Michael Vu is registrar of voters for San Diego County. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

San Diego County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu has determined there were insufficient signatures to put a measure on the November ballot that sought to force county elections to go to November runoffs no matter how well a candidate does in a primary election.

And it looks like a rather simple legislative mistake is to blame.

What happened: Last year, Assemblyman Todd Gloria passed a bill that basically allowed an initiative like this to happen.

Gloria’s bill had said that such a petition to change the county law would need to be signed by “10 percent of the qualified electors in the county.” That is, 10 percent of all voters, or about 166,000 people. That’s a lot of people! State law normally requires that initiatives collect signatures from 10 percent of voters who voted in the previous election.

The petition had only gathered 103,000 signatures. Supporters assumed they only needed to hit a 67,000-signature threshold.

What’s next: Now Gloria is scrambling to fix the bill retroactively. “We wanted to make sure there’s no false impressions about legislative intent to use the already existing process,” said Nick Serrano, Gloria’s communications director.

He means, basically: We wanted to do it this way, obviously, but if we have to spell it out for you then, OK sure.

The Legislature could vote as soon as Monday on the bill, and then it would be up to the governor to sign.

But it may be too late: Here’s Vu’s memo. He is not going to wait for Gloria’s bill to get through.

SEIU officials were not happy.

“It is the practice of Michael Vu to use the full 30-day review process when he is verifying signatures for initiatives. What is happening here is this appears to be a political move under pressure of the Board of Supervisors. We’re very concerned that the goal is to delay the timeline to block the initiative from appearing on the November ballot,” said David Lagstein, political director of SEIU.

On the one hand: Vu is reading the law by its word. And his reading seems to be legitimate enough to warrant a change of the law that has to go through the Legislature.

On the other hand: It is a remarkable setback to SEIU’s and Democrats’ ongoing effort to gain a greater voice over policy at the county. They want to ensure races move to required runoffs in November because more people vote (and more Democrats vote) then. Were this change in place by the 2020 elections, for instance, it would make it much easier for a Democrat to unseat County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar. And her seat is considered one that could go either way electorally.

There’s an obvious wrestling match for influence at the county going on. It’s a pretty serious claim to allege that the registrar is trying to help one side with an over-energetic compliance with the law.


Interlude: Thank you to Ry Rivard for that scoop. He heard about it and made many of these calls. Andrew Keatts is on vacation. It’s good for his brain. So this week, it is just me. I hear things throughout the week and then try to cram all my reporting about them into two hours of work on a Friday. It’s fun.


Labor Council Leader Will Stick Around

Keith Maddox / Photo courtesy of the San Diego Imperial-Counties Labor Council

Last year, the national AFL-CIO took over its local affiliate, the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council. It sent one of its employees, Keith Maddox, in to run it as a trustee.

Now, Maddox has agreed to stick around. He’s developed a reputation of working well with both his union counterparts and the business community. He’s gotten some credit for pulling together the coalition pushing the measure to expand the Convention Center and fund homeless services with an increase to the hotel room tax in the city of San Diego.

“It’s been great to get in a room and work out a deal with him, which we did. I think Keith has made a difference,” said Jaymie Bradford, the COO of the Chamber of Commerce.

I asked him a few questions.

Would you agree you’ve brought some change to leadership of the local labor movement that makes it easier to collaborate with business groups?

“I think so. But it’s also come about because of the power and strength of our labor movement. We want to be collaborative, because some of the issues we face here in the city are way bigger than what we can solve as a labor movement.”

Do you think that the labor movement has gotten distracted at all with social justice causes?

“No, they’re inseparable. Labor and civil rights are inseparable, and they can achieve great things together,” he said.

What’s next: Maddox retired from his position with the AFL-CIO and is permanently on with the Labor Council. He’s still considered a trustee, though. And he likely won’t be taking the same role of “secretary treasurer” as previous leaders had. They’re going through a major change of the constitution of the local entity. Previously, the Labor Council leader was elected by its board.

“We are going to move to an executive secretary treasurer. It’s not just about being able to get elected. In the future, you will have to not only meet criteria to get elected but also have to have a resume. There will be an interview and certification process,” he said.

He said that just being able to survive an election was not enough.

“That can cause real issues when you may get elected but not have the ability to do the job,” Maddox said.

And the Chamber wants to do more things together. Like funding and policies that would make it easier to build housing.

“This campaign has brought this group together in a way that we could go down and stand together on things,” Bradford said.

Related: Michael Smolens checks in on the really bad Election Day the previous leader of the Labor Council, Mickey Kasparian, had.

Mayor Gets His Way, Deal Made for Crucial Convention Center Land

Board of Port Commissioners
Kevin Faulconer speaks to the board of Port commissioners. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

A couple years ago, I wrote about the tremendous hurdles in the way of expanding the Convention Center as it was long imagined on the waterfront downtown.

Well, one of those hurdles came down this week. But it cost the city and Port a lot of money. This week, they agreed to pay a partnership that controls the lease of land behind the Convention Center more than $33 million. (If the measure is approved by voters.)

It was another sign of just how much San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer wants this initiative to pass. The measure would raise hotel taxes and fund not only the Convention Center but some combination of services for homeless residents and street repairs.

One controversial part of the deal: Councilman David Alvarez voted no. He said, in part, that he thinks it is illegal.

“Additionally I am concerned about the legality of using taxpayer money to silence a ‘no’ campaign for an initiative supported by special interests,” he said in a written statement.

So what’s he talking about?

The two guys who control the land get $5 million now as a guaranteed deposit in the deal. They agreed not to campaign against the measure.

They had put $500,000 into a campaign committee set up to oppose the hotel tax hike for a Convention Center. It certainly contributed to their considerable leverage.

Alvarez is saying he’s concerned about city money funding a political objective of the ballot initiative’s supporters.

I don’t know if he’s got a point. But I realized very few people may have followed closely enough to know what he’s talking about.

The hard part: Anyway, what also seems clear is it’s not going to be an easy campaign and it probably does need two-thirds vote (legal uncertainty/soda companies initiative!).

The next move to watch is City Attorney Mara Elliott’s. She will have to tell the city clerk whether not 50 percent plus one vote would be enough for the measure to pass. If she says yes, then the election could be certified if it gets below two-thirds. Perhaps someone could sue to derail it.

If Elliott says no, though, supporters of the measure would have to take it to court.

Ry Rivard contributed to this report. Send your feedback and ideas to scott@voiceofsandiego.org. 

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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