Election: SD City and Chula Vista
Friday, June 4, 2010
We continue our primary election coverage with a look at San Diego's City Council District 6 and 8 races, and Proposition D, plus the race for mayor and city attorney in Chula Vista.
GLORIA PENNER (Host): And I’m going to take this to you, Scott. We’re going to turn to the City of San Diego. And we’ll start with Proposition D, which would make the strong mayor form of government permanent, add a 9th council district and require six council votes to overturn a mayor’s veto. So, Scott, who’s leading the charge for Proposition D and who’s leading the opposition?
SCOTT LEWIS (CEO, voiceofsandiego.org): Well, the charge for Proposition D, the fore group is a – is the mayor himself and then the sort of circle of establishment power that has decided that this is what they would like to do and this is how the city should be run well into the future. And they’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from people who – and companies and developers and lobbyists and all kinds of different people who are interested in this being either the best form of government or the one that they like the best. Against it are Donna Frye and Marti Emerald, in particular, the two city councilwoman – women and various – anybody who’s kind of disin – disillusioned by how the city is progressing seems to be gravitating towards this as a way to stand up against it. And I think the most important things you should focus on are the two questions you brought up at the end, whether we should increase the size of the city council to 9, which is it’s at 8 right now, and then whether the mayor should have a true veto, one that would be – would make him one of the most powerful mayors in recent San Diego history where you could just put a stop to legislative efforts in a way that hasn’t been done, and that’s a very big deal. And so this is the dynamics at work here and, you know, the opposition hasn’t really had a very organized campaign but they’ve been pretty fired up in the last few days.
PENNER: I found it interesting and I think I’m going to turn to you on this, Kent, even though you don’t live in the city of San Diego. Back in 2004 when voters approved a five-year trial for strong mayor, Jerry Sanders signed the ballot argument against it. He and Donna Frye were on the same side, and Norma Damashek, the president of the League of Women Voters. And now he supports it. Can you speculate why that would be?
KENT DAVY (Editor, North County Times): Opportunity knocks. You know, people, I suppose, naturally try and protect what their own perception of their interests. I find it, as an outsider looking at it, it’s kind of a fascinating story to watch a gravitation back to what seems to me to be big city government and kind of anti – given the tide of the 2008 election for reform movement, those strains of the Obama campaign that came through, that – of cleaning up government, so on and so forth, to go to a strong mayor form of government and big city – kind of big city, Chicago style stuff, strikes me as odd.
LEWIS: Well, you know…
PENNER: Let – let’s give Michael a chance on this one.
MICHAEL SMOLENS (Politics Editor, San Diego Union-Tribune): Well, what I think we need to remember that what was going on at the time when people voted for this, quote, unquote, experiment. I mean, the city was getting national headlines, you know, Enron By the Sea, and, you know, it was just seemingly totally dysfunctional. Strong mayor efforts had been tried before in San Diego, didn’t work because people here tend to like things as they are until stuff gets very dire, and that’s what happened. I think, you know, the city is still in tough shape but there’s a certain calmness, I think, that has been brought there. Whether that has – that’s because of the strong mayor form of government or the dynamic in place now, I mean, before things were volatile, you had a much more volatile city attorney and there were all those kinds of headlines. So I think people do have a sense that things are calmer there, so that, you know, in terms of government reform – the real issue about government reform I find interesting about this, you know, expanding it or making it permanent is that adding the city council seat. I mean, they’re talking about a million dollars a year spending…
PENNER: At least.
SMOLENS: …which is ironic when, I mean, how often do you have government reform that, you know, quote, unquote, reform that tries to sell it that expands and costs more. Now the proponents of keeping the strong mayor say, look, under the strong mayor government, Sanders has been able to cut millions and millions and millions of dollars. We’ve more than made up for that, so this is worthwhile. But that was a political decision. I mean, they could’ve – they could’ve proposed reducing the number of city council seats to get an odd number and allow for that two-thirds vote but that would’ve never happened.
LEWIS: Well, and let’s not discount the short term thinking involved as well. There are – there is a majority Democrat city council right now that would like to appoint somebody to their style to run the city perhaps. And on the other hand, there are, you know, there’s a Republican mayor who’s been able to win elections. So if you were to return to the city manager form of government, the city council could, therefore, I think, influence things a little bit more on how the city’s actually run day-to-day and that’s attractive to the city council and that’s probably why there are two city council women leading this charge.
PENNER: Let’s hear now from Frances in La Jolla, who wants to talk about Prop D. Frances, you’re on with the editors. If you could make it brief, please.
FRANCES (Caller, La Jolla): Yes, thanks, Gloria.
FRANCES: Scott Lewis seems to have forgotten to say that it’s not just two city council women who are opposing strong mayor but the Good Government Groups, the Sierra Club, the Common Cause, and the League of Women Voters. I think voters who are listening to this show will be very interested to know that.
LEWIS: I didn’t mean to leave everyone – anyone out. They – the sort of public speaking about this has been led by Norma Damashek and—from the League of Women Voters—and she’s written and thought very comprehensively about this. I certainly didn’t mean to leave her out, Frances. And then of course the – now Donna has added some of her own organizational talents to this in a way that I think that this sort of opposition needed to gain the kind of momentum in needs to thwart this.
PENNER: Well, we’re not even pretending that this is an absolutely full discussion of any of these issues but we are sort of doing a survey of some of them so we’re going to move on. And thank you, Frances, for you call. I appreciate that. Let’s quickly, Michael, take a look at District 6 and District 8 in the city of San Diego – or Scott, I’m sorry, not – Michael, you look like Scott today. Scott, District 6 and District 8, these are the two open seats, one to replace Donna Frye, who is termed limit out (sic) – term limited out, and the other to replace Ben Hueso, who has decided to move on to the Assembly if he is elected.
LEWIS: Well, District 6 is turning into—and I think in November will become—a brutal slugfest in the vein of some of the classic city council races over the last decade, something like Kevin Faulconer versus Mike Zucchet back in, what was it, 2002 or – you know, this is going to be a big deal. The Republicans have lined up behind Lorie Zapf, a small businesswoman, and she’s had some interesting difficulties through this campaign. It was discovered that she had defaulted just recently on a mortgage on her house and that has caused a lot of trouble for her considering that she’s running on a campaign that says that I’m the best to handle the city’s finances. On the other side of the fence is somebody like Howard Wayne, who served in the Assembly and he’s being – the Labor and Democratic forces seem to be lining up behind him, and Donna Frye, who’s leaving that seat is lined up behind her chief of staff who was quite disappointed when Carl DeMaio decided that he would go to his party and gravitate to his establishment and support Lorie Zapf. So it’s a very interesting dynamic but…
PENNER: It’s a three-way race now, isn’t it?
LEWIS: Well, basically there’s other…
PENNER: Howard Wayne…
LEWIS: There are other candidates, yes.
PENNER: Howard Wayne.
LEWIS: Chris Tran (sic).
PENNER: Steve – Yeah, and so this is a race where you really have to look at who’s supporting whom if you’re going to – and District 6 is in the Clairemont area, sort of the middle of San Diego.
PENNER: Let’s move on to District 8, which, of course, is fascinating because many of the names are familiar.
LEWIS: Right, you have the brother of the current city councilman, you have Nick Inzunza, who’s related to the previous city councilman. And then you have David Alvarez, sort of the progressive insurgent there, and you have – but you have a really interesting candidate in another guy, B.D. Howard, who, I think, has walked the entire district and is now doing another lap. He’s – And I think he’s caused some concern down there from people who thought they would be able to control this process, and he has just worn his shoes out trying to get some recognition out there. But he has a very – some very extreme ideas like get rid of the property tax and all – and go to the bankruptcy…
PENNER: What is the issue that most engages District 8?
LEWIS: Neighborhoods, this is the district that really worries about the resources being pulled into downtown and other places that could be used to fix their streets, that could be used for infrastructure there, and the candidate who can say, look, I’m going to bring the resources here and I’m going to do it the best is going to be the one that succeeds best down there.
SMOLENS: Well, just District 8 is an unusual district. It’s almost split in two parts. There’s part of the southern city proper neighborhoods…
SMOLENS: …and then there’s this long little string that brings it down to the San Ysidro area. And it’s long been viewed as sort of a South Bay district and not so much a San Diego city district, and as Scott said, they feel like they’ve been shorted over time, so that always an issue and one of the push of the candidates really talk about what kind of presence they’re going to have out in the neighborhoods, I think, even more so than in some of the other races they talk about that. But, you know, you can’t get away from the fact that just – almost the historic family ties in the election just make it fascinating. I mean, you know, South Bay politics, this is a South Bay district, is really interesting and these families and individuals and kin have been involved in politics, running the, you know, involved in the various cities down there and the city of San Diego so that really kind of gives it a different kind of feel than a lot of the other races we’ve been talking about.
LEWIS: It should…
LEWIS: We should also mention there is a Republican candidate down there, Vasquez, who has actually, I think, given hope to some of the Republicans as a possibility but I – it’d be very difficult for him to make it into a final runoff. But both these races will be very interesting to watch, especially District 6 if it turns into the kind of classic Labor versus business slugfest that we’ve seen in the past.
PENNER: All right, so at this point, I mean, we’re sort of down in District 8 but let’s leap over the border into Chula Vista, okay? And we’re going to stick with you, Scott, because…
PENNER: …you enjoy talking about the South Bay.
PENNER: Let’s talk about the Chula Vista mayor’s race. It’s a three-way contest but the rivalry really is between the mayor, Mayor Cox, and Councilman Steve Castaneda. What’s at stake here?
LEWIS: Well, nowhere is the battle between Labor and what’s not Labor more clear than down in Chula Vista right now. And Steve Castaneda has been laying the groundwork to become mayor for several years now, and Cheryl Cox has been trying to keep this ship that is known as Chula Vista City Hall from sinking. It’s a very interesting dynamic. What’s really interesting about South Bay right now is there’s one man in particular, Earl Jentz, who is spending hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in particular on a city attorney race to bring in a city attorney candidate from Lakeside, who doesn’t even live in Chula Vista to support Larry Breitfelder, who’s running for city council, and to do other things in the city and it’s impressive. It’s fascinating just how much money Mr. Jentz is pouring into this and to watch the…
PENNER: What is his motivation? I mean, why is he pouring money into it?
LEWIS: Well, at first he had come out as a kind of anti-establishment type of, you know, of influence, and now it – I think he’s, you know, sort of created an establishment. I mean, he is – It’s very interesting to watch and I think that we should – and journalists in particular should be very – paying very close attention to what’s happening in South Bay because not only are these races happening, the city attorney, the mayor and the city council but you also have Prop G, which is the measure to…
PENNER: I want to save that for after the break.
PENNER: That needs a little more time.
LEWIS: Deal. But…
PENNER: Yeah, we didn’t have a chance to talk much about the city attorney’s race but just to alert people, it’s the first elected city attorney’s race in Chula Vista, right?
LEWIS: Right, and there are two candid – two main candidates, the – one from Lakeside and one that served as a – Glenn Googins, who served as a city attorney formerly for Chula Vista. And that’s going to be very interesting because as we’ve seen in the city of San Diego, a city attorney has almost veto power over what the city council does because their interpretation matters so much.
PENNER: Okay. I know it’s frustrating because we have so much to talk about and so little time. We will come back in a moment. We’ll stick with Chula Vista and we’re going to look at Proposition G. This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner.
PENNER: So here we are at the Editors Roundtable trying to get through the ballot for you so that when you vote on Tuesday, you’ll have a little something more to go on than just the paper in front of you. And this is a stalwart effort by the three editors. It’s Michael Smolens from the Union-Tribune, Scott Lewis from voiceofsandiego.org, and Kent Davy from the North County Times. And we’re going to be turning to North County in just a minute. But I did want to wrap up. We’ve been sort of focusing on the county, the city of San Diego, and Chula Vista. And I wanted to wrap up this Proposition G because it is a hot item on the Chula Vista ballot. It bans the city from funding or partnering on construction projects in which there are requirements for labor agreements or payments into a trust fund. So, I mean, that’s basically saying ‘the union.’ You were talking about that, Scott.
LEWIS: Well, it bans the codification of these agreements by the City of Chula Vista. And so I think that what’s really interesting about this, what is the power of a union? The power of a union is being able to unite people to go on strike. What a project labor agreement does is it persuades the union to not ever go on strike in exchange for some benefits. What this is then – what a project labor agreement is, is the codification then in sort of a contract of the union’s power. It’s like filibustering by just saying I’m going to filibuster in the Senate without actually talking all night.
PENNER: I want to get down to reality though.
LEWIS: Right, right, so my – so this initiative would ban the city of getting into that. You could still have projects within the city that have these agreements but the unions have really decided that this was their Armageddon, that they’re going to fight, and the other side is just as motivated. It’s a fascinating discussion.
PENNER: Michael, this is all about jobs. That’s the burden that Chula Vista has now, so the Bayfront is moving ahead in terms of being developed, which would provide more jobs. What impact would, let’s say, the passage of Prop G have on the Bayfront?
SMOLENS: Well, I think the proponents of it say it would make things cost more. I mean, that’s sort of the upshot of all this. As Scott said, that, you know, certain benefits, i.e. I think, you know, wages and other things like that. But the, you know, the other side is saying that this, you know, helps workers and, you know, protects jobs and protects projects from being disrupted. But this is actually almost a regional thing. I mean, how often do you see issues in Chula Vista, you know, television ads for propositions in Chula Vista. This isn’t just about Chula Vistans. I mean, people that would work on these projects probably would come from all over the county. And so, you know, this is something that’s been going on in various parts of the county, the whole dispute over labor and business, over project labor agreements, prevailing wage. That’s part of the issue in Proposition K that Kent will talk about up in…
PENNER: Yeah, we’re going to talk…
SMOLENS: …North County. So this really has – is larger than Chula Vista because there’s a lot at stake, particularly if they ever get this Bayfront thing moving, that could have impact on costs and jobs.
PENNER: Oh, absolutely.