Chula Vista’s Red Hot Election Ballot
Friday, June 4, 2010
GLORIA PENNER (Host): Staying with the South Bay, Chula Vista 's election ballot is red hot. On Tuesday residents will vote for state assembly and senate seats, mayor, two city council seats, a new elected position city attorney as well as Proposition G, which would impact development in the city. It's a significant year for the second largest city in San Diego County and KPBS senior metro reporter Alison St John joins me now with the details. How are all these races connected?
ALISON ST JOHN (KPBS metro reporter): Well, Gloria, I think to put it in context the City of Chula Vista more than almost any other city in the County has really been hit hard by this economic downturn. We’ve heard so much about the City of San Diego’s economic troubles, but Chula Vista was booming more than any other city due to all that new development out in East Lake when things were good. They built themselves a new city hall, a new police headquarters. And now they are really struggling to make the payments. So their staff has shrunk by about 25 percent. Their budget has shrunk by 30-40 million dollars. And so really this election is a sort of a where are we going to go from here. How are we going to take control of the budget and hopefully grow, because Chula Vista has a lot of very ambitious plans?
PENNER: I would assume this is showing up in the mayor’s race. It’s a three-way race. We have the incumbent Cheryl Cox, Chula Vista City councilman Steve Castenada, and Southwestern College trustee Jorge Dominguez. How is this race playing out?
ST JOHN: So it’s hard to really in Chula Vista sort of quite parse it out along straight, clear lines. But Mayor Cheryl Cox represents, I would say, she's a republican… she is the wife of Greg Cox who is on the County Board of Supervisors. So she's part of the establishment of this region. And Castenada has been on the council for six years, and he's been angling for this position for quite a while. He is sort of neighborhoods first kind of man. So if you want to put it in the convention sort of business, I think Cheryl Cox would be more business oriented and Castenada would be more neighborhood oriented. And then we have the third candidate, whose main role I think is to probably make it true that we’ll have a runoff. It’s unlikely that either candidate will actually win in this primary.
PENNER: Well as you said, finance and the economy is the issue here. How do the candidates differ in their approach to finding more business and more jobs for Chula Vista?
ST JOHN: Well since Cheryl Cox has been the mayor and been in the leadership position, I think many people would say she hasn’t had a great deal of success in terms of the Gaylord project fell through – they pulled out. There was talk about a major university over on the inland side of Chula Vista – that didn’t happen. The Charger stadium didn’t happen. So she's been trying to make all these big major projects work out and none of them have. She does have under her belt the fact that we’ve just seen that there's an agreement been reached about a new bayfront master plan, which the port has agreed to. And Castenada I think is more concerned with creating jobs – green jobs and neighborhood-based jobs, small businesses.
PENNER: So let’s talk a little bit more about that bayfront. There is something on the ballot now called Proposition G. And Proposition G to a great extent would say that unions cannot be involved in city funded, city involved projects. Is that correct?
ST JOHN: Well there are different interpretations of Proposition G, and I think that’s the problem with the initiative. It was worded by – it was created by ABC, the Associated Builders and Contractors, as part of I think a national campaign really to try to curb the influence of unions. So this is where a situation with Chula Vista is like a hot spot for this particular battle that’s raging throughout the state and the country. It does say it would outlaw project labor agreements, which means that the City would have to enter – if they entered a project labor agreement, they would be entering an agreement that would require whoever won the contract to provide benefits that are equivalent to labor union benefits in return for certain guarantees. And even the County Board of Supervisors has used project labor agreements in the past and say they're ok. But the problem with this on is would it in fact preclude the City from getting grants from the state and federal government for public projects if it passed? And that’s the worry
PENNER: You’ve really clarified it, but now they have this bayfront project that may very well move along. So how would Proposition G if it were passed affect what happens at the bayfront?
ST JOHN: Well the people who are against Proposition G – which is the labor movement and the labor council – are saying it could have a devastating affect on that. And right as the City is on the verge of manifesting this dream it’s had for three decades that perhaps if Proposition G passed they would not be able to proceed with state and federal funding for it.
PENNER: Ok, let’s turn – this is to the city attorney’s race. It’s the first time that Chula Vista will elect its city attorney. How did this change come to be?
ST JOHN: Well two years ago it was on the ballot in Chula Vista that do you want an elected city attorney? And when you look at all the problems that the City of San Diego has had having an elected city attorney, you wonder why did they decide to do it? And I think when this person gets elected they will become a very significant part of Chula Vista politics. Whoever wins will get more salary than the mayor and will have a significant political role in which way things go.
PENNER: It’s kind of interesting – one of the candidates doesn’t live in the City of Chula Vista. And the other one had some problems when he worked in the city attorney’s office.
ST JOHN: Exactly. Well, the way that the charter ammendment was written two years ago, said it didn't matter if the person lived in Chula Vista or not. And it was funded by a major property owner downtown, Earl Jentz, who put $300,000 into getting this position added to the city political roster. And I think perhaps he felt like the city is so internally divided with allegations of corruption and pergury and this and that, shenanigans, that it might even be better to get somebody from outside the city to preside over legal matters.
PENNER: Is he funding any of the candidates now?
ST JOHN: Oh yes he is. He's funding Faigin, who is the Lakeside candidate who is running for the office. And Googins is the one who actually asked to leave the city attorney's office earlier and paid $175,000 to do so without any clear indications of why that happened.
PENNER: Going to be interesting to watch that race. In the minute we have left Alison, the 40th State Senate race. It's a termed out seat for Denise Ducheny, a Democrat. And there's a fight now between two significant Democrats, Assemblywoman Mary Salas and former Assemblyman Juan Vargas. What's going on there?
ST JOHN: Well it's a very Democratically registered district so whoever wins this is likely to get the seat in November. So, Mary Salas was a Chula Vista city councilwoman. Vargas was a San Diego city councilman. And Vargas has, since he was the city councilman -- he was an assemblyman -- he tried twice to defeat Filner to become a congressmen and many people think he actually wants Congress but he didn't succeed so now he's trying to get Senate. He has much more money from insurance companies, oil companies, vested interests, than Salas does. And Salas claims that she is more a representative of the people. We'll see what they say.
PENNER: Ok well thank you very much Alison St John.
ST JOHN: My pleasure.