as it is known is one of the largest water wholesalers in the country, and that gives it plenty of power. It serves indirectly, about 19 million residents across six counties in Southern California. It imports water from Northern California and the Colorado river, has a lot of the pumps and pipes and the infrastructure that provides water to the northern doorstep of San Diego County.

PENNER: So is this a public agency or is it privately run? Where does the control come from?

LEE: Well, it is a public agency set up I believe by the legislature. And it's run by a board of 37 directors from member agencies all across Southern California. And they operate much like a really big City Council or like a SANDAG is probably a better example.

PENNER: Interesting, John. When you look at this. This is a public agency, and what it has proposed is to raise rates by 5% next year, another 5% the year after, which has to be punitive for some people in our community.

WARREN: Well, it's very punitive for our community. What we found is that they have some 25 entities that are served by the Metropolitan Water District, and what they've done is raise our rates and redistributed that money among other member entities to give them a lower rate of payment. And of course we have had a long running battle with them over many years. The issue is not so much the cost of water as it is the cost of moving it, since we don't own pipes and don't have a direct tie to the Colorado river.

PENNER: So we're talking transportation, Chris. And the -- I guess maybe the cost of transportation is escalating.

CADELAGO: Yeah, I think it is. And I think one of the things the county has said, the county water authority is that it's really trying to reduce its dependence. And I think Mike can talk about those more specifically. But I think that would lead to maybe a longer term relief for folks here, otherwise we're kind of in the same situation that we are today.

PENNER: And in what way longer term relief? What is it that you were referring to?

CADELAGO: The county water authority I think gets about 45% of its water from MWD. And I think it's trying to lower that number to lower our dependence on them.

PENNER: Oh, that's interesting. Yes, John?

WARREN: Yeah, while we get 45%, 40% from them, we have shifted in recent years buying more water from the im52errial valley. And that water costs more, and that's also a part of the contention with MWD, that we are shopping elsewhere. And yet we're concerned -- I think we had kind of a dÈtente agreement with them for about five years that recently expired. Now they're moving with these rate increases from three to four to 5%, and that amounts to $40†million alone in increased costs.

PENNER: That's a lot of money. I'm thinking about 5%, say your water bill is $100 a month, that would raise it by $5. Are people responding to this, Mike?

LEE: Well, let's back up. There's a couple elements important here for context. Chris brought up our reliance on Met. In the 1981-91 drought, we relied on Met for 90% of our water. County directors said never again are we going to be this reliant on one source. Over the past few decades, our water bills have gone up dramatically in part due in efforts to get away from what's called Mother Met. Now we're at about 45%. In ten years, the water authority plans to be at 20-25%. That's one aspect.

PENNER: Let me just follow up on that.

LEE: Please.

PENNER: So the county is saying we're going to take less water from Metropolitan Water District.

LEE: Absolutely.

PENNER: Do they have the authority to unilaterally say we're going to take less water or do they have to get approval from their supplier to take less water?

LEE: They don't need approval to do that. It's a customer relationship. And so in as much as we can buy water from imperial irrigation district or other sources, then we need to buy les from Met, and we don't buy much which reduces their buying power and income, and creates some of the stresses that have led to some of this friction in recent years.

PENNER: We have now an issue where the county, our county water authority is basically a middleman. I mean, it buys from the Metropolitan Water District, and then it sells to local jurisdictions and local communities. What effect would that have on the bottom line for the county Water Authority if it has to buy at higher prices?

LEE: This is interesting because the County Water Authority's own budgets over the last decade have been increasing regardless of what has happened with cart costs from Met. So it's in an unusual situation of criticizing Met for raising its rates but also raising its own rates to member agencies at the same time. So the net effect is that everybody's water rates are going to go up again in 2013 and 2014, but it's not as simple as saying they're going to go up by 5%. Of that's what Met is passing onto the county Water Authority, but that wholesale cost of water is just a fraction of the cost you and I pay at the end of the line.

PENNER: John Warren.

WARREN: Well, the irony over the years is that the people in San Diego County have reduced their water consumption by about 30%. Of and as we've discussed before, whenever that consumption rate has gone down, a companion to that has been a reduction to the amount of revenue. You have less revenue as a result of conservation, and less revenue means you've got to find a way to still finance existing costs. And we still have the increases. And that's what's happening right now. 30% consumption no longer being rewarded, costs still going up to make up the difference.

PENNER: Mike?

LEE: Right on. Yes, that's absolutely the case. And it's a really difficult paradox for people. But we're kind of stuck with it at this point.

PENNER: Really stuck. In other words, this is an issue where we live in a democracy, it's true that public agencies have a lot of power and control, but this is not something that a people as a public reference can do anything about.

LEE: Well, there is a possibility, Gloria, and it's farfetched, I have to agree, but when this comes down to local water edges, it is possible that 50% of residents plus 1 would reject the rate increases that have to be I passed at the City Councils and the water boards. I don't think it's ever happened in this county. In fact I'm confident it's never happened in this county, but in theory it could.

PENNER: It could in theory.

LEE: Yes.

PENNER: But there would have to be leadership in order for something to take place?

CADELAGO: There would definitely have to be leadership. And to the credit of some of our city leaders and county leaders, many of them did speak against these rate increases. I Jerry Sanders wrote a letter to MWD and asked them to basically freeze these rates until they could basically prove that they've dropped their spending, reduced their spending to basically maintaining course services and not paying for some of these other down the line projects.

PENNER: Well, the core services, of course, you know, repairs, replacement, maintenance, that kind of thing. But John, my understanding is that it's also -- the increase would go to travel and increased staff, and even consulting services:

WARREN: Well, that's part of the problem, when you look at MWD, it has increased its expenditures in all of those areas. It's not a matter of us increasing the expenditures. So what's happening here is that the San Diego County Water Authority is moving on two fronts. One in terms of the public relations campaign, which is exposing the things that are happening within MWD and putting their website up and links to it. The other is in the courts, resuming the litigation that was taking place with approximately $1†million spent so far, and letting the public know we're working on reducing costs, recycling groundwater, and looking at the Poseidon facility that's supposed to come online in Carlsbad.

PENNER: Well, so these are other sources that really could help out. Mike, the water wars are nothing new. I remember way back, there was a film called Chinatown. I think it was jack Nicholson.

LEE: One of the great films of all time.

PENNER: 1974. So they have been going on for at least 100 years. What could possibly settle those wars once and for all?

LEE: I don't think that's going to happen. It's always going to be this uneasy tension between buyers and sellers, between those who have and those who don't. And being at the end of two pipelines, we here in San Diego are always going to have to be vigilant, is probably the right word, and it will come at a cost because whatever you think about the San Diego County Water Authority's campaign, whether it's on the side of the angels or not, it certainly has put up a barrier, a wall at the north border of the county, and everybody in the other five counties of Southern California seems to think we're wrong. And there's a lot of tension there now.

PENNER: That to me is the most interesting part. It's as though San Diego is standing alone against the world in this whole issue of water. Chris?

CADELAGO: Yeah, I think I was here a couple weeks ago. And we were talking about this with JW from 10 news, and one of the points I made at the time was people look at this relationship, and we know we have to coexist and work together, but from the beginning they were thrown into this shotgun marriage, and it's really been tough ever since the beginning. Like Mike says, I don't know that there's anything on the horizon that indicates that the county Water Authority will back down, and there's probably also no indication that MWD will back down.

PENNER: So what happens then? If nobody backs down? Chris? John?

WARREN: Well, the Courts are going to end up making a decision, No. 1. But let's look at why the others are not supporting us. The others are included in if the redistribution of the increase that's being charged to us. We're not getting it. We're paying more, and the other 20-some entities are getting lower rates. So they're benefiting from our $40†million overpayment.

PENNER: And at the same time, we are conserving. Is this a catch 22 situation, John, where successful conservation efforts have decreased MWD's revenue and it needs to recover that income?

WARREN: Oh, yeah, I think it is. They're not going to do more with less. They want more, period. And this is -- what we should not miss here, in the past ten years, MWD has come into San Diego County and launched aggressive campaigns on behalf of their distribution arrangements. And remember they've done campaigns with us, they've reached into community organizations, done all these things to generate support to suggest that they're the friendly grandfather of the whole scenario.

PENNER: One of your stories, Mike, pointed out that they're being accuse of being a shadow government in conducting things in secrecy. This all starts sounding very uncomfortable.

LEE: It does. And yeah, to listen to the county Water Authority, I mean, they paint metropolitan in a very bad light, and they have some documentation that suggests that there certainly have been working groups going on at metropolitan where San Diego County hasn't been invited. You talk to the other agencies, those not local, and they'll say, well, we just needed to get things done, and there are working groups all the time, and San Diego isn't a cooperative player. So it's all above board. That's their explanation of it. But there certainly is a conspiracy theory now.

PENNER: And it almost sounds as though each entity has its own level of propaganda that it's putting out, John.

WARREN: Well, it does, one of the points that's been made here, over the next ten years, if we're successful, we can stop them from gaining as much as $400†million in revenue from us. Of so it's worth the $1†million or $2†million that we're spending in legal fees to win this battle. I think ultimately though, the Courts are going to make the determination.

PENNER: Ah, yes.

WARREN: Not the PR campaign.

PENNER: Always goes into the Courts, doesn't it? Well, gentlemen thank you very much for that discussion.

[[[NEW SEGMENT]]]

PENNER: This is Midday Edition Roundtable. I'm Gloria Penner. And if all goes as San Diego mayor, Jerry Sanders, predicts, the City of San Diego should reap the rewards of a leader who pledged financial reform after inheriting a shaky City Hall. And he's not talking about patching together a ragged budget but about actually seeing $119†million surplus over the next five years. Here to talk about this in the studio today are Chris Cadelago from the, T, and Mike Lee also from the UT, and John Warren from San Diego Voice and Viewpoint. John, before we get into the city budget, I know you weren't planning on this, but I'm going to do it anyway, I'd like to take a fast look at Nathan Fletcher's fast turnaround in a poll by survey USA, and ten News. Now it's almost a tie between Carl DeMaio and Nathan Fletcher. And his campaign says it's because he's running as an independent. But political observers think that maybe it's the result of the fact that he's been running a lot of ads lately.
[ LAUGHTER ]

WARREN: Well, when you look at the poll that's been taken, the response depends on who you talk with. If you talk to Bonnie, she'll tell you that the same people ran the poll for her when she ran before, and she won by 200%. So far they department know what they were talking about. If you ask Nate Fletcher, he'll tell you that the polls reflect the people are tired of either party. And since he represents independents, that's why it's going well for him. But there's no disputing the fact that he has moved to the No.†2 slot, according to the polls. And if you consider the open primary, it makes Bob Filner in a third place position, which he didn't anticipate. I think he anticipated always being one of the top 2.

PENNER: Chris?

CADELAGO: I think the one caveat we need to look at is the fact that this is an automated telephone survey, they do these pretty regularly. Of and if you look deeper in the poll, it shows DeMaio having a pretty big lead, I think 6 or 7 points among Republicans, and Filner still with a big lead among Democrats. And DeMaio also has kind of a slimmer lead, but still a lead among independent voters. So looking at that one, and looking at the previous survey USA poll, there just wasn't much of an indication that the folks Nathan Fletcher picked up are all independents or Democrats. I think what we're seeing is a slight drop for Bonnie, about a five-point drop for Filner. And those folks going to Fletcher.

PENNER: So in other words, you're not seeing this as a really significant number.

CADELAGO: Well, I wouldn't -- I would say it is fairly significant at this point. I think it shows where those folks are.

PENNER: Very good.

CADELAGO: But by no means would I guarantee that those two will --

PENNER: Okay, back to the budget! That's our topic. On what is Sanders basing his optimism?

WARREN: It reminds me of Charles dickens, the tale of two cities. Best of times, worst of times, depending on who you're talking to about the times. According to the mayor, there's no question that since 2005, there's been a big turnaround in the city. We know many sacrifices were made. He talks about those from surfaces to employees. But the big turnaround is a result of revenues going up at this point. That's one factor. And that's a very significant factor. So he's projected $119†million over the next five years, boasted that we have gone from 17-172 mile was street repairs, and he's pushing these things up, and he's just saying we're just going to leave a wonderful city budget. And when you talk to other parties involved such as councilman DeMaio, his position is, well, the culture hasn't changed. And if you talk to Bob Filner, his position is, well, are we still have a deficit in services. If you talk to Bonnie Dumanis, who has been supportive and endorsed by the mayor, her position is she can't wait to continue what he started.

PENNER: It sounds as though their positions are pretty hardened, Mike. That they're carved out their material on the budget, what it is that they're going to be able to respond with. And that's where they're sticking.

LEE: Yeah, and I don't think at this point in the campaign that we should expect much else than for this to be interpreted through political lenses. I think the city is certainly -- does feel better off to me than when I came here about six or seven years ago, and we went into that deep, dark depression. But I got to say, just as a city user of services, there's still a lot of pot holes out there, and there's still a long way to go before we get to a point where we can breathe easy.

PENNER: Did you wake up the morning after the mayor released his budget and feel better about living in San Diego? Or are you still concerned about the financial situation here? Chris, amidst all this talk about increased library and recreation hours, and better firefighting capabilities, as John mentioned, there is still concern out there. There's concern about the fact that we are underfunded on the city pension money that we owe, and that we do have the potholes that make was talking about. Of the infrastructure is crumbling? Which is the truth?

CADELAGO: I'll go for the copout answer, and say a little bit of both. DeMaio has done some calculations as John was saying, and he basically found that we're tens of millions if not $300†million behind here. And I know that not everyone agrees with that. But obviously there's a huge deficit in terms of -- we saw when the City Council approved mayor Sanders' proposal to foot bonds to improve the streets. And we're behind on the number of cops that are out there on the street, in terms of the number of hours that libraries were open several years ago, and rec centers were open several years ago. So I think we're definitely not out of the woods yet. If you look five years into the future, if this -- if the mayor's proposal is to be believed, I think we will be in a lot better shape. But billions are just planning documents, basically. So you never know that comes. Nobody anticipated the 2008 crash, and that certainly had some detrimental effects on the city.

PENNER: But the days are dwindling down. We are already into April. The mayor doesn't have too much longer to be mayor. John, what do you think is the legacy that he wants to leave when he walks out of that office?

WARREN: Well, of course he wants to be remembered as restoring and rescuing. But I think there's a missing element here. He came on in a time that we changed from a city manager to a strong mayor form of government. That's a significant factor. He came along in a time that we went through all of the pension exposures and litigations and changes that have taken place. And I'm sure he hopes that Proposition B will pass in June, which will help change the pension structure to more 401K contributions. But at the same time, to talk about restoring hours to library or police or fire and yet you said nothing about the employees of the city who gave up 6%, who have not been mentioned in terms of receiving any of that money back, when they were asked to make the sacrifice to help balance the budget. I think his legacy is going to be determined by who you speak with in terms of people. If you talk to people who are downtown, you're going to get one thing. If you talk to labor, you're going to get something else.

CADELAGO: I think the push and pull with that is kind of is he this reformer who brought back the city from the brink or more of a caretaker who took the city from the point that it was, and made some of these hard reforms, these hard changes, and leave it to the next mayor to move the city forward.

PENNER: And it was at a difficult place, was it not, Chris? That was when former mayor Dick Murphy was being criticized nationally.

CADELAGO: Definitely. The city obviously -- the often-repeated headline from the New York Times and run by the C, wasn't actually in the story, but it was in the headline. And that's all it took to give us a black eye for quite a long time.

PENNER: When you think about legacy, you could about bricks and mortar, Mike. You weren't here when Pete Wilson was mayor. In fact, I don't think anybody was here. But when Pete Wilson was mayor, his legacy was the beginning of downtown development with Horton plaza. He and Ernie Hahn worked together, and they came up with the whole Horton Plaza idea. It seemed to me that we were getting a lot of emphasis on a Chargers stadium and expanded Convention Center in the speech this is we heard from the mayor in the last year or so.

LEE: Well, yeah, it's come up time and time again, and I would suspect that behind the scenes they're working on it feverishly to try to get some kind of plan that can be linked to this Sanders era as being when things turned around. I don't know if we're at the point where anybody is satisfied that we're there yet. But undoubtedly, that's on his agenda for these next few months.

PENNER: Did you find that rather amazing thing that with all that's happening in San Diego that we were getting that focus on building public projects downtown?

WARREN: Well, I always felt it was misdirected. There were too many other issues involved. And to talk about building another project did the, the library is not complete, the port authority has a great deal to say about what happens with the tenth street pier, the Board of Supervisors are not committed to it. So I've always felt that he picked things that were -- that did not go to the pulse beat of the people. Transportation, housing. He mentions recreation and parks, but I mean, the gap is so big as Filner suggested in terms of surface deficit that he can't be remembered for the life support effort that's taking place for services that were so vital before.

PENNER: Chris, obviously you've been covering the mayoral race. We've come up with some ideas of your own here. I was thinking about Bonnie Dumanis, who's been focusing on getting the future mayor involved in the city schools. And she saw an opportunity in this to link a financially healthy school system to a strong San Diego economy. Does that make any sense?

CADELAGO: I think co-opting the issue for her, she believes it makes sense. We often identify councilman Carl DeMaio with pensions, right? That's his issue. Obviously we see the pension initiative having broad support in this latest poll. I think it was polling at 55-10% or something. She's made some very bold statements about -- that my colleague, Craig Gustafson has reported on, about really reforming schools, fixing schools is what she said in her first term. And those have been kind of largely dismissed by folks in the education community. She has or own definitions for what fixing schools means. But the mayor as of today does not have much say over schools. And it would be tough for that whole apparatus from Sacramento to San Diego to seed that control to a mayor who as we talked about with crumbling streets and other things going on has more than enough on their plate.

LEE: This is not something that I cover directly, but thought as a reader and a resident, I have to wonder if there's really enough time in the day for a mayor to fix the school system, which seems to have some intractable problems, as well as a city which clearly needs a lot more work.

PENNER: We need to go back to the financial aspect of it, John. We're talking about a budget. Is there anything that you saw in that budget which would, allow a new mayor who will come in when this budget is in effect to be able to spend any money in behalf of the schools? If you're going to fix city schools --

WARREN: No, no. And the UT forum that was sponsored at UCSD with the candidates addressing education touched upon this in part. And the only person in this meeting that really made a true observation was Filner in the sense that he said that the mayor has enough to do other than trying to run the schools. This is set up so I don't care what the mayor wants to do, he can't interfere with the unified school district. The school district is under the county supervision, and under the state. I can see Bonnie's interest in terms of the number of young people who come through the criminal justice system, wanting to do something for them. But the most she could do is work with the school district itself, but not change it.

PENNER: Go ahead, Chris.

CADELAGO: I wanted to add that her two kind of key reforms that she's proposed are having a panel that the mayor picks selecting for School Board members, and then having the mayor a final signoff on those, as well as a mayor's liaison in the office, which would cost money. Those are the two things she's talked about. And there's many others in if her plan.

PENNER: Let me stick with you for a second. Does it appear to you that there's -- if there's any civic focus at all? If people are paying any attention at all to what's going on in the steady? That they're kind of deflected into the campaigns for mayor and that perhaps something like a budget takes 5th or 6th place in their minds?

CADELAGO: A budget might. According to UT poll with USD, the three most important issues that the poll identified, and this is for council candidates, are the council and mayoral candidates, and the mayor to be worrying about, that residents thought they should be thinking about, schools was No.†2. So it was way up there, ahead of pensions. And I think that surprised some people. So it is certainly something people think they should think about, but to what degree should they be involved?

PENNER: John, I'm sorry I didn't get you in before we had to close the segment.

WARREN: I just think that I've seen across the country efforts to do an appointed and elected board. It doesn't work. Cities don't work. We have Oakland, we have a number of cities, New York, where we're tried to take over. We tried this before. None of that worked. So I think the best thing that we will hope to see is the new mayor and council talking with the board of education superintendent.

PENNER: Thank you very much.

[[[NEW SEGMENT]]]

PENNER: This is Midday Edition Roundtable. I'm Gloria Penner. And with me at the Roundtable, we have Mike Lee and Chris Cadelago from the Union Tribune. And we have the editor and publisher of San Diego Voice and Viewpoint. And thank you very much for coming in, John. Well, when longtime county supervisor and arts supporter Pam Slater-Price said she would not run for reelection again, there was a small stirring of excitement in political circles. After all these years, there actually would be an election contest which was sure to result in a new addition to the 5-member board, a board that's been in place for 20 years. There was an expectation realized that there would be a healthy group of candidates ready to go for the third district?

CADELAGO: I don't think it was just a couple months ago. Steve Danon, who is the chief of staff to Republican Congressman Brian Bilbray was really the only one in the race for quite some time after Pam announced in I believe September that she wouldn't run. We weren't sure how competitive a contest this would be.

PENNER: So you had a feeling that there wasn't this surge of people waiting there to have an opportunity to come out and vie for the race?

CADELAGO: Not in the beginning. Since then, of course, we have had some candidates join the race, most notably Solana beach City Councilman Dave Roberts, and Del Mar mayor Carl Hilliard. He's a Republican, Dave Roberts is a Democrat, and he's been endorsed by the incumbent Republican Slater-Price.

PENNER: This is basically a North County district. A lot of the communities in North County, the cities, and the run up the cost along 15 takes in this area. So it is an area that's considered higher economic than let's say the other parts of San Diego. Wouldn't this make a difference in interest from people in who's going to be their supervisor?

WARREN: Well, not necessarily. I think the five people who have been further for 20 years have institutionalized the positions they hold. And I think the districts are comfortable. And I would even go so far as to predict that Dave Roberts will probably win with the endorsement of Slater-price, just because of the extent to which that group has stuck together. What is significant about him, he does not seem to support the idea of putting the stadium as a big issue, No.†1.

PENNER: Are you talking about a Chargers stadium?

WARREN: A Chargers stadium, and he's not for using county funds to do the Chargers stadium. On the other hand, I think Danon is the one who is very much interested in takings $5†million discretionary fund, which we refer to as their slush fund and redistributing it based on merit. Each of them are sort of finding an issue that's going to touch a nerve of the people there.

PENNER: Well, they're going to have to do it soon. The primaries are in June. And the top two will go on to the November election if nobody gets 50%.

WARREN: It won't take them that long to make a decision.
[ LAUGHTER ]

PENNER: Is this a powerful seat?

WARREN: I believe that it is a very powerful seat. You got to remember that San Diego County is a charter county, just like we have a charter city. And that's different than general purpose in California. And that gives even more power to the Board of Supervisors. Now, they've operated very well over the years. They're just beginning to have some problems in it terms of pension. Upon but they've kept a nice surplus, and kept everything in the black, and I think the people respect that. And I think that that's where the power flows from. They've used that $1†million a piece to refurbish and to stroke people and little projects around the county, and I don't think folks will want to change that.

LEE: Well, I was actually just going to try to bounce something over to Chris here because I'm interested in the extent to which you think, and John you as well, think that having possibly a Democrat, and at the very least, a new person in this seat will kind of shake up the board, or if we should just expect the same kind of trajectory as we have had in recent years.

PENNER: Background on that, all five are run, and all five are white. And if a Democrat came in, you think this would shake up the board?

LEE: That's my question.

PENNER: No, you're here to answer the questions? Come on!
[ LAUGHTER ]

LEE: No.

CADELAGO: Dave Roberts, a Democrat casts himself as a very fiscally conservative Democrat. And if all five supervisors have an thing in common, it's for the most part, are being fairly fiscally conservative. You talked about whether this was a powerful position. It really is. Instead of a 9-member San Diego City Council, you have a 5-member board, and you only need three votes to get something through, and you have a $5†billion budget that handles everything from cradle to grave. You have child services and adoption services, all the way to hospitals and public safety.

PENNER: So why is it then that it is such an understated group of people?

CADELAGO: One of the big jokes I hear all the time from people in the supervisors' office is when they call a member of the public, they say they're with supervisor so-and-so the answer they get back is supervisor of what? And that's probably just because people don't necessarily know what they do.

PENNER: And why would that be? Go ahead, Mike.

LEE: Well, I think part of it goes back to what John said, which is generally speaking, there are notable exceptions but generally speaking, the county has bumped along decently in recent years, so people don't have a lot to campaign about. And to another point, the supervisors are very good at distributing their pots of money to community organizations such that they get credit for a lot of things that really belong to the people who fund it, IE, the taxpayers in the beginning.

PENNER: Do you see that changing? I remember when Pam Slater-Price, are the one who decided not to run again, was funding particularly the San Diego opera and being thanked as though it was a personal donation.

LEE: And it happens with the board that I'm on in North County. People routinely say supervisor X give us this money. And I think that's going to continue because it's in the self-interest of every politician who comes through.

CADELAGO: And to throw this out there, Carl Hilliard, and Dave Roberts, are both supportive of retaining this program. And Steve Danon who has a reform platform somewhat like Diane Jacob had when she was chief of staff for George Bailey and ran as the reform candidate, even though she had worked for all these years at the county like Steve Danon who has worked for two supervisors.

PENNER: Have you mentioned who Pam Slater-price has endorsed yet?

CADELAGO: Yes, Dave Roberts who's a Democrat. And what some people may not know, she and some of her staff members they'll say on their off-time, are very involved with his campaign. They have gone and spoken with consultants, they've accompanied him to debates, they've helped him out with some of the research he's done. And I think they're willing to help him raise some money. So her kind of 20 years of experience in the county, and I guess leadership, is totally behind him.

PENNER: Why?

CADELAGO: Well, there's some disagreement over this. Some people think that it's because of her deep disdain for Steve Danon, who -- a lot of people credit with her stepping down and not running again. Maybe she didn't want a tough election. He's been running since mid-2009, he's raised close to $225,000. And when you're in office for 20 years, sometimes you don't want to have to face a tough election.

PENNER: Interesting response. And what I'm interested in is whether the electorate who lives in North County shows any interest in this race at all. Chris outlined very clearly the power of this seat. And it would be interesting to see whether we're going to have a large vote come out in that. The other part is that this race is nonpartisan, John. It is. And yet what we're hearing talked about are once again Republicans and Democrats. So what difference can a party make in this kind of a race?

WARREN: Well, I think what we see is the party label carries with it the suggestion of certain political philosophy. So if a person says they're a Democrat, it's assumed they're going to be more liberal. We know that organized laborer and a number of entities have gotten propositions passed that changed and put -- imposed term limits for the board, and that's all geared toward changing. We know there's been a redistricting in terms of redrawing the lines for the Board of Supervisors. I think we miss something in the cities, there's 17 cities in San Diego County. The people in the 17 cities miss the fact that there's 4,000 square miles of county with a lot of rural areas and different interests such as we saw in the fires in east county with Diane Jacobs, or with Bill Horn's interest in terms of the agricultural community in the north. And those people are very significant in terms of holding onto their ideas. If you look at the long-term plan that was just remodified for the county in terms of land use and restructuring how that would be done so that you couldn't have density added to rural areas of the county, these are the things that people are concerned about outside of the cities.

PENNER: Chris, you wrote a story saying that campaign cash is increasing for the candidates. So somebody has interest in this, and somebody who's willing to put their money where their mouth is.

CADELAGO: They do, and one of the places where parties possibly for the first time will have a -- could have a big say in this is we know they will be less restricted given several high-profile court decisions in how much they can donate to candidates and maybe not directly, but we know that obviously Steve Danon has very much the support of the Republican party here. He got it very early on, even before both of these other candidates got in the race. And the Democrats have historically -- it's been tough for them because the incumbent has been so popular, and in some cases so entrenched that it wouldn't matter what they spent. A lot of people think that Greg Cox and Ron Roberts who's from central city may be for some time the last Republicans to hold those seats.

PENNER: Okay, Mike?

LEE: I think another way that the party affiliations will play out here is -- goes to the leading question, Gloria, and that is is anybody paying attention? And I think a lot of people aren't yet. And their sole indicator on this is going to be the extent to which a party affiliation is known.

PENNER: But the interesting thing is that for me, and I've got to stop using the word interesting, because everything's interesting that you guys say, is that Pam Slater's staff has gotten involved in the race looking at one of the candidates. Steve Danon is Brian Bilbray's chief of staff. Will that affiliation hold any sway with the voters?

WARREN: It goes to the individual. Bilbray does not have the same kind of political standing as a Pam Slater-price.

PENNER: But he's running for office again.

WARREN: He was out, he's back in. He's fighting to be there. I don't think people care a lot about what Bilbray says as much as they care with Pam says.

PENNER: But there is one issue. People who have money can support the candidate they want. Then there are the people who don't have money, John. One controversy that developed during the raft year was the inadequacy of the county as powerful as it is, Chris, in dealing with people who need food stamps. Long waits on the phone, then phone cutoffs, just a poor record of helping hungry San Diegans. Have we heard any of the candidates addressing this issue at all?

WARREN: Well, while the candidates haven't addressed it, I think the director of the department of health and human services has addressed. And he works very closely with the chief administrative officer, so the board is doing what it normally does. It sits back and let's the staff take the heat. And so far that issue has not reached that crescendo in terms of what we see.

PENNER: Chris, what will make the difference for the voters? Will it be man issue as John is suggesting? Or will it be something else?

CADELAGO: I don't think it'll be any one issue. I think a lot of people think that this race will come down to one Republican and one Democrat, and if that's the case, it would be Steve Danon against Dave Roberts. One of the things to look for, just like councilman DeMaio is running his campaign and kind of coupled it with pension reform, Steve Danon has made that a centerpiece of his campaign, moving county employees onto a 401K style plan. And if a lot of voters support that, they may choose the candidate who also supports that. There's all the like you said, we can't underestimate the importance of Pam's endorsement. So Dave is trying to get everything he can out of that. And we'll see how much pull she still have with her constituents.

PENNER: Thank you very much.