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San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond left the SANDAG board room rather than participate in the new weighted vote created by AB 805. / Photo by Andrew Keatts

Now they’re ready to play hardball.

The SANDAG board voted Friday to schedule a re-vote on its previous decision to lobby the state for a lower number of homes it would be expected to build between 2021 and 2029.

It was an unusually dramatic morning — regional planning agency meetings usually … aren’t.

Officials representing 74 percent of the county’s population decided to take advantage of newfound authority awarded to them by last year’s AB 805. It lets officials invoke a vote weighted by population — rather than just a tally vote of all the cities — and overrule a decision if they represent over 50 percent of the county’s population.

This was the first time the board turned to the new power. For some reason, they didn’t use it when the housing decision was first made. Somewhere in the last two weeks, they decided to remind the rest of the county that the rules have changed.

And it really pissed off the other cities on the board.

  • San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond — who’s running for the open county supervisor seat in the northern, inland district — argued with SANDAG’s legal counsel about whether the attempt to schedule a re-vote followed Robert’s Rules of Order. He lost. But when San Diego Councilwoman Myrtle Cole called for a weighted vote, Desmond had seen enough. He stormed out of the board room, loudly declaring that he wouldn’t vote at all. “I absolutely think this is just a detrimental way for this body, to just take another vote, until you get the outcome you want,” he said.
  • El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, Escondido Mayor Sam Abed and National City Mayor Ron Morrison also spoke against the process.

But San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer did something he rarely does: He attended the meeting. Once there, he spoke in favor of the decision to re-vote and stand by the higher housing number.

“It’s never easy, but we have to support more housing,” he said.

Why it matters: The housing number used to be irrelevant, but not anymore. That state requirement has been a toothless mandate for years. It has greater stakes now. A law passed last year made it so governments that are behind on meeting their targets could quickly and easily approve housing projects that meet certain requirements, without going through a lengthy outreach process where a City Council could reject it. Another bill making its way through the Legislature right now would similarly make it easier to build homes in places that haven’t met the state expectation.

How Pepsi and Coca-Cola Could Kill the Chula Vista Tax Hike (and the Convention Center)

Soda companies are pouring millions of dollars into the Taxpayer Protection Act of 2018, a ballot measure aimed for the November vote that would impose a requirement of two-thirds votes for all tax increases.

The measure is being coordinated by the California Business Roundtable, which already submitted the signatures.

There’s one key part of it: It would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018. Any tax measure passed this year would have to have gotten a two-thirds vote or it’s gone.

That’s particularly important for Measure A in Chula Vista. As a general tax — the city is not formally committed to spend the money on any specific need — the measure only needs a simple majority.

Can it do that retroactively? Yes.

“There is a history of ballot measures in California including a retroactive application provision,” said Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, in a statement to Voice of San Diego.

Attorney Michael G. Colantuono agreed. He and Lapsley pointed to Propositions 62, 218 and 26, which all had retroactive elements. Lapsley also highlighted the tax increases Gov. Jerry Brown put to a vote. They were retroactive on incomes as well.

Why it’s happening: It is backlash from a 2014 measure in the city of Berkeley that established a tax on soda. Since then, other cities and the Legislature have flirted with similar taxes.

The American Beverage Association has put $5.95 million into the effort. More than $2.15 million came from PepsiCo alone.

Other funders include Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper/Snapple, Red Bull and Niagara Bottling.

Convention Center push now even harder: This could also ruin the plans of the big coalition of labor, hotel owners and the mayor hoping to increase the city of San Diego’s hotel-room tax. They are going for a two-thirds vote on the November ballot.

But they’re running it as a citizens initiative. There’s an argument that citizens initiatives only need 50 percent plus one vote after a shocking ruling from the Supreme Court last year.

They’re making about a $1 million bet on that, in fact. The City Council could put the measure on the ballot for not much money. But hotel owners and labor unions are going to spend nearly $1 million (or more?) to gather signatures instead just in case it only gets a majority of the vote and not two-thirds.

But now the bet is also that this PepsiCo initiative doesn’t pass.

Builders and Urbanists Squabble Over Ballot Box Zoning Initiative

Lilac Hills Ranch is one of many general plan amendments that would be effected by an initiative requiring all such projects to go to a countywide vote. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

The Building Industry Association really doesn’t like an initiative that’s gathering signatures that, if approved by voters in November, would make all housing projects that aren’t permitted by the county’s existing general plan for future growth go to a popular vote.

Earlier this month, the private planning and urbanism advocacy group Citizens Coordinate for Century 3 endorsed the measure.

That earned the group an angry email from Borre Winckel, president and CEO of the BIA.

  • He took issue with the ballot’s title — Safeguard Our San Diego Countryside — arguing that the countryside is already plenty safeguarded.

“What will actually be safeguarded, is the life style of suburban boomers who want to keep ‘those other people’ out of the neighborhood,” he wrote. “Too few people have the courage to admit it. Is endorsing a classic slow-growth initiative during a time of extraordinary high-housing need, of deep affordable housing cost misery and record homelessness a progressive move? As a native-Dutch liberal this has me confused.”

Winckel wrote that the measure would incentivize large ranchette homes throughout the semi-rural areas of the county and make it harder to cluster single-family homes in particular areas that make it easier to conserve other areas.

Kathleen Ferrier, C-3’s board president, responded at length.

  • She said the group supports the measure because it wants to protect the county’s general plan and because the region’s housing needs should be met in already developed areas that have infrastructure and public services, and not be sprawling into new areas.

There are a handful of projects that require general plan amendments nearing approval. Six projects that could be approved this year alone constitute over 8,000 homes.

“We share some of your concerns that this initiative could open up the door to NIMBY’s slowing developments even in prioritized areas or opposing comprehensive plan updates, but we see this risk as still being a better alternative to ramrodding so many amendments in so short a period of time,” Ferrier wrote. “The initiative is not perfect, and C-3 generally does not support ballot box planning on principle. But the alarming volume and quick pace of currently proposed amendments to the General Plan have led to this response.”

Winckel also challenged an oft-repeated data point in this debate. He said it was not true that there are between 52,000 and 62,000 homes already approved and unbuilt in the county’s existing general plan. “No data exists to support this number,” he wrote.

Well, there’s at least some data that supports the number.

SANDAG asks every jurisdiction in the county how many homes it has made room for in their general plans. Every jurisdiction provides that number to SANDAG.

Earlier this month, SANDAG produced those numbers for its regional planning committee. The county told SANDAG its general plan the capacity for 67,800 homes in the unincorporated area.

CA 49 Dems Are Still Deeply Divided — and Spending Like Crazy

Ellen Montanari became an activist after Donald Trump was elected. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Ellen Montenari and a band of protesters held court outside Rep. Darrell Issa’s office once a week for more than a year until he decided to retire. Finally, they’ve decided to endorse in the race to replace him.

Montenari and her group are endorsing attorney Mike Levin in the California 49th Congressional District race. They fear that two Republicans will get through the June 5 primary and embarrass Democrats.

She said she changed her mind on staying neutral last week after considering other endorsements that Levin had received and recent polling.

“Who knew, two weeks out, it was still anyone’s game?” she said.

What do the data show? About one in five voters are still undecided, according to two independent polls making the rounds. Figures compiled from the last reporting period by the California Target Book show Democrats are outspending Republicans about 7-to-1.

Much of that is thanks to nonprofit executive Sara Jacobs and businessman Paul Kerr, who are largely self-funded.

Doug Applegate and Sara Jacobs / Photo by Scott Lewis

Kerr, in fact, has dropped $2.4 million, and he’s polling in eighth place. At the same time, Brian Maryott, a San Juan Capistrano city councilman who’s raised nothing, is polling in seventh.

— Jesse Marx

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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

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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