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Roundtable: California Recall Comes To San Diego

 May 14, 2021 at 10:08 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:01 California's governor one of his challengers in one very large bear making a stop in San Diego. We check in on the recall campaign and jobs are available, but where are the workers? Restaurant owners try to sweeten the pot and we explore the flavors of San Diego's diverse food scene. The new KPBS series showcasing local immigrant owned eateries and the communities they serve. I met Hoffman and the KPBS round table starts. Now. Speaker 2: 00:34 [inaudible] Speaker 1: 00:35 Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories. I'm Matt Hoffman, joining me on this remote edition of the KPBS round table. Art Marissa Lagos' political correspondent for KQBD Laurie Weisberg, who covers hospitality and tourism for the San Diego union Tribune and KPBS reporter max Rivlin Nadler. The cast of characters in California's latest recall election is now taking shape leading the pack of former San Diego mayor and the last Republican to challenge the current governor and a member of the Kardashians TV empire. Each of them are generating headlines in their own way. From talking with Sean Hannity to touring the state with a real life half ton bear it's time for a status check on the recall with Marissa Lagos' political correspondent for Bay area public media station. KQBD hello, Marissa. Hey, how are ya doing good. So over the past few weeks, we've seen a lot of candidate rollouts. Let's start with the local guy, San Diego and John Cox, who made a stop here at shelter Island. He's been getting a lot of attention for this big Kodiak bear he's been campaigning with, but what is his message beyond that? Speaker 2: 01:33 I mean, does he really need a message beyond that right now? I mean, you know, Cox ran for governor in 2018 against Newsome. Uh, he lost pretty badly. And I think a lot of what we're seeing here is beyond the attention, grabbing things like the bear, a very similar message, you know, he's running as an outsider. He calls himself, you know, uh, not a career politician. I think some of his critics would take issue of that. Considering he's run for almost every office up to president over the past couple of decades. Um, but he really, you know, paints Newsome as this. He's calling him a pretty boy. He's talking a lot about Newsome being a career politician and trying to say that, you know, he's a businessman, he's an outsider and he could really offer a fresh perspective to this. Speaker 1: 02:15 There's also Caitlyn Jenner, the former gold medal Olympian and reality TV star. And she's more focused on high profile cable news appearances. And there's also been questions about whether or not she's even voted in 2020. Is she running a serious campaign Speaker 2: 02:29 Is an excellent question. And I think it's a little early to tell yet, but certainly the initial rollout of generous campaign does not lead a lot of observers to think that she is taking this as seriously as one might think somebody running for governor, would she kind of stumbled over simple questions over things like SEEQUA, she's really angered the transgender community for her kind of back and forth over whether a young trans girls should be able to play in girls' sports leagues, even though she's actually participated as a transgender woman in women's golfing events. Um, and I think more broadly, she just doesn't seem to have a very good handle on the issues, but also, you know, I'm not sure, really sure what lane she's running it. She went on Sean Hannity obviously to really try to, I think, at that Trump base, those base Republican voters, but not everything she's saying is kind of lining up with, I think the messaging we're hearing in the bigger Republican party. So it's been pretty Rocky so far for Caitlyn Jenner. Speaker 1: 03:26 And some are saying that the lowest statewide profile candidate among the big three is another local guy, former San Diego mayor, Kevin Faulkner. He spent some time with Republicans in the central Valley. What is his strategy right now? Speaker 2: 03:37 Well, to your point, getting some attention, cause I think he's been overshadowed by both the bear, the, the reality TV star. And then this week by the governor himself has been rolling out a bunch of new initiatives around the budget surplus. Um, falconer just yesterday did roll out his own, uh, what he's calling middle class tax cut plan. He is trying to paint himself as a sort of moderate conservative who worked across the Island, San Diego, and can kind of bring that type of thinking to Sacramento. Um, and he has really gone after Newsome pretty hard as well. But I think again, the challenge that he, and really everyone's going to have is getting the attention of voters at a time when I think people are really more focused on their own lives, because we're finally coming out of this pandemic. Speaker 1: 04:24 It's a new statewide polling this week that shows lagging support for the recall, where do things stand there at the moment? Speaker 2: 04:29 Yeah. So the number of voters in this UC Berkeley Institute for government governmental studies poll, who said they support recalling Newsome stands around 36%, um, 49% say that they would vote. No. And that number is actually up the no votes, the numbers who support it is really unchanged from the last IGS poll in January. So I think that this is very much an ideological question. People who identify themselves as Republicans, as Trump supporters are overwhelmingly in support of her calling Newsome. But the problem for them is that there's just not that many of them compared to the overall electorate in California, and really to win the recall and then to win the votes. Uh, any of the opponents are going to need to convince some more moderate voters, some more independent, no party preference voters. And so far, we're just not seeing those numbers change. And as I kind of alluded to, I think that job might get even harder in the coming weeks. As we see more people get vaccinated, more businesses open the mass mandate lifted. I mean, it's just, um, not the same kind of climate. It was back in the winter when they really got a lot of momentum around the recall petition and signature gathering. Speaker 1: 05:42 And we know that there's obviously a lot of Republicans that are sort of, you know, putting their hat in the ring here, but how can they build their case? You sort of just touched on it, especially now that the main issue that this has set in motion, the pandemic, you know, seems to be fading away. Vaccinations are up, hospitalizations are down. Speaker 2: 05:55 Yeah. I mean, I think that politically the message that has sort of worked best in some ways that that's sort of easiest to, uh, argue or, you know, hardest to argue against rather is this idea that we heard back in the 2018 race as well between Cox and Newsome that, you know, Democrats broke it and they own it. Right. If you have problems with California's cost of living with housing with its homeless crisis, if you're concerned about things like high taxes or not enough good enough schools that California Democrats have been in charge for so long, that really they're the ones who are responsible and, and that maybe, you know, Republicans or independents should be given a chance. I think, again, the challenge for that is, are there actual concrete solutions policy solutions to do something different one and two are those solutions attractive enough to sort of big enough number beyond the really hardcore Republican base to actually get people to the polls and voting against Newsome, um, and kind of the current political leadership in this, Speaker 1: 06:58 Then there's also the Trump factor. Former acting director of national intelligence. Rick Grinnell is seen as another high profile candidate who might enter this race. He also has San Diego ties. And you sort of got into this a bit on your show forum on KQD this week. How closely do you think the former president is watching what's happening here in California? Speaker 2: 07:16 Oh, geez. I don't know if I can get into Trump's but I do. I mean, look, I think the former president appears to be keeping close tabs on the general political climate. You know, Grinnell is certainly an ally of his and a similar politician. I would say a real flame thrower. We've seen him already gotten a couple of spots with, uh, reporters over the past weeks over how they've been characterizing the recall, you know, Grinnell might come in with some more name ID he's openly gay. He did serve in the Trump administration, but none of that's going to solve the bigger problem we just talked about, which is even though Trump got, you know, a record number of votes in California, Biden got an even bigger record number of votes and you just don't have beyond the Republican base, a lot of excitement about Trump here. Speaker 2: 08:00 In fact, I think that there's a concern among a lot of Republicans that if he does insert himself into this race, or if someone like Grinnell gets, and that actually complicates things for them, because I think a lot of folks just don't, they don't want to necessarily talk about Trump. I mean, we've seen this over the years with Faulkner, you know, in 2016 may clear he didn't vote for him has said since then that he did, but I'm not sure that, you know, that is a calculation that is going to work politically for him or any other candidate. Speaker 1: 08:28 And then now turning to the current office holder, governor Gavin Newsome was out there this week, proposing $600 payments for most Californians. He says because of a budget surplus, should his actions going forward, be viewed partially as responding to the pandemic, but also as a campaign strategy. Speaker 2: 08:43 I mean, of course everything's political, right? He's a politician. Um, you know, I just actually got off, uh, speaking to assembly speaker, Anthony Renden, uh, with my colleague Scott Shaffer and, and runs and said, look, we control the timing of the budget. It's not fair to say that this is all because of the recall. Um, you know, I think there's a little bit of truth to that, but certainly this was a big coup for Newsome to have a $76 billion budget surplus. I mean, that's just unheard of, and it is allowing him to do some things that may be politically expedient, but as you point out, I mean, obviously we are still responding and recovering from this pandemic. We know that the low wage workers that he's targeting were the ones disproportionally hurt and that, you know, high wage earners are the reason we have the surplus. So I think it's a little, both politics, timing and luck for Newsome. And, uh, you know, he's a politician, that's what they do. Well, Speaker 1: 09:34 We still have a long way to go, but we know this is a special election. There's no primary, the no general election. What's something in the short term that you'll be watching as this recall campaign plays out over the next few months. Speaker 2: 09:44 Certainly how the budget debate plays out in Sacramento. You know, all of these are Newsome's proposals. He's got to get the democratic led legislature to go along with them. And then to your point, who else jumps into this race? How are these candidates able to really kind of, if they are rise above the noise and get the attention of voters, um, and yeah, or are we going to have any more large circus animals appearing at news conferences? I don't know. We'll see, Speaker 1: 10:08 I've been speaking with a Marissa Lagos' political correspondent for KQD in San Francisco and Larissa. Thank you so much. Speaker 2: 10:14 It's my pleasure Speaker 1: 10:20 OBS are available in San Diego, but finding people to take them has been a challenge for one section of our local economy, restaurants from fast food chains to fine dining or having a hard time scaling up to meet the growing demand of our COVID reopening. Lori Weisberg covers local tourism and hospitality for the San Diego union Tribune and talked with industry insiders about the challenge of finding help when workers are wary about low pay and the lingering health risks of the pandemic. Laurie, welcome back to the round table. Thanks for having me. Let's start by laying out the current situation for restaurants in terms of how they can operate. We are in the less restrictive orange tier, but what does that exactly mean for eateries? Speaker 3: 10:55 So for eateries, that means that they can have indoors and outdoors. They no restrictions other some other than some social distancing, a 50% occupancy. And then as you, as you know, by, um, June 15th, according to governor Gavin Newsome, everything will open back up and this color-coded tiered system will go away. So not only for the orange here, but looking ahead to June and beyond is why there's such a demand for employees. Speaker 1: 11:22 And I know you talked with the co-founder of the Cohen restaurant group, which operates a lot of restaurants in San Diego County. What did he say about the jobs available and what steps are being taken to try and fill those? Speaker 3: 11:32 So he like every other restaurant or I talked to, I don't think I didn't talk to a single restaurant tour who said it hasn't been a challenge, but with the Cohn restaurant group with about 20 venues to fill, um, with jobs, um, it has been a challenge. So he like everybody else has been placing ads all over the place,, Craigslist, et cetera. But those ads enough to fill this position. So many are offering higher wages than they would have normally a year ago, especially for what's called the back of the house employees. Those who are the, the line cooks the dishwashers, although they say it's impossible to find a dishwasher. So they've been raised raising wages. Some are also offering bonuses for referrals of an existing employee can locate somebody who, who is hired and stays on for at least 90 days. They get a bonus. One interesting strategy. The Cohn restaurant group did is they haven't been able, they had not been able to open their Corvette diner. And when you work at Corvette diner, it's a lively place. The servers have to have a lot of personality, lots of birthday parties there. So they actually reached out to local theater groups. Cause obviously theater employees have been out of work actors and said, well, we're willing to train you, please come on. So they hired about five people with more like theater experience, but not restaurant serving experience or restaurant background. Speaker 1: 12:50 Yeah. And I know you talked about some of those increases, is there sort of a ballpark range for how much money is being offered or how much these these increases are and if it's enough to sort of lure people away and bring them back to the restaurant industry, Speaker 3: 13:01 Um, the, for the, again, for these cook positions, again, these back of the house positions that are non tipped employees, traditionally, maybe they're they're hired. So they're more like 17 to $20 an hour. Maybe they were, you know, maybe 16 to 18 a year ago. This is a very, you know, average. But, uh, so they're, they're in that range now. And then for servers, servers have always never really been paid more than the prevailing minimum wage because they make the bulk of their money in champs. What you're seeing as one way to induce more people to hire on for cook positions is they're doing more tip pooling where the back of the house folks get some tips too. So that that's, that's also been another strategy to try to get people to come back Speaker 1: 13:45 Expanded unemployment benefits have sort of become a political talking point. Recently we have even seen some States take action recently to end some of those benefits that this come up as a cause for concern locally among those restaurant operators. Speaker 3: 13:58 Yeah, it does. There's, there's a fair bit of complaining about that, but it's, it's, it's unwise to say that's the single biggest reason because I don't, I don't think it is. Um, but yes, uh, one thing is that you get a, right now there's an extra $300 a week supplement that you get that will phase out in September. So in some cases, people may feel it's easier to stay on unemployment and, and more financially advantageous to stay on unemployment. However, you know, you still have to show the state that you're looking for work. Also, there's a lot of other factors going on. We've had a pandemic where there's been on again off again, closures reopenings layoffs, come back, you can be hired back, laid off again, and some have gone into other positions. It is, as I pointed out in my story, something of a perfect storm, because everybody's hiring all at once. You've also got theme parks. You've got hotels, got casinos because this is wider reopening. Everybody needs service level employees. Speaker 1: 14:58 Yeah. You sort of just touched on it. Everybody there is hiring. We know that there's competition among local restaurants for people looking for these jobs. How are individual eateries trying to poach each other's staff? Speaker 3: 15:07 Oh, the worst example I found was talking to the owner of a couple Italian restaurants, one in a little Italy and one in bankers, bankers Hill, um, where literally one restaurant group, he claimed sent their employees into his restaurant and started asking, Hey, how much are you making? Oh yeah, well, we'll pay you more than that. Come over here. And he lost several employees that way, where they were, they literally, that's probably the worst offense I've heard of where they actually literally walked into the restaurant and tried to try to lure those employees away and they didn't give any notice. So, um, that's, that's the worst of it. Speaker 1: 15:45 And in our, our restaurant industry here is different than some other areas, right? We rely on a lot of local tourism. Does that impact any way restaurants sort of rebound here? You think, Speaker 3: 15:54 Oh, you're right. We do. We do, um, rely on local tourism. A lot of the downtown restaurants rely on conventions and meetings, which are still not here and yet, and yet they still have enough demand locally that they need need more employees. So that, that tells you, I mean, my gosh, if it was, as if we were going to start getting flooded with tourism and the near future, it's going to be even, there's going to be even more of a demand. So even with the local local craving to go out again and to eat and dine out and go to bars, that sort of food. Um, I think, uh, I think there's still a very heavy demand for those employees. And some of these places are diminishing their hours. Um, and the days they're open and sometimes not serving lunch simply because they don't have the staff to meet those kinds of hours. So they would like to even be open more, but they, some of them can't be because of the shortage. Speaker 1: 16:47 The tier system, as you mentioned, is likely to go away entirely next month, which would end restrictions on restaurants. You write about the current challenges in meeting the demand under limited operations. Is this issue likely to get worse? Speaker 3: 16:58 You don't have to. Yeah. Um, it's probably for a short time gonna get worse. I think what they are again, not to belabor the unemployment issue, but I think their hope is that as the unemployment insurance phases out in September, that's when it'll start to get better. So, so it, it raises the question. Is this going to be a tough summer or there's, is there still going to be this competition and rivalry for, for workers because unemployment will still be there. So they'll have to continue to raise, you know, continue to probably offer lucrative wages, but restaurant jurors have to be careful because you can't go back once you, if you start raising wages and then, you know, unemployment goes away, the pandemic is nearly over you can't go back and say, Oh, you know, it's all over. It got got to lower your wages. That's not going to work. So they have to be very smart about not raising wages Speaker 4: 17:50 So much that they can't afford it. Speaker 5: 17:52 And I've been speaking with Lori Weisberg, tourism and hospitality reporter for the San Diego union Tribune. Laurie, thank you so much. Speaker 4: 17:58 Thank you very much. Speaker 5: 18:09 That's enough about the dollars and cents of the restaurant industry. Now let's get into the food itself and the people who make it in one of San Diego's most diverse neighborhoods, KPBS reporter max Woodland Nadler is featuring a range of local immigrant owned restaurants and a new series that we're calling city Heights bites. He joins us this week on the round table to talk more about his new project, max, how's it going? Good. So San Diego is known as a great city for food, but tell us more about city Heights for those not familiar. What part of town are we talking about? Exactly. And what makes it such a unique neighborhood for dining? So city Heights is a kind of in the mid city area of San Diego. It's, um, actually a collection of different neighborhoods that fall within it that make up city Heights. Speaker 5: 18:49 There's a ton of different cultures there. Uh, it's long time been an immigrant community and specifically a long history of business ownership by immigrants. It's changing a little bit over the past couple of years, there's been, uh, some gentrification housing prices have been going up. So really the key to keeping the character of this neighborhood intact is to help sustain those businesses and, and keep housing affordable to the people that run them. And we know that a lot of restaurants in San Diego, especially those downtown and along the coast, get some big tourism bumps. What about these eateries? So they're not as heralded, but they're certainly on the, on the map for people who are familiar with San Diego. And I think that's kind of their, their profile is rising a bit more as people realize, you know, what an international city San Diego is, and especially how many refugees it has been taking for years and years and years. Speaker 5: 19:39 And one of your recent segments featured red seat Ethiopian located on university Avenue. Why did you want to feature this local restaurant? I wanted to do a shout out on Twitter of basically what do people want to see as part of this series? And I kept hearing on Twitter, a red see-through European red seat, the European. So I thought it'd be a great opportunity to start there. Um, and, and when I came in and I met the owner, it absolutely made sense. This is a place that seems immediately comfortable with people who maybe aren't familiar with Ethiopian food. I mean, it's food, you eat with your hands, which is certainly a change from other places. Um, and they do everything. They can. The owner similars Cobra does everything he can to make people feel comfortable. Uh, here's a clip from, uh, the story that I did about him. It was emergency loans from the County that kept his business afloat and the kindness of his customers who have often paid the restaurant far more than what they were being charged. Speaker 4: 20:33 If I close this round for COVID-19, I'm going to hurt myself, you know, because they love this place. They love it. And they become a family or they could calling me don't close, please be strong. I know you are strong. I say, okay, don't whatever. Now Kibera is feeling a lot more confident that he'll be able to stay in business. Yes. Speaker 5: 20:58 So it was that kind of energy, uh, that, that kind of radiated from that place, that this was really a community institution that, that made it a natural place to start. Speaker 1: 21:07 And I know you've done quite a bit of reporting over the last year on restaurants, just in that city Heights area. Many of them are immigrant owned or first-generation owned, as you mentioned, they are competitors, but also neighbors with some common experiences. What's the sense of community among these restaurants. Speaker 5: 21:21 They're in merchant associations with each other. They talk to each other, people have worked at other restaurants and then open their own families are intertwined. Uh, they have, you know, sometimes strong opinions about other restaurants, like you said, their competitors. Um, but they, they get that. What works for the entire neighborhood works for their restaurant as well. And what they want to see is, uh, small, independent businesses being able to compete and stay in business. What they don't want to see is kind of a homogenization, uh, muscling out independent business owners and families who have really worked to establish this neighborhood and, and make it what it is today. Okay. Speaker 1: 21:57 I know he's seen a lot of outdoor spaces repurposed during COVID 19, a lot of adaptation. And in some cases that adds to the community experience. Do you expect some of those elements in city Heights to stick around beyond the pandemic? Or what are you hearing from some of the owners you talk to? Yes, Speaker 5: 22:11 It's a mixed bag. I mean, some, uh, business owners I spoke with over last summer and then the spring, um, we're really not feeling, uh, having, having the outdoor experience. They felt like, you know, you're right on Elica Hoehn Boulevard in a lot of instances and people want to, you know, basically being a quieter, more relaxed setting when they're eating. So they'd rather move inside. Some business owners were really, really interested in just getting everybody back inside whenever that was possible. Others on the other hand, kind of got really into the idea of outdoor dining. I, I went to one restaurant that had started a night market, essentially, where they were doing, uh, grilling and, you know, having people, uh, take advantage of being able to drink outside or kind of on the sidewalk without much enforcement. And I think that was a really, uh, kind of beautiful outcome from the pandemic. It's tough to say there was any beautiful outcomes, but it really showed that you could use spaces in different ways. And restaurants were seeing that they could boost business by doing that. Speaker 1: 23:10 You're working on more segments for city Heights bites. What's the next restaurant we'll see. And how did you connect with them? Speaker 5: 23:15 Yeah, so basically, like I said, I did a shout out on Twitter. I, a lot of people reached out. I kind of just went from place to place, talked with the owners, obviously had a bite or two of their food and I kind of narrowed it down. Hopefully we'll be doing this for a few weeks. So a lot of places will get some shine, but obviously I'd like to do different types of food. So we've already done a, uh, Ethiopian place. We've done a Chinese food place and we're going to do a Vietnamese vegetarian place in city Heights for next week. Speaker 1: 23:43 And even though you can't see the food on the radio, it looks really good in your TV stories. I got to know, did you get a chance to try some of the food? And do you have any recommendations Speaker 5: 23:52 Listeners? Yeah. I mean, that's why I'm doing it now is so I could get some food and actually eat my way through city Heights. That's the best part of this beat? I have. One thing I would really recommend is the Tibbs at red sea Ethiopian. I saw them make it. It is as fresh as they say it is. They're literally pulling herbs from their garden out back care, recommended enough. It, it has made literally, you know, 30 seconds before it's placed in front of you Speaker 1: 24:17 Restaurant scene there for those who do not spend a lot of time in city Heights and maybe are thinking about doing that. What should San Diego know about this Speaker 5: 24:22 Community that it's vibrant, that unlike a lot of places in San Diego, there is a serious street scene. People are walking around. Um, it's definitely got a community feeling to it. Uh, it's worth just going from place to place, grabbing a, a Vietnamese iced coffee from one place and then a Chinese pastry from another, and going back and forth between alcohol and university and really visiting all the different places you'll come across, you know, uh, Buddhist temples. It's just a really interesting space. And I think, uh, it's definitely worth taking the time to cover it on foot and not just driving around. Speaker 1: 24:58 Speaking with KPBS reporter max Woodleigh Nadler, his ongoing series city Heights bites can be seen on KPBS evening edition and on the KPBS YouTube page. Max, thanks so much. Speaker 4: 25:08 Thank you. Speaker 1: 25:16 That wraps up this week's edition of the KPBS round table. I'd like to thank my guests. Merissa Lagos' from KQBD Laurie Weisberg from the San Diego union Tribune. And max will the nether from KPBS news. If you missed any part of our show, you can listen online anytime on the KPBS round table podcast. I'm Matt Hoffman. Thanks for listening and join us next week on the round table. Speaker 4: 25:58 [inaudible].

Gov. Gavin Newsom and one of his republican recall opponents make stops in San Diego this week, local restaurant operators say they're having a hard time filling open positions, and a culinary tour through City Heights.