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Candidates Trade Attack Mailers, Texts In San Diego City Council District 7 Race

Campaign mailers attacking San Diego City Council District 7 candidates Noli ...

Photo by Claire Trageser

Above: Campaign mailers attacking San Diego City Council District 7 candidates Noli Zosa and Raul Campillo, Oct. 21, 2020.

The race for San Diego City Council District 7 is getting nasty, as Republican Noli Zosa, the owner of restaurant chain Dirty Birds, and Democrat Raul Campillo, a deputy city attorney, battle for the seat.

The candidates have hit each other with attack mailers, texts and social media posts. They’ve also launched mudslinging websites.

Below is a rundown of the various claims along with checks on their accuracy.

Mailers attacking Raul Campillo

Photo by Claire Trageser

A campaign mailer attacking San Diego City Council District 7 candidate Raul Campillo, Oct. 21, 2020.

The attack mailers against Campillo come from both Zosa’s campaign and The Community Leadership Coalition, a political action committee funded by conservative group The Lincoln Club.

One mailer says Campillo "has been nailed for four ethics violations during his City Council campaign."

Campillo was fined by the San Diego Ethics Commission, but for a mistake with campaign materials, not an ethics violation.

In January, Campillo was fined $1,000 because the fonts on some of his fliers and signs were too small. He cooperated with the commission and paid the fine. In December 2019, California's Fair Political Practices Commission found that Campillo's latest campaign filing did not include occupation and employer information for some donors. Campillo filed an amended form.

"Voters are smart enough to know that font size is not an ethics violation," Campillo said. "That's highly misleading."

Zosa said the mailer is fair game.

"He's been cited and fined, that's truthful," he said.

Another mailer shows Campillo hugging a giant bag of money and says he supports a massive sales tax increase and wants to raise property taxes.

Zosa said the mailer is referencing Campillo's support of Measure A, which would raise property taxes to fund affordable housing, and SANDAG's $177 billion transit plan.

The transit plan would not necessarily be funded by a sales tax increase, and Campillo pointed out that the City Council can't raise taxes — that only happens through a vote of the people.

"A lot of voters don't realize the City Council can't raise taxes, so that just doesn't make sense, voters get to choose," he said.

However, the City Council can and does vote to approve ballot measures that call for tax increases.

"That's two things he's on the record of supporting," Zosa said. "That's his ideology, he's an elected official supporting a sales tax increase."

Mailers attacking Noli Zosa

Photo by Claire Trageser

A campaign mailer attacking San Diego City Council District 7 candidate Noli Zosa, Oct. 21, 2020.

Campillo's campaign has sent its own mailers attacking Zosa. Mailers that went to Democratic and no party preference households quote Zosa calling himself "reckless, reckless, reckless."

The quote is from an interview Zosa did with The San Diego Union-Tribune in which he responded to criticism regarding a comment he made on an Instagram video. In the video, Zosa said the media loves the COVID-19 pandemic because it helps ratings. Zosa has repeatedly apologized for the statement.

"It was a very reckless, reckless, reckless statement," Zosa told the Union-Tribune.

The mailer also quotes Zosa from the same Instagram video saying "I'll vote for (Trump) in November." In the video, Zosa said the statement, but he's not talking about himself. Instead, he is describing Republican voters' behavior.

"In the primary, all the action was on the Democratic side, where they all came out for Bernie (Sanders) or Joe (Biden)," Zosa said. "Trump was on the ballot, but Republicans were like, 'I"ll vote for him in November.'"

In a Voice of San Diego debate, when pressed on who Zosa wanted for president, he said, "I might leave it blank."

Campillo's campaign also sent mailers to Republican households quoting Zosa as saying he would defund police.

"Of course we have to (defund the police)," the quote says, referring to an op-ed Zosa wrote in June for The San Diego Union-Tribune. In it he wrote, "The current debate whether we should defund the police is an erroneous argument — of course we have to. We should focus on how we train police officers and efficient allocation of the budget."

Zosa told KPBS he does not support defunding the police.

Text message attacking Zosa

Campillo's campaign also sent out text messages to voters that say: "Zosa has been under investigation for illegal solicitation of city officials for money."

This refers to a city law that says candidates and their PACs can't knowingly solicit a campaign contribution either "directly or indirectly" from any city employee.

Photo by Claire Trageser

A text message attacking San Diego City Council District 7 candidate Noli Zosa, Oct. 15, 2020.

But, the law says candidates can solicit contributions from city employees if the solicitation was "made to a significant segment of the public that may include city employees."

A Public Records Act Request submitted in October 2019 showed Zosa's campaign had sent fundraising emails to several San Diego city officials. The requests appear to be mass emails sent to many people, not specific requests to city officials.

In June, the San Diego Ethics Commission opened an investigation into a case involving soliciting campaign funds from city employees and expanded that investigation in September. However, the commission has not yet made a finding and does not comment on ongoing cases, so it's impossible to know now whether Zosa is a target of the investigation.

In the past, candidates have been fined by the ethics commission for sending mass emails asking for donations that include city employees.

In 2008, City Attorney Mike Aguirre was fined $1,500 for asking for contributions from 133 city employees, even though the commission agreed Aguirre likely did not knowingly send the emails to city employees. In 2009, City Council candidate Stephen Whitburn was fined $200 after his campaign included five city employees in emails asking for donations.

The text also reads Zosa's "business was sued for Civil Rights violations and discrimination in 2017."

That refers to a lawsuit filed by Anthony Navarro that alleged Zosa's restaurant Dirty Birds was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because it did not have adequate knee space, table height, or aisle width.

Navarro dismissed the lawsuit after recovering less than $10,000 from the defendants. Some lawyers commonly sue businesses under the ADA for minor infractions, and court records show Navarro has sued at least 35 local businesses in the last six years.

"He's trying to throw everything at me and see what sticks," Zosa said of Campillo. "I haven't been cited and fined a single time after all the accusations he's made against me."

Campillo said the text message's description was fair because the Civil Rights Act includes protections for people with disabilities, and he said Zosa should have been more careful about sending out fundraising emails.

"Every single candidate is invited to a training on the various rules, and one of the top 10 do not do's is soliciting city employees and elected officials," he said.

Listen to this story by Claire Trageser.

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Photo of Claire Trageser

Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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