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City Races: Proposition D, Council Districts 6 & 8

City Races: Proposition D, Council Districts 6 & 8
What factors will San Diegans weigh as they decide how to vote on Proposition D? How could the races in Districts 6 and 8 change the political makeup of the city council? We discuss the big races taking place in the City of San Diego.

What factors will San Diegans weigh as they decide how to vote on Proposition D? How could the races in Districts 6 and 8 change the political makeup of the city council? We discuss the big races taking place in the City of San Diego.


Michael Smolens, government editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune


John Warren, editor and publisher of San Diego Voice & Viewpoint

David King, editor and founder of

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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.

GLORIA PENNER: We'll start with the hotly debated proposition on the San Diego City ballot, Proposition D which would temporarily increase the city's sales tax by one half of $0.01, but would only be enacted if ten conditions were met first. Michael, what are the proponents or supporters saying to convince voters to vote on Prop D?

MICHAEL SMOLLENS: Well, they're trying to portray what they city is going through right now. We know there's the so called brownouts of the fire engines where because of city finances, they have had idle up to eight engines a day, and we've seen the repercussions of that in response times. However, without increasing sales tax to found those services, get them going by cutting elsewhere and making other efficiencies of that's sort of the big debate, we've seen cities in the past in other government entities talk about the sky fall figure we don't raise taxes, and if we don't raise taxes it's not quite as bad, I think the city of San Diego's in a little bit of a different situation where we have some concrete examples right now. In kind of a back handed negative way, that may help them.

GLORIA PENNER: Interesting, the day before yesterday, I had a conversation with a columnist, Alan Gin, David. And Alan Gin was saying that San Diego is a city of low taxes and high services. And his suggestion was that we broaden the tax base. That in addition to having property tax, sales tax, transient occupancy tax that we have fees like trash collection fees, or increase business fees, because according to him, we have the lowest business fees of just about any major city in California. Isn't is that a good idea instead of saying, okay, we're gonna request to the people and increase the sales tax. ?


DAVID KING: Are, there's a debate about what exactly the root causes of San Diego's structural deficit is, some focus more on the extend tour side, then if you look at the revenue side, where are the shortcomings? Part of it is that we get short changed by Sacramento. We get a smaller share of state distributions to cities proportionally, if you compare us to San Francisco, we completely get short changed in what the state distributes to the city, largely just based on political influence that our elected legislatures have up in Sacramento.

GLORIA PENNER: Are you saying that our elected legislatures if San Diego don't have significant inference?

DAVID KING: They don't have as much pull as the ones do up in San Francisco.

GLORIA PENNER: That's interesting because John, Denise Ducheny has been it chair of the budget committee. She's a long time San Diego senator, and she's also a Democrat. It seems to me she could have done something here.

JOHN WARREN: Well, the vote is still out in terms of what Denise has done. But I think David makes a very important point. Historically, Northern California has always gained more political clout than Southern California. Maybe it's because of the proximity to Sacramento. But there's another issue here, up north, if we want to refer to Sacramento that way, some have said that let's have this half cent sales tax pass because we have taxes at the state level that are going to expire next year, at least one that's a one percent sales -- one percent tax. And with that, we still will be ahead at least a half a percent if we pass this. I think the bottom line comes down to the half percent sales tax will allow us to keep the vital services that we've all identified and seen, we could lose from libraries to fire protection to police and the whole bit. And it will benefit many of the very people that opponents say will be hurt by the half percent sales tax. So it's a question of who you want to talk to, because DeMaio is saying, oh, no, the taxes that are supposed to expire will be reinstated because of the state's bottoming not being accurate. And I think the public is in a quandary. It comes down to, do I do this half cent, or do I do without it and see what happens?

GLORIA PENNER: That's really interesting, you're saying it depends on who you talk to. I guess part of it is, who do you trust, and that's a significant challenge I think as people go to the voting booth. People are saying different things. Carl DeMaio is saying one thing in order to get people not to vote for Prop D. The mayor and Donna Frye are saying another. And I suppose that when it comes down to it, who do you believe? Who is trustworthy. ? I'm gonna ask that of our listeners. As you approach Tuesday or if you're about to mail in your ballot, your decision on Proposition D, what is that going to be based on? Is it going to be based on who is saying what? Your gut feeling? Your unwillingness to give up another half a cent in sales tax or your willingness to do so? And do you think it's going to fix the budget? 1-888-895-5727.

Michael, voters and many opponents are focusing on the high cost of city pension benefits as the reason that the city budget is running in the red. How will Prop D fix that?

MICHAEL SMOLLENS: Well, that's part of the political problem. We talked about the services and the dire needs that the city has, and I don't think anybody disputes that, but the city has made such financial mistakes in the pensions and elsewhere, you mentioned the term trust, do people see this money if they approve it being pureed down a rat hole? That's why you mentioned thea the top of this she, there are these ten reforms that the council and the mayor are trying to accomplish that convince people that we are responsible. Clearly they think they need to convince people that it's not gonna be like the past, and I think a lot depends on how people perceive that. Because, you know, we're still getting past the Enron by the sea image, and other financial situations. So that's a concern of the voters out this, and certainly something the voters have been keen on. Of.

GLORIA PENNER: Let's say people do vote for Proposition D. But if those ten conditions or reforms aren't met, isn't the sales tax dead in the water anyway.

MICHAEL SMOLLENS: As you mentioned, it won't be collected until the independent city auditor says those reforms have been accomplished. He's kind of the key individual, and I think the reforms particularly don't have dollar figures they have to accomplish at the outset. So the way it looks to me that he's got a lot of leeway into how he determines what's been accomplished and what hasn't, and you know the pressure is gonna be on them. If the council and the mayor say they've accomplished these things, it's gonna take amount of backbone for this guy to say they evaporate.

GLORIA PENNER: I you want to just talk about the auditor. That is, as you say, a huge job. Of it's the auditor who's going to decide if the ten conditions are met. Who is the auditor beholden to, John? Is there any political influence that could be brought to bear on the auditor?

JOHN WARREN: I don't think so. I must say, that I don't have total recall in terms of that set up, that position at the moment. But the very nature of the position is established so as to insulate it from that kind of influence. So I think when you look at the support from the mayor and the council, you don't have the additional entities that might be even able to oppose the auditor through legislative changes.


MICHAEL SMOLLENS: Yeah, John is right. To the extent there can be a politically independent body here that the city auditor said, it was newly created, redefined with a ballot proposition. It was an individual whose name is Eduardo Luna, who was elected and by the city council and appointed to a position for ten years with no chance of continuation, and no chance of being pulled from that position.

GLORIA PENNER: You wanted to say something on that, Michael?

MICHAEL SMOLLENS: It is an independent post, and the usual political pressures that we see, politician on politician, in those constituency, probably don't work here, but it will be very difficult, if the city passes a sales tax, and the council approves these reforms, and he doesn't say the reforms have been enough while Rome is burning, so to speak, the or the fire engines are still idle. That's a different kind of pressure, and that would be tough, if he's gonna do a green eye shade thing, that's one thing. But everybody's help, and that will be a tough thing to stand up against, I think.

GLORIA PENNER: What do we know about this auditor other than he is human.

MICHAEL SMOLLENS: Well, as David said, I think they created this position wisely to insulate this person, so who you would have an objective, independent person who isn't beholden to folks.

GLORIA PENNER: Let's take a call. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. We're talking about Proposition D, whether you trust what is being said, and whether you're going to vote for or against it. Then we're going to talk about a couple of city council races of let's hear from it Anne in South Bay. Anne, welcome to the Editors' Roundtable.

NEW SPEAKER: Thanks so much. You asked the question why I'd vote for D. If anybody on the city council is a straight suit shooter, in my humble opinion, it would be Donna Frye. She doesn't have an agenda, she's not running for mayor, she has, I believe, the good of the city at heart, and she would sway me immediately. And I don't mind spending a little more to help solve the problem.

GLORIA PENNER: There's the trust issue. She believes in Donna Frye who's not running for anything, she says. John?

JOHN WARREN: Well, I think that's very significant, because Donna has termed out of that running, and as we indicated, that the mayor can't run again. Here are two people who don't stand to gain personally or politically from this effort, but appear to be reinforcing their concern for the city. While Carl DeMaio as Donna has accused him, is trying it position himself to run for mayor, and as she said as recently as a couple of days ago, he has vested interests in this not passing and the city remaining in crisis, because when he was asked to give husband alternative budget, it was a work in progress. Yet he's opposing what's being done.

GLORIA PENNER: Of course she said she's not running for mayor. There are other political seats that she might run for and although the mayor says his political career is over after this, I mean, this are other opportunities for him out this as well. Yes Michael?

MICHAEL SMOLLENS: I want to get back to the Donna Frye and Jerry Sanders situation, you know, because when this happened, it was rather remarkable. You had two people who ran against each other for mayor, and have opposed each other on numerous issues, one's a Republican, one's a Democrat, that they came together on this and worked together on this I thought was a very interesting political thing. And from a campaign standpoint, a very good stand. That you've got a city that's been so divided for so long, and two sort of antagonists come together. Now, as antagonists, I think personal he they've always gotten along dispute their political differences of but that's a huge aspect and benefit for Proposition D.

GLORIA PENNER: Let me ask you a question on that. Do we see this same kind of a cooperation between two other sector it is, I think of them as sectors to a certain extent, Donna Frye, and the mayor, for example, labor and business on Proposition D.

MICHAEL SMOLLENS: Well, I think again the mayor has done some pretty interesting work in feting the Chamber of Commerce board to support it, and some other business groups. Now, not all accident groups as we know do support it. But the fact that we just expect the chamber and some of those entities to out and out oppose, but that they've sort of promised reforms and savings and gotten them on board, maybe is purely political, but as a political ft. That's not too bad.

GLORIA PENNER: We have several calls. Caller, please hang on. We're gonna take a short break. We're gonna come right back to your calls. This is the Editors' Roundtable, I'm Gloria Penner. This is the Editors' Roundtable, I'm Gloria Penner, and this is our preelection special. We're focussing mostly on local races local propositions. Near the end of the program, we'll talk about the govern's race and some state propositions. Right now we're talking about Proposition D, and shortly we're gonna go on to talk about some of the city council races, the only two city council races from the City of San Diego. With me we have Michael Smollens from the UT, John Warren from San Diego Voice and Viewpoint, and from, David King. And I promised our callers we're gonna get right to them, and we'll take them back to back, then we'll respond to what they have to say. Let me start with David in San Diego. David you're on with the editors.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, thank you very much for having me. I have a couple of comments. First of all, this whole thing of hiring an independent auditor and spending more of taxpayer dollars on a position where I think it's been stated that if the city council said they have met the requirements, I think it's going to be very difficult for the auditor to rebut that. I think that's a big waste of money. What I would say is the best to ensure those ten reforms are met it to not to pas Prop D and not to give them the extra money, it seems like then they would be forced to adhere to these ten reforms.

GLORIA PENNER: That's interesting. So if Prop D goes down, those ten reforms would still be a requirement that the council works on them? Is that why are idea?

NEW SPEAKER: It seems it would have to be, it would force their hand rather than giving them -- there would be no political solution to the problem.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. I'm eager to hear what the editors say, but let's first hear from Nancy in Carmel valley. You're on with the editors.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you for this opportunity. I am a permanent absentee ballot. I was going to learn for Prop D until I learned about the back room deal between and Jerry Sanders and Nathan Fletcher and the governor. And I don't trust them, I think city council should be involved, taxpayers should be involved and I am now voting against Prop D.

GLORIA PENNER: We said trust really was a major issue in this campaign. And I think the mayor knows that. Because yesterday at a downtown rotary lunch, he himself referred to you can trust me. I'm not running for office. And then at the end of his presentation, he said no back room deals here. So clearly he was referring to what happened with the redevelopment funds. And that seems to have sort of become the sneak issue that's creeping up and starting to affect how people are looking at this. We're gonna have responses to both phone alls of Michael, let me start with you.

MICHAEL SMOLLENS: We talk about the trust issue just a little bit before the show, and the caller is mentioning that, and in the last days of an election, having to talk about, sort of convince people you can trust me and no back room deal, that's probably not the message he was anticipating, but he did kind of make this bed. They did this whole redevelopment deal that was under the cover of darkness in Sacramento. And while they didn't say so, it largely focused on expediting a downtown stadium. And a lot of people just this was a process that was ignored to do this. And coming at this time when he's trying to convince people that the -- trust us with more money, it's a difficult -- it's a in fact that I think he's facing.

GLORIA PENNER: All right, if there are no more comments, I'd like to go on to the city council races. Did anybody want to say anything about what David had to say about the ten reforms that need to be done even if Prop D fails? David?

DAVID KING: I tend to agree with David. Voters should view Prop D as a sales tax. The ten conditions are largely things the council should already have been doing. And this is largely a bribe to the council. If we pay you the additional sales tax revenue, you'll do the things you already should have been doing.


JOHN WARREN: I think they have to move on the ten conditions issue even if the sales tax fail, because otherwise it would reinforce what David just said. It would look like it was only conditioned upon getting the money. So they have to move on those conditions, which involve limiting capital improvements and payroll and a whole number of things.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. Well, we are gonna move on quickly to the council races, and speaking of trust, some news came up in today's newspaper having to do with council district eight candidates. We have David Alvarez and Felipe Hueso, both are Democrats, they're running in that district, covering Barrio Logan, Golden Hill, Logan Heights, some of the boarder communities. Both do support Prop D, by the way, and they do support those downtown large building projects. Before we talk about what distinguishes them for the voters, according to UT watch dog report, Hueso's brother, ben, the city council president, improperly gave $25,000 to his brother's campaign from his own assembly campaign. Michael, what message do you get from that attitude?

MICHAEL SMOLLENS: Well, just one point of clarification, what he did is he gave the money to an independent committee that supports are his brother's campaign. It seems to be a minor distinction in most people's minds. But basically they agreed ever we brought it up, after our reporter Craig Gustafson brought it up with them, they had their lawyers look at it, and they believe it does violate state campaign laws, and the money is being returned because basically you can't pull money out of an assembly campaign and basically help fund a city council campaign, whether it's your brother or not.

GLORIA PENNER: And that's a clear violation of the law?

MICHAEL SMOLLENS: Yeah, it hasn't been litigated but everybody seems to think so. Even the ben Hueso campaign acknowledged on further review agreed they had to withdraw that money.

GLORIA PENNER: So here we have two Democrats running in a democratic district. What would you say are the -- are the distinguishing characteristics of these two other than their names?

MICHAEL SMOLLENS: Well, they have a lot of common. As you mention, they're both Democrats, they're both Latinos, and they both basically grew up in the district. That's a little rare these days to find people running so long in their own neighborhood. David Alvarez is younger, and I think he's been more politically involved. He worked for Denise Ducheny, and has done social work. Whereas Felipe Hueso has been more of a private entrepreneur, a lawyer, has had some bankruptcy issues as well, which has come up in the campaign. So it's a little more stylistic in approach, as opposed to actual stands. Like you say, they both support downtown stadium, they both support Prop D in that regard.


JOHN WARREN: That's in contrast to the District 6 election where Howard Wayne and Lorie Zapf are both are opponents of Prop D, for instance, and do support downtown stadiums and ballpark. So that means that we're gonna maintain this kind of tension that we might have otherwise thought will be eliminated with the terming out that's taking place.

GLORIA PENNER: Let's go ahead and turn to District 6, since we are running out of time. There's been some controversy, David king, in the combine about Lorie Zapf, as a Republican, her personal finances. And San Diego City beat also obtained an e-mail that -- in which he she wrote a few years ago that contained some disparaging comments about gays. How about these fiduciaries affect the election outcome.

DAVID KING: Well, the Republican party has made the council District 6 the focus of this election, that and Prop D, and out in council District 6, they've got a better campaign going than Oklahoma when they ran the wish bone. Every Republican who lives in the district has been visited by a precinct walker. Lori made the mistake before she got into politics or was starting to step through the door of getting into an e-mail exchange with somebody that just doesn't really warrant an exchange with, and I think she regrets it, and I think she's gone back to the gay community and apologized for those sorts of remarks. We have reached a stage where people's sexual preference is really not considered to be an issue in their ability to hold public office. We've got -- it's not just a Democrat belief, it's bipartisan. Largely here you've got the three of the top Republicans in town who are either gay or come out with very strong positions in favor of day rights. So I think it's unfortunate. It's unfortunate though for there to be a message that if you're gonna run for office, we're gonna open up your personal finances. Because I think a lot of people have 134 blips and slips in their personal finances that aren't really relevant to whether or not they're suited for public office, and it deters people from running for office.

GLORIA PENNER: Michael before we move onto supervisors, just quickly, what difference would it make to the council if Howard wane were elected or Lorie Zapf.

MICHAEL SMOLLENS: As John mentioned, ironically, they are on the same side on Prop D, which is really the key issue of but this is the most partisan race, certainly out of the two, Howard wane is supported by Democrats and labor, and Lorie Zapf, the Republicans and business community. So I think you would their approaches would mirror the ethos of the parties a little bit. In terms of things like managed competition and privatization, that sort of the desire would be you would expect more on Lorie Zapf's part than on Howard Wayne's in wanting to give some acknowledgement to the city, workers, and labor organizations.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. Well, that we had to do that much too quickly, but that's because we're going on to the county board of supervisors