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Roundtable Reflects On Faulconer's Choices, Lorena Gonzalez' Bills, Riding Uber

Roundtable Reflects On Faulconer's Choices, Lorena Gonzalez' Bills, Riding Uber
Faulconer's Choices, Lorena Gonzalez, Water Bond, RideshareHOST: Mark SauerGUESTS:Scott Lewis, Voice Of San Diego Katie Orr, Capital Public Radio Megan Burks, Speak City Heights

MARK SAUER: I am Mark Sauer and the KPBS Roundtable starts now. Joining me today on the Roundtable are my guests, Scott Lewis, Katie Orr and Megan Burks. The city council may be on hiatus, but Kevin Faulconer is not. He has a couple of big decisions facing him, this month, and how he deals with those issues will affect all of us. Scott, you wrote this week it's a time of soul searching for a new Mayor. SCOTT LEWIS: I think he has a movement right now, you can decide whether he wants to lead on some take decisions and dilemmas in the city, or he can decide to lead from behind. In particular, on the minimum wage issue. There's a referendum to throw that increase out, and he supports that referendum, but is he going to collect signatures, will he make a case that this needs to be thrown out, or is he going to let it happen? Also, as a Republican and as a conservative, he has an alternative vision of how to help the working poor, so will he try to articulate that? This is a better way for the working poor to get a foothold. That is an issue, and also the convention center. What will we do? This is a $520 million expansion. They through out the tax increase, will you appeal it to the Supreme Court and hope that they resurrect it, or try to put something on the ballot? Or will you try to combine it with the Chargers Stadium, or get rid of it and folks on infrastructure? These are all big issues that we have not seen him take the lead on, and I think he has an opportunity to or leave them behind. MARK SAUER: The folks that want to overturn that ordinance, they launch their campaign yesterday. Today we are reporting on the counterweight to that, Sherri Lightner and other Democrats on the council will fight that campaign and they launch that this morning. With the minimum wage, that is a very difficult decision. Kevin Faulconer was on KPBS, I want to play a clip from what he said. This is before the council overrode the veto: [AUDIO FILE PLAYING] KEVIN FAULCONER: The state is already raising minimum wage, so the question was, should the council race on top of that? We have not even had a chance or an opportunity for that to sink in. I don't want our jobs to be put at risk, or our city at a disadvantage. I want to create good opportunities for San Diegans. That is the wrong policy for us right now, I will veto it, and we will continue to be vocal to support our small businesses that are struggling to hire people and get them into work. [END AUDIO FILE] MARK SAUER: So he sounded pretty definite obviously he overrode the veto, but we did not seem at the press conference yesterday. We tried to get a comment from him, it was late in the day, finally he issued a statement. It's not like he is leading it out. SCOTT LEWIS: We have seen this before, when Carl DeMaio was running the effort to change pensions for the future and future employees, he was out collecting signatures himself, driving people to the polls to get them to sign, nothing where he would be to get them to sign, and on the other hand when they're trying to get him to pass a tax increase after the fires in 2007, Jerry Sanders not only sported that and gave positive comments, that he never forcefully did it and it failed. There are different ways for engagement for a city leader on these issues, it seems that Kevin Faulconer's comfortable saying let's throw those out, let's get rid of it and here's the alternative and here's the vision on the convention center, same thing, there a lot of big were sent out there, and it is all dependent on what the Mayor decides. He has a unique ability to frame the issues and get immediate to come to his events and get people rallied in coalitions, he has not done that yet. KATIE ORR: Some people may argue he has a good point about raising the state minimum wage, they did that and they will go up over the next two years, there was a no pending to raise it again on top of that, including a cost-of-living escalator, because the one that passed did not have that in your I spoke with Marney Cox, the economist that SANDAG, who said for it to work it needs to be region. Someone can cross the city limits in Delmar and not have to pay that. SCOTT LEWIS: The city would argue that if they coming to San Diego at any time, the city will enforce the minimum wage. That is correct, you can move business and avoid it. They argue that municipal cities have a higher cost of living so they should be at a higher minimum wage, these are all issues, a lot of people preferred the state to take the lead on it. MARK SAUER: If we keep is across the board we don't have to set up competition among cities and regions. The leaders are all up in the air about this, but the average public does not care so much. SCOTT LEWIS: It's a project for other people who come to San Diego, for people who do not live here, so it's hard. You go to community meetings, they don't care about it. They care about jobs, so they make that connection about the jobs and the economic activity, but they need to make a bigger cases they're going to take it to the vote, about why this tax increase should go to a convention center and Stadium as opposed to libraries and streets. MARK SAUER: And to other things. We noted that the council could have tried to ram this on the ballot this fall, they chose not to do that, and as you said earlier, it is not clear where the mayor or the council leaders stand on this point on whether we want expansion, a noncontinuous facility, a dual purpose facility, or forget the whole idea because Comic-Con is not leaving anyway. SCOTT LEWIS: I thought it was really interesting the other day when former Mayor Jerry Sanders made indication that he was open if this does not work, to a noncontinuous football contraption, and the same thing, Scott Peters used to be on the court commission, he said if you get 80% of what you wanted, do with it. You see people gingerly going towards this, but it takes a leader to say okay, this is the plan, here's the design, this is why you should vote and this is when the vote will be, we have not seen that yet. No one will even give an indication when we well. MEGAN BURKS: It's not just taking a stand on the specifics, but we heard him talking about the neighborhoods coming out of the gate. He needs to take the lead as a Republican, and articulate why the convention center may matter to someone living in City Heights, or how the minimum wage issue, why his idea is better for neighborhoods, I don't think he is quite making that. SCOTT LEWIS: We see a tension between neighborhoods and downtown for a while. If he's going to oppose minimum-wage and support the convention center, you make a great point, it can't just be about downtown, especially if it needs to go to the ballot. People care about water, libraries, schools, and none of them say I wish that the urologists had a better place to hang out, that's not something that is high on their priorities. MARK SAUER: One more question I wanted to throw out, what about his political fortunes and how he decides on these critical issues? He has to come up again in 2016. SCOTT LEWIS: He's doing a lot of zip lining into Comic-Con, the ride around Fiesta Island, Jason Mraz and him hung out at the Mayor's office. But I think he needs to say why the city is better, this is why it's different, because of what I did. That's what you take to the reelection campaign, he has a couple of opportunities here right now, we will see what he does. MARK SAUER: Amid the relentless drought, California lawmakers and Governor Brown have agreed on the $7.5 billion water bond issued for voters to consider this November. The bond passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, and that masked months of hard wrangling. Katie, start with an overview of the kind of projects that this bond will address. KATIE ORR: Perhaps the biggest piece of it, and the part that was the most controversial, was the amount of money that would go towards storage projects like building dams and reservoirs, so when we have droughts we've water to get us through. Republicans really wanted $3 billion allocated for that. When Governor Jerry Brown came out with his proposal, he put in $2.5 billion. In terms of billions of dollars, they are not that far apart, and they ended up compromised on $2.7 billion. There will be $5 billion to improve groundwater quality, $1.4 billion to go towards ecosystem protection, so there's a whole list of projects going into this bond. SCOTT LEWIS: Is this a tax increase, or an obligation on the government? KATIE ORR: It's an obligation, they would be taking out bonds and they would go towards this thing. Of course, $7.5 billion, in interests, over the years, we will be paying a lot more. There are a lot of people out there that argue there is not a better way for the state to spend money, if we need to get through this crisis. This was really a coalition of people, it did not always break down on party lines. Representatives from the Central Valley have different thoughts and needs versus those from the coastal cities. This is really all of them coming together in the last hour, actually passed a bill that give them two extra days to get it on the ballot. Then they went from there, and it was really everyone coming together. They truly celebrated, the mood of the capital was amazing. They were all very excited, it was a lot of money. The original bond that they passed was $11 billion in 2009, they only changed it because polls showed it would not pass because it was too much money. MARK SAUER: What is the likelihood now? KATIE ORR: I think it has a good chance because lawmakers are behind it, so everyone will go to their base and say this is why you need to vote for this, this is something that is vital for the state. I think people expect it will pass. MARK SAUER: You mentioned the water storage projects are Northern California, what is going on in Southern California and San Diego? KATIE ORR: It's all about groundwater management, and that is really the next push at the state legislator right now. California does not manage groundwater, so you if you wanted to do a well and take water from the well, you're allowed to. But the problem is, we are depleting that at a rapid pace. MARK SAUER: We had a story today about trillions of gallons have been depleted in the West since 2013 and the drought. KATIE ORR: That will be the next area that will see a big fight over, Southern California is certainly going to be a huge part of that, because it takes up so much of the water. In terms of groundwater management and environmental protection, this region will benefit as well. MARK SAUER: Also an idea about a huge desalinization plant at Camp Pendleton, that is federal land, I'm not sure how that would work out, but the scope is it will dwarf the one that is half built in Carlsbad right now. KATIE ORR: I think you are seeing the realization that people are seeing there's not enough water, the state is growing and if we have any more dry years like this we will be in trouble. You have to look at alternatives like desalinization and potable reuse, you have to look at those if you want water. SCOTT LEWIS: They always have to dance an interesting line, because they do not want to freak out too much because businesses and others will say maybe I shouldn't move my business to California. On the other hand, they have to freak out because we need to freak out, there's not a lot of water. It's one thing to have a civilization in Northern California, but we're at the end of the straw here, and so yes, we need to communicate confidence that is real about why we have water. KATIE ORR: I think that is one of the problems they were facing, which is why we have statewide mandatory water restrictions, because people who are not near the reservoirs do not see it, you turn on your tap and you have water, you don't realize, it's a balance. You don't want to scare people, but you want people to know what they do matters. MARK SAUER: A month ago they said mandatory, but you're not seeing water police, you're not seeing a big emphasis. Here in San Diego you're doing a story on women in government, one of them is Lorena Gonzales, a woman from this area was making a big splash, to use a pun there, tell us about this freshman and what she is doing in Sacramento. KATIE ORR: I think most notably, last night she tweeted a picture of Senator Ben Hueso apparently drinking at the capital. MARK SAUER: And arrested later on suspicion of DUI. KATIE ORR: And she deleted that tweet later. She is involved in everything. MARK SAUER: So she is stirring things up all sorts of ways. KATIE ORR: She has been a key player in a lot of take legislating up there. Most notably, she carried the bill that allows undocumented immigrants to become practicing attorneys in California, which is a huge deal for them. She is sponsoring a bill right now that would require all workers that work at least thirty days in California to receive three paid sick days, which is very controversial and something that people in the business world are very worried about, because obviously that is money. But that is pretty far along in the process. She was sponsoring a bill that would help supplement diapers for women and families on the CalWorks program, but that bill did not make it out of the legislature. She has been there about a year, and she is everywhere, her name is everywhere. SCOTT LEWIS: There's a bill that if you allow your lawn go brown, if you have an HOA they cannot force you to water it. Little things and big things. The things she did on Twitter, that is interesting that she got in the little trouble with that, because she does enroll you in her story, she tries to get you to follow the narrative she is engaged in, and it's working. She stumbles sometimes. MARK SAUER: What about ambitions here? Partitions are usually ambitious, we have a senior Senator Dianne Feinstein here, of course the governor is not going to be around forever, do you see any inklings at this point? KATIE ORR: I think it's a longtime from assembly to governor's office. But if she keeps going and having success, it's not hard to imagine that she might find a seat in the state Senate someday. If that's something that she chooses to go after. She seems to be someone that the Latino Caucus is putting out, for example, there's a reason she is involved in all of these bills, people want her to be the face of these bills for whatever reason. If she keeps having success, and stays out of too much trouble, I think you probably could see her ascend to the Senate or a higher state office down the line. MARK SAUER: So she could have a big deal of ambition. And other people your talking about in your story? KATIE ORR: I'm interviewing Toni Atkins tomorrow. San Diego is very well represented at the state level right now. Toni Atkins is a speaker of the assembly, that is the third most powerful position in the legislature. You guys are really having a moment. MARK SAUER: We will bask in that moment. We will shift gears to the next segment, whether they don't want to drink and drive or simply need a quick and cheap way to get somewhere, you're adults are flocking to Uber, and so are their parents, that is the mobile rideshare app that allows smart phone users to get a ride in minutes. Megan, your story this week showed how Uber is having an effect not so much on customers, but on drivers. MEGAN BURKS: Right, it's sort of surprising for people to hear, but it's actually the drivers that are causing the problem for cab owners, cab company owners say they have plenty of customers, but it's actually the drivers who are going to Uber. These drivers are how cab companies make money. A lot of people think cab companies make money by picking up passengers, they actually make money by leasing cars out to drivers and collecting monthly leases from drivers. That is where cab companies are running into trouble. MARK SAUER: Before we get deeper into that, let's tell folks who are not familiar with Uber what it is and how it works, and another app service, Lyft. MEGAN BURKS: Uber, which I focused on in my story, it's a web-based app where you call up a ride on your iPhone and a black car arrives and takes you to your destination, and it's really winning over a lot of people because it is so convenient, everything is based on your phone, and Uber San Diego has thousands of drivers in the county right now. They are able to have really quick pickup times. MARK SAUER: Are they cheaper than a taxi? MEGAN BURKS: It depends, they can be half the cost or significantly more, depending on whether you want to take a small previous or a big SUV, and unlike the cab industry, they can do surge pricing, so if there's a huge need for drivers at the time, they will bump the price up. SCOTT LEWIS: And then there's an accessibility thing, they are making more parts of the city accessible to people who don't have cars. I heard it comes from someone who used to try to get the time, but unless your went to the beach areas, they wouldn't be excited about taking you to southeastern San Diego or other parts. But it's really doing is disrupting the place, but also making some areas more accessible and I think it's fascinating, it's really unveiling the actual business model of taxicabs that are based on an artificially constrained supply of licenses they have, and the troops and mechanics of people who get to buy those licenses and own and use them. Now, the whole state does not know what to do about it. MARK SAUER: And there's something going on in Sacramento? KATIE ORR: That's a good point, these cars, they don't have the same insurance requirements that taxicabs have to have, they would argue that I'm not a taxi, I'm a private person picking someone up, but there is a situation in San Francisco where an Uber driver waiting for a ride hit three pedestrians and a little girl died. And so, the family wants to sue, and they said no, he did not have a passenger, so he was not our employee, so we did not have to pay. They're all of these regulations they are starting to delve into, and Uber and Lyft drivers do not want more regulation. They rallied at the state capital, they are trying to beat an insurance bill, there are issues with Uber and Lyft and then going to airports, because they do not pay the same permits the taxi do. And get into the discussion, is the state stifling a creative economy and a startup company, or are they trying to make everyone play by the same rules. MARK SAUER: What did the taxi folks say about this uneven playing field with the regulation? MEGAN BURKS: They say it's unfair, there's a cost of doing business and it is higher if you are more highly regulated, but they are also saying this is about the customer and public safety, so going back to your access comments, the reason taxis are regulated within the city is because they are seen as another piece of the public transit puzzle, so you can get into a cab and maybe the taxi driver does not want to take you to a certain area, but they are regulated by law to take you wherever you want to go, they're supposed to drive you if your a senior, they are supposed to drop you off in the alley if they're supposed to, and cab companies are saying we are highly regulated because this service is necessary, we need our service to be sustained, so regulate these guys to the same level. SCOTT LEWIS: When I asked Toni Atkins about this, I think this is going to be the theme going forward, she said yes, we need to consider regulations, but my wife is going to freak out if we cut the service, because she uses it so much. It has become so popular, cutting this off, Uber has become a direct connection to the crowd of supporters, it's going to be an interesting balance, maybe they do not have so often with regulations that don't necessarily affect everyday people. Maybe it affects the business, but this is clear that people can see, and Uber sent out an email the other day that said call your Senator, call your assembly person and make this happen. MEGAN BURKS: They said this is going to kill ridesharing all throughout the state. KATIE ORR: I just did a story, that is where you see people rising up so often, when it is things that affect them. Gas prices are possibly going up in January because of cap and trade rules in the state. There is a campaign now to call your lawmaker and tell them to overturn this hidden gas tax, which has been in place since 2009, it's not a surprise it was coming, but when it hits people's wallets that is when lawmakers have to be careful, because of people are angry, it could not be good for them. Incumbent or not, people do not like losing things they use all of the time. MARK SAUER: I want to drop the idea of the demographic of this. My daughter is in her 20s, they use Uber all of the time, they are not going to drive drunk or take a chance if they are partying somewhere, and I never thought of paying for a cab at their age, and it's like these folks don't think about it, they want to get where they are going and they are willing to pay for it. MEGAN BURKS: That is sort of the thing with regulation, you are right, the customers won't really recognize everything in the background. They know that they like the service, they want it to stick around, but it's the same thing when you leave the bar. I don't think you are thinking about working conditions for Uber drivers versus taxi drivers, or insurance, you are just thinking about getting home. Some people will still try to flag a cab, and if they can't they will call Uber. I also spoke with a manager of a bar who said customers used to ask all of the time for people to call a cab for them, but I don't get that anymore, because they just step outside and get on the phone. SCOTT LEWIS: I think that is what is different, you did not have an iPhone to look at and push a button, you don't have to have cash, you don't have to give a tip, I think a lot of them don't consider the cost. The whole dynamic has changed, they have made it so easy to get a ride somewhere, that it is exploding. They have services now, they will go buy diapers for you, it's crazy. MARK SAUER: It's all about the convenience. We will hear a lot more about that, it's a big business coming up like crazy, and I know it's out of Sacramento. Katie, it's great to see you. That wraps up another week of stories at the KPBS Roundtable. I would like to thank my guests, Scott Lewis, Katie Orr, and Megan Burks. A reminder, all of the stories we discussed they are available on our website at, I am Mark Sauer and thank you for joining us today at the Roundtable.

Will Faulconer Choose To Lead?

Plans for the Plaza at Balboa Park, Barrio Logan and the expansion of the Convention Center all went down in flames due to legal mistakes or organized opposition.

The city’s revised minimum wage ordinance, passed by a super-majority of the City Council over Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s veto, can already feel the heat from a signature-gathering campaign for a referendum to do away with it.


What will the mayor do about this attempt to negate the City Council vote? Go along? Lead the opposition? Tell them to stand down?

And what about the Convention Center expansion, now that an appellate court ruled the funding mechanism was a tax-increase that hadn’t been voted on? Will the mayor opt to get it on the ballot or cozy up to an alternative idea? In other words will he lead, or follow along?

The Water Bond And Lorena Gonzalez' Busy Year

Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers have agreed on the scope of a water bond for the November ballot. The bond was originally to be $11 billion, but by agreement was reduced to $7.5 billion and includes funds for dams and reservoirs for surface storage.

Freshmen legislators are often quiet in their first terms as they figure out who to work with and how to get anything (at all) done. Not the case for San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez.

Gonzalez sits on five important committees and chairs another. Her bill on disclosure rules for annuities has been signed by the governor. Her bill on paid sick leave for all employees has passed both houses and is in conference. And her bills banning some fundraising by school administrators and prohibiting HOAs from fining residents who replace lawns with low-water plants are on the governor’s desk.


San Diego Taxi Drivers Getting A Lyft

San Diego cabbies are leaving cab companies in droves, abandoning expensive cab leases in favor of driving for a rideshare app like Uber or Lyft.

Drivers accepted by those companies may use their own car or lease a vehicle, either of which is far less expensive than the current taxi lease fees cab companies charge drivers.

Cab companies don’t make money on the riders, but on the drivers. Leasing a cab can cost a driver up to $400 a week, rain or shine, sick or well. One SDSU study found a large percentage of cab drivers netted just $4.45 an hour. The Metropolitan Transit System, which oversees cab companies, says it's $16.50 an hour.

Leasing a town car can cost a driver around $190 a week, and Uber gets a 20 percent cut of whatever the drivers take in.

There is at least one bill circulating in the legislature to regulate how rideshare companies do business. AB 2293 would require the companies to have commercial insurance. The California Public Utilities Commission is requiring background checks for drivers.

One negative for rideshare drivers: If customers give a driver a bad rating, the company may shut off his app.