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We’ve decided to include all our efforts to understand the 2016 election under the banner of San Diego Decides. As part of that, I’ll be writing a biweekly look at what’s happening in the races facing San Diego voters in 2016. It’ll include new reporting, follow-ups on bigger stories and a roundup of other coverage of local races. To get the complete picture of the local election landscape, make sure you also check out the San Diego Decides podcast, hosted by Sara Libby and Ry Rivard. — Andrew Keatts

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A piece of political mail going around conveys some bad information.

The difference here, though, is that the mailer in question purports to be straightforward voter education – not a piece of advocacy for or against any measure. The mistakes on the mailer, though, seem to tilt the message.

The Independent Voter Project sent the piece to San Diego voters to inform them on five citywide measures: Measure C, the Chargers’ downtown stadium initiative; Measure D, which would raise hotel taxes and potentially build a downtown convention center that could double as a stadium; Measures K and L, which reform how the city holds elections; and Measure N, which would impose a citywide sales tax on recreational marijuana.

Unlike a lot of the organizations that send political mail this time of year, the Independent Voter Project is a nonprofit organization that existed before the election and will exist after it.

But its informational piece includes some bad info.

For one, it lists the Lincoln Club of San Diego County, a nonpartisan but ideologically conservative group, as a formal opponent of Measure C. The Lincoln Club has not taken a formal position on Measure C.

Similarly, the mailer says there is no formal opposition to Measure K. There is. “Citizens for Fair & Honest Elections – No on Prop K” is registered to oppose the measure and raised $200,000 as part of that effort. In fact, its main backer is none other than the Lincoln Club, which donated $100,000 to the cause.

Both of these errors have since been corrected on IVP’s website. The mailer, however, has already been delivered and seen by voters. That can’t be corrected.

The mistake about the Lincoln Club was corrected after the group’s executive director, Brian Pepin, sent IVP a cease-and-desist letter a week ago.

But Pepin noted that the mistake didn’t seem innocent.

That’s partially because IVP didn’t just list the Lincoln Club as opponents of Measure C. It also listed two Republican city councilmen as opponents, Scott Sherman and Chris Cate. Among supporters, it included a bipartisan and high-profile group: Mayor Kevin Faulconer, former Mayor Jerry Sanders and Rep. Scott Peters.

Opponents of the measure do straddle the aisle, though. The mailer could have just as easily listed Democrats like City Councilman David Alvarez, or Councilman-elect Chris Ward, who will soon represent the area where the stadium is proposed, as opponents of Measure C.

“That gets to the heart of the issue, which is that it doesn’t seem like a nonpartisan voter guide,” Pepin said. “It feels like advocacy. No one was more surprised than me to see that mailer and see that my group opposes Measure C.”

The Independent Voter Project is a nonprofit, 501(c)4 organization. The mailer was also published by another nonprofit group, Foundation for Independent Voter Education. That group, FIVE, also publishes the website Independent Voter Network. All three organizations are cited on the mailer.

Chad Peace, managing editor of IVN, said the mistakes were corrected as soon as they were brought to his attention, but added that even if the mailer isn’t purely information, that wouldn’t matter so much.

“Nothing precludes IVP from being an advocate,” he said. “We could endorse the measures if we had wanted to. We don’t need to test the bounds of what’s legally OK. I can’t say why (the people who designed the mailer) chose the supporters they did, but we should be clear that IVP is a 501(c)4 that could do advocacy, and it’s a news site that could endorse, and they have decided not to.”

501(c)3 organizations are restricted from intervening in political campaigns, but they’re allowed to conduct nonpartisan voter education. 501(c)4s don’t have that restriction.

Peace is also president of IVC Media LLC, a for-profit company that does multimedia communications for clients, including political campaigns.

This cycle, IVC Media has been paid $20,000 by the campaign supporting Measure D for web-related communication. It’s received another $55,787 to support Measures K and L – the ones the IVN mailer mistakenly said didn’t have any opposition.

The City Attorney Candidates on Pension Reform

Employee pensions have loomed large over city politics for the last decade.

The issue hasn’t come up much this cycle, but could become relevant again as courts test the legality of Prop. B, the pension reform measure city voters passed in 2012.

A state body, the Public Employment Relations Board, said late last year the city illegally put the measure on the ballot by not first negotiating with the city’s labor unions. The city is appealing the ruling.

Both city attorney candidates – Deputy City Attorney Mara Elliott, a Democrat, and Deputy District Attorney Robert Hickey, a Republican – have pledged to continue to defend pension reform if elected. The San Diego Union-Tribune’s editorial board praised that pledge in its endorsement of Elliott.

While both candidates have pledged to defend the measure, that decision could of course change. If the city loses in appeals court, for instance, the next city attorney could determine that the effort is a losing cause and the legal costs of continuing to fight are no longer justified – especially if the City Council is at that point pushing to settle the case.

In any case, both candidates have unequivocally said they will continue to defend Prop. B.

Yet both candidates come to the public employee pension issue with interesting histories.

Both, for instance, are themselves members of public employee unions.

Elliott is a member of the union for city attorneys, which endorsed her, as did the city’s white-collar union, the Municipal Employees Association.

In a lengthy interview with Scott Lewis last year, she said she believed public employees deserve defined pensions, which are no longer given to new workers under Prop. B.

Hickey, meanwhile, was a longtime president of the union for deputy district attorneys. He was also included in a lawsuit against San Diego County alleging that county employees who stopped working for the county before 2002 but returned to work for the county later are entitled to the higher pension benefits that the County Board of Supervisors voted to give employees in 2002.

The issue came up in Hickey’s own extended interview with Lewis last fall. In it, he defended the lawsuit, saying the employees who had left and came back, like him, deserved the higher benefits.

• Hickey asserted himself this week in the showdown over short-term rentals that’s coming before the City Council Tuesday.

Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, who supports a measure that would be a de facto ban on short-term rentals like Airbnb in single-family neighborhoods, recorded a robocall encouraging voters to support Hickey because of his support for her Airbnb policy.

“Hickey is the only candidate for city attorney who lives in a coastal community and has been personally impacted by this issue,” Zapf said in the robocall. Hickey lives in Pacific Beach.

The call concludes with a message that it’s been paid for by Hickey’s campaign.

This Week in Campaign Shenanigans

• You’ll see a lot of last-minute complaints this week about campaign shenanigans – dishonest mailers, deceptive robocalls, stolen yard signs, etc. It’s as much a part of the campaign process at this point as a debate, or pundits predicting that the outcome will all come down to turnout (better still, invocations that “The only poll that matters is on Election Day.”)

In any case, late Friday I reported on one of those shenanigans. It appears a political action committee for the San Diego County Taxpayers Association violated city election law when it failed to disclose with the city that it was funding radio ads against Measure D.

The treasurer for the PAC said it didn’t break any rules because it is a county committee that files its spending with the county. But a former city ethics chairman said that doesn’t matter: If you spend money against a city measure, you need to disclose that funding to the city.

The PAC must have changed its mind, though. Monday morning, the city received a filing disclosing the $60,000 the PAC spent on the radio ads.

• Likewise, the campaign behind Measure B, a plan to build a housing sprawl project in Valley Center, apologized last week to the mayor of La Mesa, Mark Arapostathis, after sending out a mailer with his photo saying he had endorsed the measure. He hadn’t. He told the U-T he had intentionally avoided the issue because he didn’t want to weigh in on something that doesn’t affect his city.

Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas has no such issue. As I tweeted this weekend, it’s hard not to notice that the city of Chula Vista isn’t even close to fitting on the map of San Diego County used to show the location of the project. Nonetheless, Salas appears right next to the map.

• The race between two Democrats to represent District 9 on the City Council could shift the way the Council does business, according to a new story by David Garrick. Community activist Georgette Gomez said she’ll disrupt a City Hall that isn’t responsive to community wishes; Ricardo Flores, chief of staff to the district’s current councilwoman, said he knows how City Hall operates and can negotiate solutions that help people.

Our Ry Rivard also fact checked a mailer that went out to D9 voters in recent weeks that claimed Gomez is being investigated for failing to disclose her financial interests. That’s misleading, Rivard concluded.

Rivard also took a deep dive into how the candidates plan to tackle a crucial issue in that district: housing. Gomez said she’d more aggressively pursue state cap-and-trade dollars to build more homes reserved for low-income residents. Flores said he plans to ask voters to approve a hotel-tax increase to be spent on low-income housing, infrastructure improvements and police pay.

• Also last week, I released an investigation into the performance of the last voter-approved sales tax put forward by the San Diego Association of Governments. The 2004 TransNet extension is bringing in far less revenue than voters were promised, throwing into question whether the agency will be able to make good on all the spending promises it made to voters. SANDAG said it is confident it will still finish all the projects it promised. If it’s wrong, the new money voters are being asked to approve under Measure A on next week’s ballot could go to backfill those previous commitments.

Yet there’s reason to believe the revenue forecast for Measure A is overly ambitious, too. To bring in the $18 billion SANDAG expects, San Diego residents would need to spend more money at local retailers than they ever have.

• Encinitas is getting ready to decide on an especially controversial item, and unsurprisingly that too has birthed a misleading campaign mailer.

Every city in the state is required to adopt a plan showing how it’s going to accommodate a growing population. But Encinitas has its own law that says any plan to increase housing density needs to go before voters.

That’s why voters are being given an opportunity to weigh in on Measure T, the plan the city is required to enact under state law.

A mailer against Measure T said it would add up to 4,000 homes in the coastal city. Ruarri Serpa fact checked that claim and determined it was misleading.

Measure T is likely to lead to new homes being built. But for a number of reasons, it’s extremely unlikely it would be as high as 4,000.

• Chula Vista voters are facing a sales tax increase next week that’s ostensibly meant to help the city’s infrastructure woes, although there’s no assurance that’s where the new money will actually go.

City officials had a choice, Maya Srikrishnan repots: legally bind the money to infrastructure and hope to get two-thirds voter approval, or keep things vague so the measure only requires a simple majority.

They chose the latter. Opponents have latched onto the fact that there’s no guarantee where the money will go. Salas – the primary advocate for the measure – said the concerns are unfounded and she’s sorry she can’t convince everyone that the city will do what it says.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled Mark Arapostathis.

Andrew Keatts

I'm Andrew Keatts, a managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org...

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