Mike McQuary / Photo by Sam Hodgson

In just a little over a week, candidates can start gathering signatures to qualify a campaign to be one of the five trustees of the San Diego Unified School District.

Don’t trample over each other as you rush to get the petitions.

Two seats are up this year: Kevin Beiser’s in the northeast part of the district, and Mike McQuary’s along the coast and La Jolla.

Beiser’s opponent from 2014, Amy Redding, has decided not to run again. She told me her son was joining the military and she would prefer to spend the last few months with him rather than campaigning. She hoped to get the word out in time to encourage others to run.

Another candidate, Bret Caslavka, let us know he was interested in the race. We’ll talk to him if it gets real. Beiser didn’t return my call.

McQuary did, though. He said the district is heading in the right direction and he wanted to run again. He said he was particularly proud of the financial situation the district was in.

McQuary on the open teacher’s contract: “Pay raises for teachers need to happen. We’re losing our highly skilled professionals to other jobs.”

On how to pay for them: “We need to maintain district solvency or jeopardize our bond ratings.”

On a potential tax increase: “We’re always looking for more ways to generate revenue. The community wants us to solve a number of problems that are economic issues. We’re looking at all avenues where we can increase revenues that make sense to our taxpayers.”

On potential changes to how trustees are elected: I asked him about an idea proposed by the County Grand Jury and some members of the San Diego City Council that would change district elections. Right now, you would have to run against McQuary in his sub-district for the primary but then in the whole district for the runoff.

The change would leave the runoff in the neighborhoods the candidates are seeking to represent.

Across the county, civil rights lawyers are forcing City Councils and school districts to switch to district elections. It would make it easier to challenge McQuary. Running a campaign to reach almost the entire city of San Diego isn’t easy. But McQuary said a change to sub-district runoffs would have unintended consequences.

“If I’m going to be only responsible for my students in my sub-district area, I think we would be pitting district against district,” he said, laying out a scenario when the three trustees that represent the more northern areas “gang up” on the two more southern districts. “It’s important to ensure equity across the whole district.”

Pam O’Neil on a Changing County

Pam O’Neil and Supervisor Greg Cox / Photo Courtesy Greg Cox
Pam O’Neil and Supervisor Greg Cox / Photo Courtesy Greg Cox

Pam O’Neil, the longtime chief of staff to County Supervisor Greg Cox is leaving after 33 years at the county. She’s going to be replaced by Danny Melgoza, who will be the first Latino in a role like that in the county.

There are a lot of big questions about the county of San Diego and its priorities. The county is in charge of health and welfare and providing mental health services. But the region is struggling to handle thousands of homeless people struggling with mental health and addiction. The county has long lagged counterparts in delivering aid to people who qualify.

The race to replace Cox’s colleague, Ron Roberts, has become a referendum on what the county could do. But that’s only possible because of the shape it is in.

Why she matters: O’Neil has had a front-row seat to a remarkable transformation of the county. It was an embarrassment of an agency that flirted with bankruptcy in the 1990s. Now its reserves are so robust, the top hit on it is that it doesn’t spend enough of its money.

I talked to O’Neil to get some perspective.

What it was like when she started: “There were no performance standards. All maintenance was deferred. The elevators didn’t work. Roofs leaked. If you were a woman, who wore high heels, you were taking your life in your hands because the heels would get caught in holes in the carpet.”

On the two main chief administrative officers, the CEOs of the county, since then: “Larry Prior blew all of the mediocrity out of there and then Walt Ekard went in and built a new foundation.”

And now: “There’s no deferred maintenance. Now, everyone gets a shiny new building that’s environmentally sound. When I started, our crime lab looked like a 7th-grade science lab. Now they have two, with Pentagon-grade technology.”

Dumanis Pension’s Back in the News

Former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis speaks at a candidate forum for San Diego County Supervisor. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

In 2011, as then-District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis ran for mayor in support of a plan to eliminate pensions for new city employees, including lawyers like her, we tried to calculate what her pension would be.

Now, her pension is back in the news after the U-T revealed that she was fighting to keep receiving her pension checks even if she wins a seat as a county supervisor. Recent state laws had tried to prevent public employees from collecting salaries while collecting public pensions.

She insists that she won’t take a salary if she wins. She was just making sure her pension would come.

But this reminded me of a similar pledge. In 2005, Jerry Sanders was also collecting a pension when he ran for mayor. He pledged not to take the mayoral salary.

But then he changed his mind.

County Money Race

Bonnie Dumanis and Nathan Fletcher are both running for a seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Be savvy: John Kern, a longtime San Diego political consultant, once told me that you don’t need the most money to win a race but you have to have enough.

The U-T had a good summary this week of the money race in Dumanis’ campaign. Dumanis and Nathan Fletcher appear on track to have enough money to compete. Dumanis raised more but they both have about the same amount available to spend.

Democrat Omar Passons has raised a significant amount of money but has spent all of it and a bit more. Ken Malbrough, Lori Saldaña and Marcia Nordstrom raised insignificant amounts.

Omar Passons / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Going direct: Passons may not be rolling in campaign cash but he’s being creative. He launched his own podcast. And the episodes are a lot shorter than ours! I haven’t seen any local candidates try anything like it.

Chamber Loaded

Jerry Sanders, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Speaking of Sanders, he now runs the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. A source passed along an internal document with the Chamber’s political goals for the year.

Raise minimum of $1 million for 2018 election cycle.

Identify and recruit business-friendly candidates for San Diego City Council Districts 5 and 7.

Expand business PAC coalition to include more business organizations.

Create relationships with Democratic candidates running in districts in which the Chamber does not typically endorse.

Why it matters: There’s nothing particularly surprising about the list. It does reveal a few things. One, we still don’t know who the right-of-center District 5 City Council pick will be. The district is deeply Republican and rarely contested. Councilman Mark Kersey was re-elected in 2016 but he’s actively campaigning to replace state Sen. Joel Anderson this year.

Watch for Republicans to settle quickly on a chosen successor.

District 7, which includes Tierrasanta and San Carlos, could be a swing district. Republican Scott Sherman has two more years but a Republican will have no easy task fending off a strong Democrat in 2020.

Also, considering the Chamber used to be reluctant to get too involved in political campaigns, $1 million is no small amount. It could be more, from what I’m hearing.

The spin: I asked the Chamber for comment on what its priorities were for the $1 million.

“The Chamber is a bipartisan organization that strives to make San Diego the most business-friendly region in the state. Our priorities for 2018 are to broaden our support for the candidates and initiatives that promote economic development in our region,” said Alison Philips, the Chamber’s spokeswoman, in a statement.

Zapf: Vacation Rentals May Go to the Ballot

San Diego City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf at the Voice of San Diego podcast studio. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

We had San Diego City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf on the podcast this week. She talked about a lot of things but one in particular stands out in the politics world: She said the decision about what to do with short-term vacation rentals within city limits should maybe go to the ballot.

“It seems to be a stalemate,” Zapf said.

Cate was right? When the City Council was unable to hash out an agreement a couple months ago, Councilman Chris Cate said “today’s inaction has proved that as a City Council, we cannot govern.”

Recently, also on the podcast, Mayor Kevin Faulconer said that wasn’t true. But if it goes to the ballot, it will be true.

Chargers: Hey San Diego! How Are You? You Look Great!

Super Bowl week is not just about the big game and the players. It serves as the sort of open congress of the NFL world.

Radio stations and newspapers still send so many people to cover the Super Bowl because they can talk to everyone in football for a week.

For a long time now, the NFL has been more than the game. It’s been the game and the drama around it. This is the week for all that drama. There are press conferences. There was the NFL Women’s Summit. People get together and hand out awards for community service. There are press conferences.

This was the week in 2003, remember, when then NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue told reporters that San Diego would not host a Super Bowl again until we built the NFL a new stadium. It was the beginning of the end of the San Diego Chargers.

But this week, the Chargers princelings, A.G. Spanos and John Spanos, made their way through the row of reporters to seek out San Diego crews. They had a message, they wanted to rebuild a connection with San Diego.


“I think that’s a great question. I think we’re still working through that,” A.G. Spanos told XTRA 1360.

Local scribe Ryan Phillips was having none of it. He wrote that the Spanos bros would only talk if reporters agreed not ask about the past.

“San Diego abandoned the Bolts, and they had to rely on opposing fans to fill their diminutive soccer stadium,” he wrote. “Now they need San Diego to re-engage or they will continue to be a huge failure in Los Angeles.”

The Spanos brothers said business was going great in Los Angeles. Just going really great, thanks.

Got a tip or complaint (or praise) for the politics report? Contact me at scott@voiceofsandiego.org or Andrew Keatts at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org.

Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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