sdsu west initiative
A signature gatherer outside Petco Park tries to get support for the SDSU West initiative. / Photo by Kinsee Morlan

The supporters of SDSU West, one of two proposals to redevelop the former Chargers Stadium land that will go before voters this fall, are being careful how they talked about the measure.

Their proposal is intended to make way for an expansion of SDSU and to build a new football stadium. But it’s technically a private proposal put forward by a private group — Friends of SDSU. The university itself has to steer clear of politically supporting the initiative.

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In her legal analysis of the project, City Attorney Mara Elliott clarified that it doesn’t obligate SDSU to buy the land at all. And even if it does, she said, the group is under no obligation to follow the initiative’s proposed development plan.

In a memo sent to Elliott on Thursday, Councilman Scott Sherman wondered whether they’d really followed the letter of the law. He found a section of the state education code that says private parties can’t use the university’s name, or abbreviations of it, as part of political activities. The official ballot title for the initiative is “SDSU West.”

We got a look at the memo on Friday and talked to Friends of SDSU about the concerns it raises. They aren’t worried, saying their lawyers vetted the proposal and that the state’s education code doesn’t apply here.

Sherman has asked Elliott to respond to his questions. We’ll have to wait to see if he’s found something that could really hurt the initiative.

San Diego’s Influence in the Senate

Toni Atkins made history as the first woman and first openly gay senator to lead California’s upper house — a body of representatives that has been in existence for more than 150 years.

During her swearing-in ceremony, as Voice contributor Marisa Agha writes in this week’s Sacramento Report, Atkins spoke of her humble beginnings and the importance of economic opportunity and tolerance. But she also stressed — in the wake of the #MeToo movement and the recent resignations of three state lawmakers accused of inappropriate behavior — the need to change Sacramento’s culture.

Since Watergate, every leader who’s hoped to evade responsibility — and potentially protect themselves against the incoming regime — has asked that the public “move forward, not backwards.” Atkins suggested it’s possible to do both.

“To some extent, we bear the burden of past sins too often swept under the rug,” she said. “We can’t change the past. But we can and should be judged on how we shape the future.”

The California Senate is now lead by a Democrat and a Republican with San Diego ties. Senate Republican Leader Patricia Bates’ district includes Oceanside, Carlsbad, Vista and Encinitas.

“On issues where they agree, it’s a powerful duo,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a professor of public policy communication. That could mean infrastructure and higher-education funding.

• Agha also compiled a couple interesting perspectives on outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown. The 79-year-old is termed out. The New Yorker considers his idiosyncratic but strategic ways. After 40 years in public life, California Sunday magazine writes, Brown is “as combative and contradictory as ever — and still trying to save the world from itself.”

Arts Commissioners Question Program

What good is public art if hardly anyone ever sees it?

We’ve asked that question for years and now San Diego arts commissioners are, too. At a meeting Friday, they voted 7-4 against a proposed sculpture at the new Chollas Water Operations facility in Oak Park.

The city requires that 2 percent of public projects go to artwork, but some of those projects are difficult, or impossible, to access.

“Roughly a dozen of the city-owned artworks are located at water plants or pump stations,” Morlan reported. “Yet ever since Sept. 11, the public can’t get into most of those facilities, or not very easily.”

Getting around that policy is tricky, and it could, according to the city attorney, set the stage for a lawsuit.

The District Attorney Takes Our Questions

Last summer, San Diego City Councilman Chris Cate sent one of his donors a confidential memo related to the SoccerCity proposal to redevelop the stadium site in Mission Valley. Elliott declared that Cate had broken the law, and quickly an investigation into the matter was passed around, in the words of KPBS reporter Andrew Bowen, “like a political hot potato.”

The city attorney punted to District Attorney Summer Stephen, who referred it to the state attorney general.

On this week’s Voice of San Diego podcast, Stephen offered a longer explanation for her recusal. Though she felt her office could have handled the investigation fairly, she wanted to avoid even the perception of a conflict, she said. One the problems: her campaign treasurer, April Boling, is one of the signatorees of the SoccerCity proposal. Boling, however, is a campaign treasurer for many Republican candidates in town, regularly backs ballot measures and is the chair of the San Diego Airport Authority. Does this mean Stephan can’t prosecute any case that might involve Boling?

Stephen talked on a wide range of topics, including immigration enforcement, marijuana and President Donald Trump.

Also on the podcast, hosts Scott Lewis and Andrew Keatts considered San Diego’s hands-off approach to dockless bikes. And a quote in last week’s Politics Report, delivered by Democrat Josh Butner, who’s seeking Duncan Hunter’s congressional seat, got picked up by the Union-Tribune and amplified into a bigger story.

Democrats Differ on Pelosi

In the North County Report this week, I took a closer look at the Democratic candidates competing for Rep. Darrell Issa’s seat. They agree on a lot of things — immigration reform, campaign finance, renewable energy — so I highlighted a couple areas of possible disagreement.

One of those areas is House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Mike Levin, an environmental attorney, said he’s a big fan.

So this Doug Applegate quote in a Virginia newspaper Friday caught my eye. When asked about Pelosi at a California forum several weeks ago, he reportedly said, “We can do better. We need to move in a different direction.”

Applegate is also an attorney, and he barely lost to Issa in 2016. The other leading Democrats in the 49th Congressional District race are Sara Jacobs, who worked in the State Department and ran an education nonprofit, and businessman Paul Kerr.

Call Boxes Continue to Disappear

In 2012, the state legislature abolished the San Diego Service Authority for Freeway Emergencies, or SD SAFE, an obscure agency in charge of roadside call boxes. Although cellphones were making those boxes unnecessary, the agency had amassed a $13 million reserve — 15 times its annual operating budget.

A taxpayer group, according to CityBeat, gave the agency a “golden fleece” award for government waste. The money was being spent on things outside its original scope and its manager pay had greatly increased.

Six years later, SD SAFE is gone — the program was transferred to the San Diego Association of Governments — but the $1 vehicle tax that funded it remains.

Union-Tribune columnist Michael Smolens noted Friday that the number of call boxes has reduced from 1,259 to 379. “Officials say the remaining ones will remain in rural areas where cellphone reception is spotty or non-existent,” he wrote.

In Other News

• Students in San Diego, Escondido and Encinitas are planning to rally Saturday as part of the national “March For Our Lives,” a youth-led push for greater gun-control. (KPBS)

• Activists in Barrio Logan say San Diego’s attempt to alleviate trucks from residential streets has not worked. (La Prensa)

• After an attempted takeover by a Singapore-based company, the Qualcomm board was re-elected by its shareholders. (Union-Tribune)

• More than 70 students at the NewSchool of Architecture and Design spent 20 weeks drawing up new buildings for National City and the Union-Tribune showcased some of the results.

• Assemblyman Todd Gloria is pushing a bill that could limit the military-grade weapons that end up in the hands of local police. (Times of San Diego)

• Michael Turko, KUSI’s consumer watchdog known for declaring, “It ain’t right,” is retiring. On Twitter, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer wished him well. We also named Turko our “Hero of the Week” on this week’s podcast.

Someone in a San Diego subreddit posted a photo of a dockless bike partly covered in bees.

Top Stories

These were the most popular Voice of San Diego stories for the week.

1. Dockless Bikes Encroach on San Diego’s Enforcement Against Homeless Residents

Homeless advocates are raising concerns as the new dockless bikes on sidewalks go ignored but homeless San Diegans get cited. (Lisa Halverstadt)

2. Politics Report: The Dems Going After Hunter

We talk with the Democrats running to replace Duncan Hunter, Jr., in the 50th Congressional District. They represent very different sides of the Democratic Party. Also, why nobody challenged two San Diego school board members. (Andrew Keatts and Scott Lewis)

3. San Diego Hopes a Building Can Help Fix a Broken Homelessness System

Homeless San Diegans have long struggled to get the help they need. The city has bought a building focused on navigating the services system — but its success will also rely on the success of that system. (Lisa Halverstadt)

4. Opinion: Neighborhoods East of Downtown Are Disproportionately Hosting the Homeless

San Diego has failed to decentralize homeless services as promised and failed to include communities in the decision-making process. The City Council should vote against a storage facility in Sherman Heights. (Brittany Kaszas)

5. San Diego’s Water Authority Has Reignited a Century-Old Water Dispute with Local Tribes

After decades of negotiations, five North County tribes began to get their water back last year. Now, they’re fighting to keep money they thought was theirs. (Ry Rivard)

Jesse Marx is a former Voice of San Diego associate editor.

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