Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


County Races: Proposition A, County Districts 4 & 5

County Races: Proposition A, County Districts 4 & 5
Will voters support a proposal to ban project labor agreements in the county? Are incumbent candidates Ron Roberts and Bill Horn facing tough competition for their seats on the Board of Supervisors? We talk about how county government could change based on the results of those races.

Will voters support a proposal to ban project labor agreements in the county? Are incumbent candidates Ron Roberts and Bill Horn facing tough competition for their seats on the Board of Supervisors? We talk about how county government could change based on the results of those races.


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


David King, editor and founder of

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

Read Transcript

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: 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 who have been together 16 years, some of them because they want to be and they win all their elections. In fact, this is the first run off election for any supervisor in 12 years. The incumbents again being challenged, we're in 94 and 98, Ron Roberts, a an in a largely democratic district, stretching through this great deal of the central part of San Diego. Then there's Bill Horne, a Republican running in a strongly Republican North County district. Let me start with you, David, why were the challenges to the incumbents this year strong enough to get past the primaries?

DAVID KING: I'd say that's a relative term here, the supervisors are generally pretty say, and both Bill Horne and Ron Roberts nearly run in the primary, and the predictions are that both of them will be able to hang onto their seats. Ron Roberts does represent a largely democratic district. But he's one of those rare exceptional elected officials that if you look at his bio, he is uniquely qualified for his job. He's somebody who's an architect, planning commission, city council member, barring Donna Frye's right in candidacy, he would have been elected mayor of San Diego in 2004. His constituents are Democrats but largely they recognize the work that he does, and Ron Roberts pales in comparison to Steve Whitburn. He's qualified for the job. Bill Horne has been around, he's got a loyal base of supporters. It's almost like USC football, he's got a big loyal base, and they'd almost wonder what was wrong if he wasn't causing some sort of terrible these days. But both are expected to hang onto their position.

GLORIA PENNER: That is David king's publish. From John, do you have a different take on it? Do you see any strength at all in the two challengers Steve whit burn who works if are the American red cross blood bank, and Steve Gronke who is a Vista counselman? Both are Democrats.


JOHN WARREN: I think when you look at the two races, Horne has raised enough questions about his behavior in terms of being so accident friendly with developers that he opened the door for his challenge. Roberts on the other hand, I guess the key here, all five members being Republicans, Whitburn's idea that it's good to have a Democrat in there in terms of breaking it up. Those things might appeal to the public. But I think that when we get right down to the track record, and the issues that go beyond the city, it's a different picture.

GLORIA PENNER: Again our number, and you do have a chance to get in on this discussion, we're talking about the board of supervisors, we're talking about prop A, which would ban agreements, would have union scale wages for public works projects in the county. 1-888-895-5727. Michael, here's a general question for you, the board of supervisors generally has been a quiet body that works without a lot of publicity and without a lot of fanfare. How much of a problem is that for challengers to try to stir up something that will excite the voters.

MICHAEL SMOLLENS: Well, you know, how much of a problem is a difficult question to answer. But I think both Horne and Roberts faced a problem in the primary, just sort of a general anti-incumbent trend we were feeling across the nation. They would argue the county comparatively to the city and elsewhere is in financially good shape. Their opponents Are pointing out, well, they are because they're so stingy in social services , a lot of people are really hurting in this day and age. So that's kind of the argument between the two. Now, Horne presents a different set of issues because he's sort of been the bad boy of politics, one ethical question after the another over the years, you always wonder whether cumulatively that will catch up with him. It hasn't. Has David mentioned he has a strong base of support up there, and now that we're in a run off, are people taking another look, they sort of threw a scare into these incumbents, but they've got a lot advantages both in support and financially. But yeah, a lot of people aren't really sure what the supervisors do so much, as compared to, like, the city, there's just a lot more attention to the city council and mayor.

GLORIA PENNER: Going back to the trust issue, David, can we trust if the supervisors win their races again will do the right thing for the county's poor in.

DAVID KING: Well, the social services issue and making it easier for people to get the food stamps and public support, it has grown in terms of the level of public attention, and I think that the county of supervisors should move in the right direction on facilitating these things instead of making it difficult for people to get the support they're entitled to. They are moving to the boring issues of government instead of politics, an extremely important matter before the county right now, the update to the general plan, a 15 year process that's gonna be voted on right now, and it's before the county to make a big decision to kind of preserve the rural character of the outlying unincorporated areas, and the general plan would down zone a number of areas whereby you could -- it would reduce the density of beautiful areas here. So your not gonna see the beautiful drive to Julian and a new subdivision popping up all over the county.

GLORIA PENNER: So let's say if somebody has a farm, they don't have to worry about the farm becoming a development?

DAVID KING: Well, the farmers, if you own property and it's down zoned, then it's less valuable. So the farmers who own the property want the property rights to be able to develop if they wanted to in the future. But if you're down zoned then you can put fewer structures on a number of acres of land and you basically have to keep it as rural space. The problem is that these unincorporated areas don't have the infrastructure. They don't have the water, they don't have the resources to support the vast, you know, hopes for development targeted in the county. And that's a large feeling among the back country people that they want to keep it that way. They don't want to electric like Los Angeles.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. John, I'm gonna come to you. I'm sorry also gonna take a call right after we come back from the break. Someone wants to talk more about the supervisors. So we are really going through the ballot quickly for you with opinions on both sides, on all sides, sometimes there are three sides. And we will return in just a moment. This is the Editors' Roundtable. I'm Gloria Penner.

This is the Editors' Roundtable, I'm Gloria Penner. We're talking about county races now, and we're gonna finish up the supervisors' races with a call. First I want you to know who's at the table, John Warren from San Diego Voice and Viewpoint, David king from San Diego News and from the it, Michael Smollens. I'm gonna give you a heads up on this, we're gonna go right to the governor's race when we finish up with the county. So if you want to get your calls in on the governor's race, we hear that Jerry Brown has pulled ahead by perhaps 13 points from Meg Whitman. Is this a good thing? Do we need a more competitive race? Does it reflect the fact that California is a blue state? Or does it reflect the fact that Meg Whitman isn't exactly what the voters want? I would like to get your calls sort of lined up so when we go into the govern's race, if you have any calls, we'll get them in. But right now, we have a call from Dee from Northpark. We were talking about the county board of supervisors with two of them up for reelection this year facing challenges. Bill Horne and Ron Roberts. Dee, join the editors at the round table please.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi Gloria. I just wanted to tell you why I'm voting for one of the challengers to Steven whit burn and against Ron Roberts and why he didn't get even 50 percent in his primary. And it's in part because the supervisors have been in office for over 20 years, many of them. And they've lazy and complacent. And so have their staff. They left several dollars lying on the table for social programs because they didn't bother to apply for them. They have these $3 million slush funds with no transparency and accountability. And I think what's happened with the challengers in these races, the challengers are forcing them to reevaluate some of their positions when it comes to transparency and accountability. And I also don't think it's healthy that the board has no diversity. If you've got all Republicans on that board, you don't have a diversity of opinion. And a diversity of voices so I'd like to see at least some change on the board of supervisors.

GLORIA PENNER: Thank you very much. John Warren?

JOHN WARREN: That problem has been handled in part. Last year they voted on turn limits for the board of supervisors of soap that's part of the reason why we're beginning to see people running. Because those who are there can't run again. And that also is a factor in what's taking place both with the up coming general plan amendments and revisions that David mentioned. There's great concern because there have been protections in the terms of open spaces and the rural areas that limited, for instance, home -- individual states not being broken down smaller than, say, 40 acres to keep the developers out. The third piece here goes to proposition A, and we have proposition A because Horne himself said that now with the changes we will have new people coming in, and we are afraid that labor, in effect, will take over and move and start pushing project labor agreements. Even though there have been none in the county. So these dynamics that are in place affect the concern that the caller expressed.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. Very good. So you really kind of honed in on proposition A. I want to pick up on that. It would ban project labor agreements which require union scale pay and benefits on county public works projects. To you on this, David, and to our callers, if they'd like to come in on this kind of a discussion. In June, Chula Vista and Oceanside voters already approved bans on project labor agreements. Judge does it appear that the public is in favor of these -- banning project labor agreements.

DAVID KING: Well, first off, it's -- each one of these initiatives is gonna invite the same legal challenge. So all of them are basically the same language. They just cut and paste from each proposition. And they all do the same thing. They prevent the government from mandating a project labor agreement. If you're a developer and you want to enter into Ia project labor agreement with a union, you are free to do so. But the local government cannot mandate it: The voters understand this, and they know that most people working in the private sector are not union. And they want the projects done at the lowest cost, and they want to let everybody bid it.

GLORIA PENNER: All right. So the question, Michael, here is that today we heard that the economic indicators for San Diego indicate that San Diego's economy is suffering a little bit more. That there are more claims for unemployment. If this is a ban on project labor agreements, who picks -- how can I say this? Would we find that the salaries and the wages generally that are given out for these kinds of projects would be reduced and people would be making less money?

MICHAEL SMOLLENS: Well, that's the name of the game. That's certainly the argument against proposition A. It doesn't, you know, enact project labor agreements but it allows them to happen. And the opponents are saying that, you know, that helps the economy because, you know, the higher scale wages is good for the assistant district attorney, people spend more and so forth. Also the other argument they have is requiring certain benefits like healthcare. If people don't have healthcare, are they -- injured workers and so forth being taken care of by the public, which is another cost? But the real issue here, and I think several articles have mentioned it, is that because the economy is so slow, the really only action these days are probable works projects. So that's the real competition for contract offer of proofs and builders and so forth. So nonlabor or nonunion businesses certainly want to make sure they get a piece of that pie. And as we've seen in the assistant district attorney unified school direct, they had that huge bond issue, they put in project labor agreements, and that really upset a lot of the nonunion contractors.

GLORIA PENNER: And we know unions are very much a part of the discussion. We had the union issue when gay lord was considering building on the bay in Chula Vista, and apparently that also affected the fact that it didn't happen. It just didn't happen.