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The south side of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall kicked off his re-election campaign this week paying homage to the most “active residents who selflessly give to our community.” He said he was “committed to including people with different points of view and treating everyone with respect.”

In 2015, Hall and other Carlsbad officials approved plans for a shopping mall on the shores of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon, allowing the developer, Rick Caruso, to bypass environmental review. Residents rebelled. And when they killed the project through a referendum, Hall apologized.

Then he hired the same political consultant, Tom Shepard, who helped kill the Caruso project to run his re-election bid.

A former professional surfer, Cori Schumacher, rode a wave of resentment over the mall onto the Council in 2016, and she’s now challenging Hall. Although the Caruso project is no longer a point of contention, she said, it touched off other conversations about housing and open spaces and the Council’s commitment to its own residents.

“The primary concern” in this election, she said, “is really public trust and our residents’ voices not being heard.”

Hall suggested it was time to move on.

“The challenge now facing our city is adapting to the new reality that our city is almost completely built out,” he said in a statement. “How do we revitalize our older neighborhoods in a way that maintains and enhances the quality of life for all residents? Looking backward doesn’t address future challenges.”

Should Hall be worried? Schumacher is the first Democrat to get elected in Carlsbad in recent memory, and she did it while Council members were still being elected citywide. (Under the threat of a lawsuit, Carlsbad last year divided the city into four districts.)

Republicans maintain a roughly 6 percentage-point advantage in local party affiliation, which may sound like a lot. But voter registration rolls show the number of Democrats has exploded in recent years, growing by 19 percent since 2016. Plus, about one in every four voters has no party preference — more than enough to sway the outcome in either direction.

Here’s a twist: Schumacher is running with the backing of an unlikely ally: the Republican she beat in 2016.

“Cori is an amazingly ethical person, so important for the position of mayor,” Lorraine Wood said in a campaign video. “Cori also operates at the ceiling of ethics, not in the basement.”

Dead Stadium Walking

Qualcomm Stadium / Photo by Dustin Michelson

Status quo: More than 50 years after it first opened as San Diego Stadium, SDCCU Stadium is now slated to close at the end of the year. At least that’s the city of San Diego’s stated position. The city isn’t booking events for 2019 — no Holiday Bowl, no concerts, nothing.

A new deal with SDSU is the only thing that would keep it open.

Even a lease with the Alliance for American Football, the new professional football league that announced San Diego as one of its new homes, will fall apart unless the city decides to renew San Diego State University’s expiring lease with the city.

The news: This week, the City Council finally started grappling with the fact that SDSU is planning to continue to play football and has no backup plan for where it could play. When Councilman Scott Sherman asked what the university may do if the city decided not to renew its lease, J.D. Wicker, the athletic director at SDSU, said Petco Park was prohibitively expensive and presented some scheduling conflicts should the Padres make the playoffs someday.

(Remember, the Padres are in year two of a five-year rebuild. It’s gonna happen!)

Et tu, SDSU? Wicker even mentioned the possibility that the Aztecs would have to look … to the Los Angeles area for a stadium.

Wednesday, the City Council’s Smart Growth and Land Use Committee considered the new lease proposed by SDSU and city staff. After watching that hearing, we have a better understanding of some of the facts:

  • SDSU would pay the city not only a basic rent of $1.1 million but would give the city all the parking and concessions sold at game-day events. It would be an increase of about $1.7 million per year or more from what SDSU has been paying.
  • The university would also, like before, pay all the game-day costs for operating the facility, including the portable toilets, Jumbotron operation and security. This can be as much as $700,00 a year.
  • The city would still run a deficit operating the stadium.

There’s some confusion on this, though: The City Council’s independent budget analyst says the city is set to lose $7 million per year operating the stadium. The city’s financial management department, however, put the number at $4.4 million for this year and $4.6 million for next year.

The committee decided to pass the issue onto the full City Council but not before asking staff to go back to the negotiating table with SDSU.

“We are stewards of public money and public land. So I think if we can do a little bit better and just have better documentation and an analysis of the IBA, then we can make a better decision,” said Councilwoman Georgette Gomez, the chair of the committee.

Georgette Gomez / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

The IBA’s representative and staff from the financial management department agreed to hammer out why they have different numbers on how much the city will lose each year as it keeps Qualcomm Stadium open.

The city revealed it projected an $8 million deficit (the difference between how much the stadium costs to keep open versus how much events bring in) for this year but got that down to $4.4 million with new events and some cost-cutting.

On the one hand: Sherman said the city and SDSU should come up with a deal that makes the city break even on the stadium. He said he didn’t want the city to make a profit off the university but if it was going to keep the stadium open just for the university, it should be a wash.

On the other hand: The city doesn’t break even on many of its park and library facilities. It’s a political and policy decision whether it’s OK to lose money and essentially subsidize the users of those facilities — in this case, the taxpayer subsidy is for SDSU and college football, various large concerts and this new professional football league.

So you can make a political argument that it’s worth it for the community to pay this kind of money. And, this is a substantial increase from what SDSU was paying the city to play football at the stadium.

“The city will be spending far less on the stadium than during the Charger era,” said Tom McCarron, the chief financial officer for the SDSU.

The full Council is set to hear the item Aug. 6.

What Happens if Lemon Grove Sours on Cityhood?

Things are getting hot in the San Diego suburb that claims to have the “Best Climate on Earth.”

As we noted in the Morning Report earlier this week, some residents of Lemon Grove are flirting with the idea of disincorporating to resolve the city’s financial problems.

But it won’t be easy.

The giant lemon in Lemon Grove / Photo by Kinsee Morlan

First, an update on what’s going on in this city of 26,000 people on the eastern edge of San Diego.

Lemon Grove leaders cut funding for some services but still ended up with a deficit and had to dip into emergency funds. Without further cuts, the city expects to run out of reserve funds in a few years. Even so, the City Council just refused to ask voters to boost taxes.

If Lemon Grove actually stops being a city, that fact would become its second-most distinguishing characteristic. (Nothing is likely to beat being home to a really, really big lemon.) That’s because disincorporating is quite a process, and it’s quite rare.

Only 17 California cities have disincorporated in the state’s history. And while the state has nearly 500 cities, not a single one has chosen to dissolve itself since 1972, when infighting over gambling prompted voters to disincorporate the tiny Riverside County town of Cabazon, now best known as the home to giant concrete dinosaur next to Interstate 10.

Why so few? For one thing, it’s good to be a city. Cities can levy taxes, make certain kinds of laws and do things like maintain streets, manage parks and provide police/fire protection. They also get to elect their own council members to run things, giving them something that everyone likes to have — local control.

Cities also don’t dissolve much because it’s hard to do.

Here’s what has to happen: City leaders could start the process, or residents could do so by gathering signatures from more than 25 percent of Lemon Grove’s registered voters. Then the Local Agency Formation Commission must approve disincorporation. (If you already know the acronym LAFCO, check your wallet. You’re officially a card-carrying policy wonk.)

Every California county has one of these commissions. Ours is run by several local elected officials, including two county supervisors, and a member of the public.

By law, commission members are supposed to make decisions in the best interest of the public, not the government agencies they represent. But they still may not like the idea of letting a troubled city like Lemon Grove go crying to the county for help instead of fixing its own problems.

Even if the commission approves dissolving Lemon Grove, the city’s voters would need to approve the idea too.

There’s another option: The state Legislature has the power to dissolve a city — an option it considered before.

If Lemon Grove actually disincorporates, the county would take over many of the services that the city now provides in its annual $28 million budget. The county would take care of other loose ends too.

That’s where things get complicated: Lemon Grove has debts. The county would have to pay them. But there’s some confusion about where it would get the money to do that.

One report about the ins and outs of disincorporation says the county wouldn’t be able to raise taxes on Lemon Grove residents unless its voters approve. And the county couldn’t legally raise taxes on other county residents to bail the city out. So who would pay if voters won’t pitch in?

Call it quite a pickle for the the city of lemons.

— Randy Dotinga

GOP Loses a Young Operative

Ryan Clumpner, left, speaks at Politifest 2016 next to City Councilman Chris Cate. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

Ryan Clumpner, a political consultant who managed Carl DeMaio’s race for mayor and has been a part of many conservative efforts in recent years, has left the Republican Party. He does political work for the Lincoln Club and Chamber of Commerce. We persuaded him to tell us why he left the party. Here’s our lightly edited and condensed Q-and-A, conducted over email.

When did you start to feel distant from the GOP?

I have many friends in Republican politics who are wonderful people I respect tremendously. It’s difficult to separate “the GOP” at large from all the people I know with whom I’m still very close.

I’ve never been a perfect fit on every issue. The GOP always had a wide spectrum of members and approaches. That’s changed. It has become the party of a single individual, one who holds many positions that were not even considered Republican just a few years ago and would be unrecognizable in earlier eras. Yet he is now the center of gravity around which everything else in the GOP orbits. When that cult of personality began to form, I immediately felt out of place and said so publicly. I’m always uncomfortable when the debate of ideas is exchanged for the battle of identities. The GOP has gone from resisting the framing of politics around identity to embracing and weaponizing it in the worst way.

Did your principles change?

My views on fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets haven’t budged. When governments at any level run out of money, the solutions are always terrible. Excessive borrowing, tax hikes and slashed services are all slow-motion disasters. Every year it becomes harder and harder to call fiscal responsibility a Republican principle. I can’t do it with a straight face any longer. Fiscal restraint, which once was a powerful rallying cry and principle, has been completely abandoned under Trump. It now seems to be more a product of divided government than any party’s principle.

I’ve certainly changed in other ways, which seem more like a shift in personal values. Child welfare, animal welfare, housing policy and environmental issues are the first to come to mind. They’ve taken on deeper significance with age and personal experience. There are plenty of Republicans and Democrats in local offices doing good work on these subjects. Republicans often bring a valuable performance-focused approach. Sadly, those leaders have become outliers in the shadow of Trump’s national stage.

How did you feel when Trump got elected? What did you think could happen ideally?

His primary win was a gut punch. His general win was a surreal fog. It felt like he’d stolen something I loved and smashed it. That’s an emotional response. The party never belonged to me, and the fact that it holds so much power right now refutes the idea that he broke it. He changed it, and I was out of step with the change.

My eternally optimistic side kept seeing opportunities for a transformation of the GOP in the direction I and many coastal Republicans preferred. Had Trump lost by a wide margin, the GOP would be in the throes of a very healthy soul-searching right now. Presently, such a moment of reflection is nowhere in sight.

What will it mean for the types of work you can do and the conversations you can be part of?

I’m privileged to have some great clients who hire me for the quality of my work and because we collaborate well together.

This is not good for my business, but I think the impacts have already come. Over a year ago, I stopped asking for certain leads and not pursuing some that landed in my lap. I’ve been moving toward aligning my business with my own views. By nature this shrinks the pool of potential clients. I’m OK with that because it allows me to devote energy to more rewarding pursuits and explore new types of business opportunities.

Are Voters Turning on Hunter?

Photo via NBC San Diego

Democrats passed around an internal poll Friday suggesting that the 50th Congressional District race is much closer than most had assumed.

A Bay Area firm surveyed 400 likely voters and found that Rep. Duncan Hunter was leading by 9 percent over challenger Ammar Campa-Najjar. Republicans maintain a 14-point advantage in the voter rolls (and the survey notes a 5 percent margin of error).

But when those same voters were exposed to more information about the candidates, including some negative messaging, Hunter’s lead shrunk to 1 percent.

The former Marine is under a federal investigation for possible campaign finance violations and, in February, Politico published a highly unflattering report on his “freewheeling Washington lifestyle.” He’s been raising money for his legal defense, the U-T reported.

Not surprisingly, Hunter’s campaign didn’t return a request for comment on the survey results, but Campa-Najjar did.

Trump won the 50th District by a healthy margin, and Hunter is an ongoing defender of the president. But people in the district — manufacturers, farmers, car dealers — understand that the president’s decisions on taxes and trade hurt their wallets, Campa-Najjar said.

“I see this race as not the left versus the right,” he said. “It’s not about the resisters and Trumpsters. It’s about in and out — those on the inside of the political machine and those on the outside.”

He’s part-Mexican, part-Palestinian and Christian, and he feels that resonates in the 50th District.

“I’m the consummate outsider,” he said.

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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