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Roundtable: Potential Balance Of Power Shift In San Diego Races

October 5, 2018 1:23 p.m.

Roundtable: Potential Balance Of Power Shift In City, County Races


Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS News

Andrew Keatts, assistant editor, Voice of San Diego

John Sepulvado, host, California Report

Related Story: Roundtable: Potential Balance Of Power Shift In San Diego Races


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.

This election season has Democrats vying for the same city council seat in a race that could tip the balance of power at City Hall.

At the county level to see held by Ron Roberts since before the turn of the century. We'll go to one of two veteran politicians well-known to San Diego. Plus San Diego's Bishop gets an earful about the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandals. Marks our PBS roundtable starts now.

Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories and Mark's hour. And joining me at the PBS roundtable today reporter Andrew Keats of Voice of San Diego John SAPOL Buddo morning host of KQED California report and Cait PBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen.

There are two notable battles and races for San Diego City Council this election season. One involves a pair of Democrats. The other could enhance power of Democrats on the council. It will start in District 4 a tight race between two Democrats so any case remind us who's running and describe the communities we're we're. District boards.

We're talking about southeastern San Diego. Lower and lower income relative to the rest of the city largely minority community it is historically the seat of the African-American community although that actually is not the largest racial demographic in the district anymore. We've got council president Mirtle Cole going up against challenger and her former staffer Monica Montgomery who's also an ACLU organizer and an attorney in Maricopa is the incumbent who actually could lose.

Why is she vulnerable.

Yes we have to be careful about being too expectant of a flip here. No incumbent has lost in the San Diego City Council since the early 90s. In the 1990s really it's the 1990s rash and but Merkel did lose in the primary. Now she lost by a handful of votes. But Monica Montgomery a challenger who does not have a great deal of financial support doesn't have a great deal of major party endorsements major labor endorsements those sorts of things are all with coal and nonetheless Monica McGovern was able to come out ahead in that primary. And some of the main complaints from local progressives about So Myrtle Cole really stepped in it about two years ago and I think that is the most high profile problem that she has. She said some statements that were basically in defense ideologically of racial profiling saying that she said basically the reason that young black men in District 4 getting pulled over disproportionately is because they're the ones committing the crimes. Obviously that was a very controversial statement. But I think it would be a mistake to think that that is entirely what is motivating opposition to her and support from Monica Montgomery. Spend much time in the district. People who live there have a laundry list of concerns. They think Myrtle cold doesn't spend enough time in the district. KPMG report quantify that and showed that that was true she was spending the least time in her district of any city council member and there there's just a lot of issues it's an under invested community. People are sick and tired of the same power centers in the district being able to maintain control and

never really change much of anything.

And I think well you know there's this perception that coal is a moderate and that Monica Montgomery is the more progressive choice and you know we could debate that. But there are a couple of examples of how coal has actually held back or failed to put forward or move forward some progressive ideas on the council. She's not just the council president she also chairs the city council's rules committee which determines what issues make it onto the ballot. So there was a measure to sort of beef up and give more strength to that community review board on police practices which is the sort of civilian oversight body that reviews complaints against police officers that faced a number of delays in her committee and when by the time it got to the full council there was really no chance of the city doing the kind of preparation work that would be needed to actually get it on the ballot. There was another example of an affordable housing bond that went to our Rules Committee and she had it on an agenda and then took it off the agenda face some other delays and that proposal ultimately failed to ever make it to the full City Council because they the proponents had withdrawn it because it didn't have the support and the sort of preparation work that it needed. So I think Ted you know there are a couple of examples of call. You know the issues that voters in her district would ostensibly support but Cole failed to really see them through to completion.

You know it's really interesting John.

What we're seeing in the district which we're both reporting is a failure to respond to the people in the district and it doesn't matter if it's Dana Rohrabacher who is the congressional Republican in Orange County or we're hearing people in Georgia we're seeing people respond at the local level in a very angry fashion to people who are not spending time in their district whatever the offices and what are some of the key issues in this district.

And I think it's it's really nuts and bolts government stuff. People want more investment in infrastructure. They want affordable housing. There's a lot of. I mean it's a good jobs. There's a long running concern in District 4 that there just aren't any good local restaurants where you could sit down and have a meal that isn't a taco shop or a fast food restaurant and grocery stores continue to be a concern. There's a oft cited study that 50 percent of all retail spending by district for resident residents happens outside of District 4. People would like to see that money stay and see if you can have some local people start businesses and thrive there.

Well let's look at the other race here that's that's contentious here at least to a degree. Metzen district to tell us who's running there and you know the boundaries of that.

Yeah so that district stretches from point A to Pacific Beach and includes a couple of neighborhoods east of Interstate 5. And Ed the incumbent is Laurie ZAP's she's a Republican first elected in 2010 generally seen as probusiness skeptical of unions. And her challenger is Dr. Jen Campbell she's a physician also practiced acupuncture for a number of years and she is a Democrat. So this is where I District Four was a Democrat Democrat race this is one that could actually tip the scale and flip a district from red to blue.

OK. Remind us what's the balance right now.

Well the City Council has a five vote majority for Democrats for a Republican. So if the Democrats were successful in electing Gen. Campbell to this seat that will give the Democrats a 60 vote majority on the council which would allow them to override any vetoes of legislation that Mayor Kevin Faulconer could potentially do which is a he's a Republican and Lori answer in the odd position of being able to run for a third term when you're termed out after two. Yes. She was first elected in 2010 as I mentioned that was the same year that voters decided to retain the strong mayor form of government which also added a ninth City Council District and her district was redrawn to include the beach community is so because she ran originally in a different district and then was reelected in 2014 in the coastal district. That doesn't count the first term doesn't count towards her two term limit.

OK. So she's already been there as long as a lot of council members when they're turned down. What achievements does she point to here.

Well she's worked really well with the mayor. She works for the Mac basically. She's a reliable vote with the Republicans on the city council and she gets along well with the probusiness groups and their various efforts over the years. I think the same caveats apply with the incumbency effect and we should be very careful of expecting anything to flip. They just usually don't. And so it's always a good bet to bet on that continuing.

But to your point about the national environment and the way people are reacting to local politics I think this is the race locally that is most most resembles that most resembles the national environment.

By my understanding the polling is pretty overwhelming that the Republican designation is a drag on lores. And you know if you look at her mailers in the campaign she's running she's obviously trying very hard to distance herself from that. She's her most popular mailer that you see all the time is her cleaning up a river bed in a kayak and she says that she stands against the Trump agenda to increase oil drilling off the coast. This is a coastal district she's been able to sit there for the last four years in large part by the incumbency effect. But if there's going to be an area that flips this is a good one to look at because I think you've got a lot of motivated Democrats are going to be out to vote and might might be aware for the first time that Gen. Campbell is the democratic option whereas in years past you just go and you see the council member name underneath the ballot.

You asked about her accomplishments I asked her recently in an interview why stick it. Ms ZAF Yeah. What her proudest accomplishments when she didn't mention any particular policies or legislation that she has sort of shepherded through the city council she spoke of volunteering and working with community groups she talked about. You know she originally ran for city council because the city had been cutting library hours and rec center hours during the recession and she wanted to preserve that. Now that has been preserved I'm not sure how much credit she can personally take for that. But you know this we were talking nearly about connecting with your constituents flurries aff is very present in that district. I think that she has a lot of you know she has built relationships with various community organizations in District Two and I think that that certainly speaks for something regardless of her party affiliation and whether or not we see a blue wave in November.

And she hopes that'll that'll pay off. Well we're going to move on to the county now another contentious race. It's six point two billion dollars a San Diego County budget dwarfs that of the city. Yet actions by the city council and mayor seem to get far more attention in the spotlight now are two candidates vying to replace longtime county supervisor Ron Roberts. Nathan flusher says it's time for a Democrat on the all Republican board. Former District Attorney Bonnie Maness favors the Republican status quo. And Andrew you you interviewed both of them but start with the nature of this district. It's kind of a fairly liberal right. Roberts was a moderate to liberal Republican.

Yes. So while he was first elected in 1994 and has easily won re-election ever since then it is a fairly low profile seat for the amount of power that it has. And so you know that definitely favors incumbency. So he's really sailed through reelection every every chance he's gotten. Now that he's termed out you know we can take a new look at this district and how it's changed over the years and it has heavily favored Democrats in terms of voter registration. OK. And we should mention this district also aid includes the urban core of San Diego downtown. I believe it stretches over to La Jolla as well.

So you would expect no surprise that it would favor Democrats as it's changed over the years he's been there. So both Fletcher and the most talked about the housing crisis what are they talking about in terms of solutions.

Well both of them say that the county should play a bigger role in addressing the housing crisis. They both say that the county needs to permit more market rate and subsidized affordable housing. The county has authority to permit homebuilding is limited however to the unincorporated areas which are outside of the city's urban core. So you know the debate at the county level is whether the county should be allowing more greenfield development allowing more homes to be built in undeveloped land. And the sort of back country which would increase the sprawl and that's a big concern. Well yes. So I asked specifically about a proposal that the county board just recently approved Newland's Sierra which would allow more than 2000 homes in North County on undeveloped land. Nathan Fletcher said this was absolutely not the type of housing that San Diego needs that we should be focusing more on infill development developments like this will put more cars on the road and having them have them drive longer distances which would increase greenhouse gas emissions. Bonnie Doumanis you know when given the opportunity did not say that this was the wrong type of housing. She said you know that basically that the county needs housing wherever it can get it and that I believe her exact words were If we get if we get 2000 homes that will be wonderful.

So I interviewed by a modest not too long ago and we asked her about where she stood on lilac Hills ranch. Another very similar type of project in north county and she said well I don't really know yet and I said Well how did you vote on it in 2016 lilac Hills ranch was on the ballot directly in 2016 it failed it went away for a little while and now it's back and she said I don't think I got an opportunity to vote on that based on where I lived which was not accurate. The entire county voted on it. So I think you could say that maybe that is not the area that she is most passionate about and not exactly the motivation for her running for office.

Andrew I want to ask you about the in your interview they tout their experience here. How do they pitch themselves for this for the supervisor.

Well Nathan Fletcher says he's the agent of change on the county board so it's an all Republican board as we mentioned you know many incumbents have been there for quite a while. And he says that Bonnie Doumanis would be sort of a continuation of all of the sort of culture that we've seen in accounting county for all this time. She has been endorsed by all five sitting county supervisors and he says you know I'm the agent that could actually shake things up at the county board and actually try to get things to change. Bonnie Doumanis on the other hand says that she has more experience she's been the county for a lot longer mostly in the district attorney's office she says that she has not. You know I think she's we're talking about party affiliation here and how much that plays into local politics that she is also kind of distancing herself from her Republican party affiliation. You know she says that she's been a progressive with criminal justice reform. I think some criminal justice from advocates might dispute that. But you know she says you know she's a maverick and and she won't be just another reliable Republican vote on the board I think.

WELNA And that is interesting way to distinguish him which speaking of endorsements I think he came out and endorsed Fletcher here just recently.

And they kind of echoed that sentiment that you know Nathan Fletcher will be the agent of change.

Anybody who's been around in the last six or seven years since Nathan Fletcher has been running for mayor will note that the transformation of the editorial board position on him is quite remarkable.

Well I was I don't know what's remarkable is the change in the Union Tribune which is a whole nother topic.

I was actually just recently visiting with editors there. There's a different culture there.

I think that endorsement of Nathan Fletcher actually kind of rough robo recognize as well iLevel they're going on 11 years ago and it's five owners since I was there. You talk about change. It is interesting and change in that whole district as you're talking about because it's you know as we said Roberts really was more moderate to liberal.

I really think we're also just seeing generally a different a change in expectations of what the county should be doing. You mentioned their role approving private housing in the unincorporated area. There is an increasing expectation that they should be involved bringing their own pocket book basically to build homelessness solutions transitional housing solutions affordable housing solutions in all parts of the county whether it's in their income and unincorporated area or in the city of San Diego and if we judge any candidates by their public statements there's not a whole lot of difference between.

And they both say that the county should be spending more of its reserve dollars you know less of a focus on the credit rating and both of them say that the county needs to invest more money in subsidized affordable housing also using county properties that can sometimes be leveraged with developers for more development.

Yeah a third of that budget goes to public health. We've talked about that issue a lot on this and that outbreak and the county's role in that and there's a lot of. And of course mental health and law enforcement there go hand in hand as a lot of issues there that the counties involved.

Yeah. And so on. Bay you know when when we spoke to both of the candidates Fletcher was much more quick to criticize the County Board of Supervisors for their role in that outbreak. He said you know they were asleep at the wheel that they were too busy voting themselves pay increases you know demanding the Chargers and keeping them here with the stadium. And and you know Doumanis kind of acknowledged that mistakes were made but say that you know have kicked Arbeit but she didn't really place the blame on those five county supervisors.

OK a couple of seconds left. No polling sketchy in races like this. Any idea here. No incumbent in this race.

No incumbent. But you know given the demographics I would say that Fletcher is the favorite but you know it's not to dismiss Doumanis by any means so it's going to be exciting election night period between now and then we are going to move on now.

Well sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests continues to roil communities across America. San Diego is no exception. It's a diocese that paid nearly 200 million dollars to settle with dozens of abuse victims. Ten years ago they sued over incidents of sexual abuse and cover ups going back many decades here. Now Bishop Robert McElroy who was not here during the lawsuits and the settlements is on a listening tour. And John you were at the first one of these here.

Kind of interesting start with the purpose of this tour why is the bishop out there so the tour is basically to listen to parishioners listen to their concerns to address concerns. There are couple of really important points. One it does not seem that there are any new cases to. I actually spoke to the district attorney. Some are Stefen she said that they have been working with the Catholic Church since the bishop has been in his position and that of all the places in San Diego right now she feels very confident that that is one of the places among the priests where reporting would happen very quickly and to the point they're all very aware of that. And the other thing is McIlroy has been agent of change for this diocese like he has really gotten in there cleaned up house and in fact the reason we know that there are eight folks who are on this list is in large part because of his push which began before the Pennsylvania report came out.

The new countries accused right of some dead accused of abuse in the past.

Right. And so we've seen a lot of this type of proactive. Now there's a lot of criticism of him for his leadership position within the California Conference and we can get into that another time. But his message is essentially I'm here I want to know what your questions are. I want to know what your concerns are. Because the Catholic Church here essentially released eight names of people that had not been publicly identified.

When it turned into the Listening session set the scene for us there in the atmosphere and how many people were there.

So there were so many people there that I first I couldn't get in there. So there were at maximum capacity I of course was perhaps not dressed the most news professional but there were there were essentially telling me that no you can't come in and have the PR person come over there was armed security guards there which I found to be very interesting. And they were able to get me in and when I got in I was greeted not personally but within this room 350 people most of them incredibly angry at the Catholic Church. And I thought there are going to be angry for the sex abuse and there was that but these folks were really angry about Pope Francis and the bishop being more permissive as they saw towards LGBTQ issues. I personally was kind of shocked. That was surprising to a number yeah. I was in I was actually surprised with how they acknowledged this as much. But there was some very bigoted language being used within this discussion.

So that's a good point to set up this. We have cameras were allowed in only at the beginning here. Ten News provided us with a little clip that shows about that at the knowing where any care. That.

Ok so you can hear the boos there the outrage kind of hostility a bit as as it went on it devolved and it really devolved into I heard a lot of people say that the bishop McIlroy in particular had encouraged this culture of homosexuality the subculture of homosexuality. They wrongly and I want to make this very clear because there is absolutely no evidence that any sexual orientation or any presentation of gender has anything to do with abusing children.

Reporters like me who covered this for years and I've read and interviewed experts extensively over the years. Pedophilia is a core issue here has really nothing to do with homosexuality at all.

And I want to make that really clear to everyone who is watching that link was wrongly made over and over and over again.

And you know the sighting of Leviticus and there was just it was. And you know what is interesting is I actually covered the Catholic Church and then kind of the demise of the Catholic Church in Ireland when I lived there. Ireland's very Catholic country but it was a lot of the same things that I saw there is because the Catholic Church has been moving in this direction. People who were perhaps more progressive are more open minded they actually kind of leave the church they go to other branches they don't go to church. And what's left is with this core conservative group who as we saw this week have been very very angry.

So where are the attendees at this listening session. Would you say that they're representative of the direction of the Catholic Church or that the lady and the Catholic Church in general in the United States are in San Diego.

You know I don't know because I haven't been in Catholic Church in San Diego in a long time sorry father by law. The way it is I saw there was about two thirds who were hostile and there was a third who was trying to speak up to the bishops credit he spoke up and it's clear that Pope Francis against this kind of bigotry and it was clear Pope Francis is moving in a direction towards that. The problem is is that the growth of the church and this is a much bigger problem in San Diego the growth of the churches in places like Africa Southwest Asia Southeast Asia and South America which tend to be culturally more conservative. So so right now we're seeing a Catholic church on a progressive kind of bent regardless of all the criticism for Pope Francis. But the question is is will that be what goes forward. Because while that's where the growth of the churches the money comes still from the Western European and the United States country and United States as a country.

And the bishop he had had to push back and resist I mean what generally does response here.

Well the first thing was is the first thing he did was affirm that the Bible teaches according to the Bible that you know the only allowed sexual action is between a man and a woman who are married. And that's according to the Bible. The but he didn't spend a lot of time on that.

He really spent a lot of time talking about how we're all children of God. Everyone deserves to be seen in front of God on their own terms. He made it very clear that if a priest who happens to be gay comes to him and promises to be chaste that he'll be happy to help that priest get ordained.

And that really drew. I mean that must've got. I was surprised people weren't taking their shoes off at that point because they realized people were hungry they were legit angry. At one point one of the people I was sitting next to the guy started yelling interrupting.

He threw his papers down stormed out.

There was a lot of that kind of anger around it and I'm just thinking you know this doesn't really jive with with my at least what I've heard about the political direction of the Catholic Church and where it's heading out the Catholics in the United States are often quite progressive on some issues and not all that some and so I'm just wondering do you think that this listening sessions like this tend to attract the most angry on both sides. When would you say that these you know your perceptions of the audience are they. Were they older or were they you know they were older.

They based on the amount of bling they had on they weren't really following the whole like temperance with money thing.

And they I mean this is a more conservative area who you know than but I do find that it seemed about right. For whatever reasons many Catholics have not accepted where the United States has gone on the issue of same sex marriage. On the issue of inclusion on the they just haven't gone there yet. I'm saying. I mean my legal name is John Paul. And my brothers is James David my other brothers Thomas Joseph. You know what I mean lagg is pretty. Society by law. I think that that that is more concerning to me is that the perpetuation of that linking between somebodies identity and someone's sexuality to child abuse is not only wrong but it's dangerous work.

That's how things bad things happen to people in the community. We're just about out of time so we're going to leave it there. I should note there's more to the listening tour and several other churches to go here.

That's right Wolf. We'll see what happens as we follow up on coverage on that fascinating story. Well that does wrap up another week of stories here at the PBS roundtable. I'd like to thank my guest Andrew Keats a voice of San Diego John Sepulveda of KQED California report and Andrew Bone of CBS News. And a reminder all the stories we discuss today are available on our Web site K.P. be out of work. Mark Sauer. Thanks for joining us today on the roundtable.