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Politics and Pettiness in North County

Audio

Aired 5/10/10

San Diego's North County is abuzz over the race for the District 5 seat for the County Board of Supervisors; the latest shenanigans of the board of Tri-City Hospital and the outcome of the city council races in Oceanside.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The big election for county supervisor in the 5th District heads our North County update. Incumbent Bill Horn is facing an array of challengers. And in Oceanside, voters will cast ballots for a new city council member who will break the longstanding deadlock on the council one way or the other. Then, a tale of tempers and turmoil at Tri-City. I’d like to welcome my guests for our North County update. Kent Davy is editor of North County Times. Good morning, Kent.

KENT DAVY (Editor, North County Times): Good morning, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And Logan Jenkins is North County columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Logan, welcome.

LOGAN JENKINS (North County Columnist, San Diego Union-Tribune): Hello, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Hello. And we invite our listeners, especially our North County listeners, to join the conversation. Tell us what you think the major stories are in the northern part of San Diego. Give us a call, 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Logan, last week here on These Days, we had Supervisor Bill Horn and his four challengers. There were lots of issues discussed in a short period of time so let’s go over some of them again. Logan, what would you say are the main issues in the 5th District campaign?

JENKINS: Well, I think that the challengers, the one thing that’s – that they have in common is that they all believe that Bill Horn is out of touch. Now that, of course, plays into the ballot initiative regarding term limits. But they believe that Bill Horn is – has been there too long. This would be his fifth term, and that he’s basically, you know, had his best days behind him.

CAVANAUGH: And who are those challengers, if you could tell us that, Logan.

JENKINS: Well, Tom Bumgardner is a farmer from Valley Center. He probably knows Bill Horn the best since Bill Horn is also from Valley Center. Fabio Marchi is a developer from Oceanside. And John Van Doorn is a San Marcos engineer. And then Steve Gronke is a teacher and Vista City Councilman and, in my view, probably has the best chance to face off against Horn in a runoff if Horn fails to get 50%.

CAVANAUGH: Why do you say that, Logan?

JENKINS: Well, I think Steve Gronke has connections to unions. His – You know, he’s a long time union member. And he’s been actively courting the unions over the past year. And I do think that being an elected councilman gives him an edge in an election that I don’t think there’s enough money in the – backing the other candidates to really get their names out there. It’s a huge district. I mean, it includes Carlsbad and Oceanside and Vista and San Marcos, and huge areas in the unincorporated area.

CAVANAUGH: Kent, I wanted to get your take on this. Does anyone stand out to you among these challengers as more interesting or more likely to make it to a runoff?

DAVY: Well, I agree with Logan that Steve Gronke is the – if it’s pushed to a runoff, Steve Gronke is the likely candidate. He has reasonably good name recognition in the more urban areas of North County. He was – he has been fairly active in some things like vocal about his opposition to the Merriam Mountain project. He is viewed as a greener candidate by a long measure than Bill Horn. The problem, I think, Gronke has is that I think once you get out – very far outside of Vista, he is not nearly very well known and I don’t sense that he’s got the kind of campaign money that it would take to really elevate his name…

JENKINS: But, Kent, wouldn’t you agree that if it does get to a runoff, Labor might, you know, really kind of push Gronke…

DAVY: Sure.

JENKINS: …if Horn is demonstrated to be weak enough where he couldn’t get the 50%.

DAVY: Absolutely, it’s – Gronke’s hope is that Horn doesn’t go to 50 plus one.

CAVANAUGH: Right, because, Logan, I believe that you had an editorial on this that if Bill Horn doesn’t win flat out in the June primary, you say it’s a major defeat for him.

JENKINS: Then it’s blood in the water. You know, then it’s – the public perception will be that Horn is weak. One other time Horn was pushed to a runoff victory in his four previous. You know, he’s always been – Horn has always been an easy politician to satirize. You know, people love to call him a Bill (sic) in a china shop or a, you know, he’s a very gruff politician and his negatives are pretty high, especially in the unincorporated area, but he’s always done pretty well in the cities where – and that’s where the votes are.

CAVANAUGH: I want to remind our listeners we are taking your calls if you’d like to join the conversation at 1-888-895-5727. I want talk a little bit more about money in this 5th District San Diego County Supervisor race. Does anyone – First of all, how much money do we think the incumbent has? And does anyone have enough of a campaign fund to be a serious contender? I’ll throw that first to you, Kent.

DAVY: I’ve not looked at the campaign contributions on the individuals but my general sense is that there has not been – at this point, there was not a lot of money raised for the primary election race. I assume that Horn sits on a fairly well-larded campaign coffer, however, for once he gets across the line – if he fails to get 50% here.

CAVANAUGH: And Logan.

JENKINS: Well, you know, I’d agree. I think that Horn has the advantage of the possibility of independent expenditures if, you know, you know, developers with whom he’s formed relationships over the years. There’s a history there of them coming in and helping him if he needs it. The last time out, he had a pretty spirited opposition from former Assemblyman Bruce Dobson and it really was, you know, there was always in doubt going down to the wire, there was only one challenger, so it was basically a runoff in the primary. And at that – right at the end, you had a group of developers putting in massive amounts of money relatively, you know. I’ve forgotten the exact figure but, you know, hundreds of thousands of dollars in an independent mailer that really helped him out. So there’s that kind of x-factor. Now the only thing to remember is that if Gronke were to survive, unions might give him that same level of support and volunteers on his behalf.

CAVANAUGH: I’m – I know, Logan, that you said – also participated in a candidate’s forum in the – for the challengers and the incumbent in the 5th District. Are there issues that you think should be raised that haven’t been talked about so far in the 5th District?

JENKINS: Well, you know, the big ones are, you know, obviously things like, you know, public safety and water and the environment. One candidate, John Van Doorn is especially vehement about the future water needs. I think that Horn has been pretty, pretty good about, you know, covering the field. You know, he can even tout himself as an environmentalist with his San Luis Rey River project, you know, kind of running counter to his reputation as being pro-development. And he’s also been pretty good about fire safety, you know, pushing that as an issue, so I do think that – And he’s also, you know, in terms of gang prevention, he’s been – he’s invested some of his, what some people disparagingly call his slush fund, so I do think that Horn has touched those big bases. Kent may come up with something that I’ve missed.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Kent, any issues in this 5th District that you don’t think you’re hearing much about?

DAVY: Well, I think what you do hear about is it was – earlier making the notion of Horn being criticized for being out of touch. I think that the issue that – what that really is is kind of a stalking horse for the sense that Horn is in the pocket of developers, that there is too close a connection. There were allegations during the Merriam Mountain thing that he had had improper conversation with the developer in that case. So there is a – I think that’s the thing that’s underlying this whole kind of the whole nature of the campaign as saying it’s time for Bill to be moved and…

JENKINS: Don’t you think that might’ve been hotter if Merriam had passed?

DAVY: Oh, no question.

JENKINS: You know…

DAVY: Yeah, there’s no question about that.

JENKINS: Because the last time around the scandals involving – oh, there was a questionable real estate purchase for his chief of staff and – and questions about working conditions on his ranch. I mean, this is Bill Horn. He’s always going to have some kind of scandal associated with him but he’s – so far, he’s been proven durable enough where they just don’t seem to stick…

DAVY: Yeah.

JENKINS: …and he always manages to come out ahead.

DAVY: I agree with that.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Logan Jenkins, he’s North County columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Kent Davy, he’s editor of the North County Times. And this is our North County update on These Days. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. One last question about this 5th District Supervisor race, as you both have pointed out that it sounds at times like Bill Horn himself and his 16 years on the supervisory board, the county supervisors board, was – is really sort of the major issue in this campaign. So what kind of a supervisor has he been for the North County? And I’ll start with you, Kent.

DAVY: Oh, I think in large part he’s represented North County interests relatively well. He has always been pro-land owner rights and is very sensitive to that issue particularly as the county goes through its general plan update. He has used his slush fund, if you’ll – the neighborhood enhancement program monies, the – was $2 million for each supervisor now it’s a million dollars for each supervisor, effectively to push money towards North County and unincorporated organizations. It goes to things like Boys and Girls Clubs and fire companies and whatnot. The – I think that the real issue for Horn is whether or not people are just tired of him. He’s got a reputation for being not only a bull in a china shop but also being pretty arrogant at times and pretty much, you know, like me or not, I’m here.

CAVANAUGH: Logan, I’m going to twist that question for you just a little bit. After 16 years on the board of supervisors, why doesn’t Bill Horn run for higher office?

JENKINS: Well, you know, he tried once early on. He kind of overreached and was thinking he could be a senator. But, I think, you know, for someone living in Valley Center, being a supervisor is a really important big job. I mean, he is big Bill. He’s the boss in his area of North County. And I just don’t think he has any real ambition to go farther. I actually think this could conceivably be his last term. But I tell you, I’d be sad to see him go because he’s a goldmine for quotations. He’s undoubtedly the most quotable politician I’ve ever seen. He’s kind of wonderful that way. He’s so brash and fearless in what he says. So he’s given us some of the most delightful gaffs in history to have here.

CAVANAUGH: And could you share one of them with us?

JENKINS: Well, the one I always – He – The question was whether or not the supervisors were going to get a raise or not? And I think they were beginning to realize that it was politically just incorrect for them to be looking for a raise, and Bill was just determined. He wanted that raise and so he finally looked around at the crowd and said, you know, we’re not Franciscans around here. And for someone who’s personally wealthy and making a pretty good salary, it was a delightfully insensitive remark, let’s put it that way. But…

CAVANAUGH: Okay…

JENKINS: …it make headlines.

CAVANAUGH: …thank you for that, Logan. Let’s move on to another race now. This is in the City of Oceanside. There are five men on the ballot and one write-in candidate for one seat on the Oceanside City Council. And, Kent, I wonder if you could set that contest up for us.

DAVY: Well, the contest occurred because a city councilman named Rocky Chavez stepped down from his office to take a spot with the state veteran affairs – Department of Veterans Affairs. This was right on the heels of an unsuccessful recall election against councilmember Jerry Kern, and Chavez’ exit left the council split in a two-two deadlock between Mayor Jim Wood and Councilwoman Esther Sanchez on one side, Councilman Jim – Jack Feller and Jerry Kern on the other side, on almost every issue. The race to the – the council could not agree on any kind of a candidate to make an appointment, interim appointment, so we are scheduled for the June 8th ballot, a special election to elect a councilman to fill out the remainder of a term that will last through the November election. You’ve got five candidates on the ballot, plus the write-in. It kind of stacks up this way. I think the two – in most people’s opinions, the two most likely candidates are Chuck Lowery, who had run very strong, finished number three a couple of years ago. He is a – had a bakery business for, I think, 20 years or so, which he’s sold. Lloyd Prosser, who is retired Marine Corps and has been in the water regulation business, worked for various water authorities and utility commissions. Ward O’Doherty who is – works for a financial advising company. Ken Crossman, civilian police department employee and retired Sheriff’s Department sergeant. Michael Lucas, who is kind of a perennial runner. And then the write-in candidate who’s name I have forgotten. Dow – Jack…

JENKINS: Jack Dowell.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, right. Right.

DAVY: …Jack Dowell.

CAVANAUGH: And, Logan, what’s your take on this Oceanside City Council? It hasn’t been a pleasant place to be, as I – for the last few months.

JENKINS: Yeah, I mean, it kind of makes cockfighting look civil in some respects. You basic – Jerry Kern, one of the councilmen, was on a TV show recently and he said, you know, if I – if I said something, if it was dawn – if I said it was dawn, my opponents would say it’s night. And so, you know, one of the things running parallel to this is a charter initiative. The City of Oceanside is looking at possibly becoming more independent from Sacramento. And this is being backed by Jack Feller and Jerome Kern and it’s being opposed by the other two members on the council, Esther Sanchez and Mayor Jim Wood.

CAVANAUGH: And there it stands.

JENKINS: And so that’s an important sort of benchmark or a way to…

CAVANAUGH: Right.

JENKINS: …organize the candidates.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take a call. We have a caller on the line right now. Zach is calling from Oceanside. Good morning, Zach. Welcome to These Days.

ZACH (Caller, Oceanside): Good morning, Maureen. Thank you so much for taking my call. My question is for Mr. Davy and for Mr. Logan Jenkins. I’ve heard that one of the candidates named Lloyd Prosser, that his wife Vickie Prosser works for current councilmember Jack Feller. And I personally feel that’s a conflict of interest. I’m curious as to what your thoughts are on that issue.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for that, Zach. Anyone want to comment on that?

DAVY: Well, it is true that Vickie Prosser does work for Jack Feller, and I think that’s part of – I think it’s quite – it’s been raised publicly at some of the campaign forums. I think it’s a question that Prosser tries to rebut by simply saying I’m not my wife, I’m independent, I don’t agree on all the things that Jack Feller does. But on the other hand, I think the people who watch this race pretty well line up and say that it appears that Lloyd Prosser is the candidate for the Kern-Feller majority and that Chuck Lowery would be the candidate for the Wood-Sanchez majority in a majority.

JENKINS: And there’s a strong union component to that, isn’t there, Kent?

DAVY: Oh, yeah.

JENKINS: You know, you have public safety unions that have been extremely powerful in Oceanside politics recently. And the basic access of Kern and Feller would like to, you know, eventually see a kind of reduction in, you know, pension compensations, possibly a two – what they call a two-tier system where new hires would get a different kind of deal. And if…

CAVANAUGH: Let me – I’m sorry. I don’t mean to interrupt. Go ahead, finish your thought.

JENKINS: Well, no, I had. Go ahead.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. I was going to ask you both really quickly, just to finish up on the Oceanside City Council, no matter how it works out, no matter who is elected to the board, is this going to be a plus for the city council in being able to move ahead on such issues as the deficit and the other issues that the city has to deal with? Logan?

JENKINS: Well, it’ll be a plus for several months. And then in November, whoever wins this election is going to have to stand again. Of course, they’ll have incumbent by their name, which could help.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

JENKINS: But I – Boy, in Oceanside, you just – you hope for clarity, you know, you hope that this person who could be hired would become a kind of swing vote, you know, that would pull people toward the middle. You know, Chuck Lowery has suggested that he might be that kind of person, you know, who wouldn’t be in lockstep…

CAVANAUGH: Right.

JENKINS: …but that’s certainly what you look for in a candidate.

CAVANAUGH: And the last topic that we’re going to be speaking about today in the North County is Tri-City Hospital in Oceanside. It’s one of the few remaining public district hospitals supported by taxpayers and the hospital itself is apparently doing fine but the same cannot be said for the Tri-City Healthcare District Board. There’s been lots of drama lately. The board voted to fire the hospital’s CEO and that was kind of reversed. What’s been going on there, Kent?

DAVY: Well, the Tri-City Hospital Board, there’s something about Oceanside, I guess, and politics there, and the Tri-City board is certainly not immune from it. A year and a half ago at – the board reacted and dismissed Art Gonzales who was the then CEO, went into a process – got sued by Gonzales and his administrators, who also lost their job, went into a process, hired a guy from Orange County named Larry Anderson, a very businessman – like manager to come in and try and set the hospital straight. What appears to have happened is that his businesslike manner has ruffled some of the board feathers who two weeks ago suggested that it was time for Mr. Anderson to leave. They took a vote. It wasn’t really carried out to, I think, two days later or another day later, and they had another meeting and rescinded it, leaving Mr. Anderson still intact but saying that we were going to have a personnel evaluation of him in August. I think that was the regularly scheduled evaluation, and then last week there was also a notice in their agenda saying that they wanted to have another at least mini-evaluation of him Wednesday or Thursday night. And while I don’t know – I wasn’t obviously wasn’t privy to what happened behind closed doors, as I understand that was all about communication between Anderson and the board. So it’s not over.

CAVANAUGH: Logan, board chair Madeline Rodriguez apparently has resigned over this back and forth flap. Is she gone for good, do you think?

JENKINS: Yes, she is, or at least that’s my understanding is that she announced she wants nothing more to do with the board and she stormed out after it was suggested that she and the others had possibly violated a state law in voting to oust Anderson. I mean, it was pretty crazy. She just mentioned to an editor, I’m out – or a reporter in the hallway, I’m out of here, and apparently has made good on that promise. And there’s a sidebar to all this, as if all this wasn’t enough. One of the trustees, Charlene Anderson, has been accused by the State Attorney General of illegally taking painkillers from a hospital dispensary…

DAVY: Not at Tri-City, though. She was…

JENKINS: No, not at – it was at Scripps, I believe.

DAVY: She is a registered nurse.

JENKINS: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: What do you think is the main – where is all this drama coming from? Let me ask you first, Logan.

JENKINS: Well, many people would say that it’s just part of the culture there. It was virtually a volunteer board and so there wasn’t much compensa – there wasn’t any compensation. I think they’ve since, recently, added per diem, you know, per diem compensation but it’s just been a board that hasn’t had a high degree of professionalism, in my opinion. And for example, one of the members, Kathleen Sterling, at one point, was under armed guard, you know, because she was so disruptive, you know, for a period of time. It’s just been a board that has had a lot of sniping and petty power plays. And in terms of the big picture, many people believe that they should follow the lead of Grossmont and Fallbrook and bring in a private, you know, private management firm to run the place.

CAVANAUGH: And, Kent, in the last 30 seconds, can you tell us if and how this drama is actually affecting the hospital?

DAVY: I think the hospital itself is doing fairly well. It just received its JHC accreditation, that’s that three-year certification…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

DAVY: …by the joint commission. It is – Anderson has, in the last year, managed to renegotiate some debt that the previous CEO had laden onto the district that was just crippling it. He has gotten extension on the hospital earthquake standards for the Tri-City campus that gives the hospital some breathing room. He has created some programs to go out and find news lines of business to try and fund and keep this hospital going. So I think in some respects the hospital’s doing very, very well. But the board politics are just bizarre.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to thank you both for giving us a really good update on a number of issues that’s going on in the North County. Kent Davy, thank you so much.

DAVY: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And Logan Jenkins, thanks for speaking with us.

JENKINS: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And I want to let everyone know if you’d like to comment on what you’ve heard, you can go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. Stay with us for hour two of These Days coming up in just a few minutes right here on KPBS.

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