The Valley View Casino Center in the Midway district / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

San Diego’s City Council could soon approve a new community plan for the Midway area that would make way for more than 10,000 new homes, and it isn’t even all that controversial.

For years, the city has committed to allowing new housing in dense areas near jobs and transit, both to combat its housing crisis and to lower its carbon footprint. But in practice, new community plans have produced only modest changes.

Not so for the Midway plan, which would allow 130 percent more housing than the current plan. Nonetheless, it got delayed at a May committee hearing, when City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, who represents District 2 where Midway is located, moved to strengthen how the plan would deal with the traffic effects of new development.

The plan was supposed to be approved in June, but now could come back to Council in the heart of campaign season, while Zapf is up for re-election against Democratic challenger Jen Campbell. It would mark the second time a density fight has come up during a Zapf re-election campaign, after a proposal in Bay Park got tangled up in her 2014 race. Councilman Scott Sherman, for his part, said at a committee hearing that the only reason the plan was delayed at all was because it was an election year. Zapf says she’s just trying to get the plan right, since it’ll be in place for 30 years.

A ballot measure to come in 2020? City officials are also directing city planners to look into preparing a future ballot measure that would amend the coastal height limit in the Midway neighborhood, to make it easier to redevelop some of the large areas there like the Sports Arena or the old Midway Post Office. The height limit was put in place by a 1972 ballot measure and changing it requires voter approval.

City still isn’t making much progress on its bold bike promises: The Midway plan also includes a few protected bike lanes that are coming under pressure from a local business group. The city has pledged that half of residents living in urban areas will bike, walk or take transit to work by 2035, but has thus far done little to make biking more attractive. Monday, the City Council approved an overarching plan to change that – but critics of the plan say that it too lacks any deadlines – or even timelines – for getting bike projects done. (Union-Tribune)

Supes Halt Measure That Would Hurt Supes’ Re-elect Bids

The County Board of Supervisors did not put a measure to change the way the county conducts elections on November’s ballot.

The measure had collected enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. If voters approved it, it would have forced all county races to go to a general election, no matter how many votes a candidate got in the primary.

That would have boosted Democrats, who do better in higher-turnout general elections. But the county supervisors – all Republicans – rejected the measure on a 3-1 vote. Termed-out Supervisor Ron Roberts voted against his colleagues, and Supervisor Dianne Jacob was absent.

Instead of putting the measure on the November ballot, the supervisors opted to commission a study on the change’s impact. That means it will likely go before voters in 2020, giving County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar the chance to retain her seat in the primary.

The board considered two other measures related to county elections. One of those, put up by Jacob, would move races with only two candidates directly to the general election, but would still let candidates who get more than 50 percent of the vote to win outright in the primary. The impact study the county launched will consider both election reforms, and is expected to be finished by the Aug. 7 meeting.

From the opposition: David Lagstein, an organizer with the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union that supports the measure, said supporters were outraged that the supervisors showed “complete disregard” for the people who signed the initiative.

“The Board of Supervisors had no problem placing two deceptive counter measures on the November ballot designed to confuse voters and defeat the Full Voter Participation initiative – even though they received zero signatures and no public scrutiny,” he said in a statement.

He said the county’s move was a “blatant and illegal use of procedural shenanigans” and promised to exhaust “every option” to try to get the measure on the ballot.

How Dems Were Able to Spend So Much on Fletcher

The San Diego County Democratic Party dropped nearly $1 million to back Board of Supervisors candidate Nathan Fletcher ahead of the June primary – 37 times the amount parties are allowed to give contenders for those seats.

Dems got around those rules, inewsource reports, by directing funds to member communication encouraging party members to support Fletcher to replace longtime Supervisor Ron Roberts. Republicans have repeatedly taken advantage of the same loophole.

Fletcher’s wife, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, has given $370,000 the past two years, three times more than anyone has contributed to either county party this election cycle.

Gonzalez defended her hefty checks in a VOSD Podcast interview last week.

“For years in this city, we have had Republicans outspend Democrats 2-to-1, 3-to-1, 4-to-1. And we’ve sat by and had a pure stance that we’re not playing that game, and we’ve lost and I’m tired of it because we need a win in San Diego,” Gonzalez said. “We need to change things and this community needs to change. And, so yeah, I’m willing to spend my money to elect the person that I know.”

San Diego Is Trying Again to Boot Mission Valley Redevelopment Plans Off the Ballot

Qualcomm Stadium / Photo by Dustin Michelson

The City Council voted Tuesday to appeal two rulings that said SoccerCity and SDSU West – competing plans to redevelop the former Chargers Stadium property – could go before voters in November.

Previously, the city sued to get the measures pulled from the ballot, arguing they illegally usurped the mayor and City Council’s administrative authority over city-owned land by forcing the city to sell or lease the land to specific parties under specific terms.

The city attorney’s office is now arguing that a state Supreme Court ruling last week pulling from the ballot the statewide measure to split California in three has changed the game.

“Pre-election review of these local initiatives will ensure that an invalid measure is not presented to voters, avoiding years of costly litigation and delay,” City Attorney Mara Elliott said in a statement.

A scoop from Andrew Keatts: After the city attorney announced the appeal, I talked to Councilman Scott Sherman about the City Council’s decision.

He said the City Council voted down the proposal in closed session last week. Then this week, the same motion came back in closed session again, and one Council member flipped their vote. Sherman couldn’t say who voted which way because closed session is confidential.

Sherman was upset the city attorney announced the closed session vote without mentioning that the same proposal got shot down a week ago.

“Last week it was a 5-4 vote that we said we didn’t want to appeal, drop the lawsuit,” he said. “A week later we got the same notification, one person flipped their vote and she reported that out and sent out a press release. In the interests of transparency, that’s not being very transparent.”

But Tuesday’s vote wasn’t 5-4; it was 5-3. That’s because Sherman didn’t actually vote.

“Once I realized the fix was in, I was pretty irate so I walked out,” he said.

Felony Case Dropped Against Pot Attorney

District Attorney Summer Stephan’s office has agreed to drop felony charges against a marijuana attorney whose prosecution made national news – so long as she avoids further prosecution over a 12-month period.

VOSD’s Jesse Marx reports that Jessica McElfresh vowed to plead guilty to a municipal code infraction and to complete ethics training and 80 hours of volunteer work, among other requirements. McElfresh became ensnared in legal troubles of her own after a January 2016 raid of a Kearny Mesa medical marijuana facility run by one of her clients.

McElfresh’s prosecution caught the attention of legal professionals in other parts of the country because it leaned heavily on an email that McElfresh sent to a former client, which is normally protected by attorney-client privilege. A court, however, agreed to allow the inspection and release some communications on the basis of prosecutors’ assertions that McElfresh had conspired with her client to break the law.

The Writing’s on the Wall

graffiti camp for girls
The Graffiti Camp for Girls at the San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park / Photo by Kinsee Morlan

For this week’s Culture Report, Kinsee Morlan visited a summer graffiti camp for girls and made her way through the Comic-Con exhibit halls in search of local artists. Also in this week’s weekly arts and culture roundup: Morlan’s recommendations for sweet hot-weather treats to help you get through this week’s heat wave.

News Roundup

  • San Diego County supervisors are poised to vote in the next three months to allow developers to build 10,000 new homes in unincorporated parts of the county and activists say the rapid approvals are a way to get around state-imposed limits on general plan amendments. (KPBS)
  • Activists tried to put a measure on November’s ballot that would have made all of those amendments subject to approval by all county voters, but it appears they’ll have to wait until 2020. Initiative proponents turned in their signatures Monday, but the Registrar of Voters said it’s unlikely he’ll be able to certify them in time for it to make the August 10 deadline for November’s ballot. (Union-Tribune)
  • The county’s median home price has hit an all-time high while sales have dropped. (Union-Tribune)
  • The city has opened new fire stations in Point Loma and Little Italy this month, part of a years-long effort to upgrade and build new stations. (Union-Tribune)
  • Construction began Tuesday on a $20 million North Embarcadero project that will transform an area that for years housed Anthony’s Fish Grotto restaurant. (Times of San Diego)
  • The City Council will hold a special meeting next Wednesday at 1 p.m. for a required second-reading vote on vacation rental regulations approved last week. Don’t expect the drama surrounding the controversial rules to stop after next week’s vote.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the Board of Supervisors vote not to put the county election reform measure on the ballot; the vote was 3-1. It also said the board put Jacob’s competing measure on the November ballot. The county will research the measure as part of its impact study — both measures are unlikely to appear on the ballot until 2020.

The Morning Report was written by Lisa Halverstadt and Andrew Keatts, and edited by Sara Libby.

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