Photo by Dustin Michelson

Four months ago, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez settled for the option that did not involve reshaping a major regional government agency.

Gonzalez had proposed folding the San Diego Airport Authority into the Port of San Diego. But facing opposition, she watered down the bill, changing it instead to a proposal to form a regional task force to make joint plans to solve transportation problems at the airport.

Her previous attempts to change local power dynamics from Sacramento faced public opposition that was far louder than the response to her airport bill. But in those cases she pushed forward, for better or worse.

Now, she’s pushing forward once more. After a surprise move by the San Diego Airport Authority this week that angered South Bay leaders, Gonzalez says she’s yanking her conciliatory, kumbaya bill for a joint task force and will next session pursue her original plan to fold the Airport Authority under the Port’s purview.

That’s because the airport has joined a lawsuit filed by two rental car companies challenging the legality of a Port of San Diego plan to build a new parking garage in Chula Vista – one part of a massive project to build a convention center, hotels, retail space and marinas on the city’s under-utilized waterfront.

It argues that the plan to pay for the garage with a fee charged on rental cars is illegal because it’s actually a tax: Since many people who rent cars won’t use the garage, it doesn’t qualify as a fee. And if it’s a tax, it needs approval from two-thirds of voters.

That suit threatens the entire Port project, South Bay officials say, and it’s one of the biggest public expenditures Chula Vista and the South Bay have seen in years. Chula Vista is in Gonzalez’s district.

“In light of the (airport authority’s) lawsuit, I am dropping AB 3119 and instead plan on revisiting how to make the agency a more accountable partner when it comes to the planning of our region in the next legislative session,” she wrote on Twitter. The agency, she added, needs to stop acting like a fiefdom unto itself.

The airport, for its part, has said that the fee on rental cars is a fee on airport travelers, and that it therefore needs to be involved in any discussion. The agency said in a statement that the Port did not consult it before imposing the fee.

Gonzalez was joined in her anger over the move by state Sen. Ben Hueso, who also represents the area that includes the Chula Vista project.

“I’m disappointed by the Airport Authority’s decision to join a lawsuit that threatens the Chula Vista Bayfront project,” he said in a statement. “This important waterfront project is the result of 20 years of hard work by the Port of San Diego, City of Chula Vista, business community, labor and leading environmental groups, and will have a regional impact of more than $2 billion annually and create more than 20,000 permanent jobs.”

Hueso questioned the lawsuit’s logic, and pointed out that the same fee the airport is objecting to has been used to fund other regional projects.

“Let’s not forget that this same funding mechanism was used from 1999 to 2006 to help fund the parking garage serving the San Diego Convention Center, as well as Petco Park, Gaslamp Quarter, nearby hotels and more. If the fee was acceptable when used for projects in downtown San Diego, it should be embraced for development in the South Bay, too,” he said.

Some moderate San Diego leaders who aren’t prone to wading into contentious feuds, though, seemed to cautiously side with the Port’s view of things.

Rep. Scott Peters said the airport should withdraw its opposition, that it and the Port should agree that the airport has not surrendered its right to object to a future, more significant dispute and start being a better neighbor. Mark Cafferty, CEO of the regional Economic Development Corporation, said that suggestion sounded “extremely logical.”

— Andrew Keatts

The Fundraising’s Not Close in the Two Closest Assembly Contests

The two most competitive legislative contests in November are in North County: the race between Democrats Elizabeth Warren and Tasha Boerner Horvath in the 76th District, and the race between incumbent Republican Brian Maienschein and Democrat Sunday Gover in the 77th District, which includes northern San Diego neighborhoods like Clairemont, plus Poway and Rancho Santa Fe.

When it comes to fundraising, though, neither of those races is close.

Boerner Horvath has about five times as much cash on hand as Warren, and Maienschein has a whopping 41 times more cash on hand than Gover.

Maienschein has a $1.3 million war chest, according to the most recent campaign filings. His fundraising is buoyed mostly by donations from PACs in Sacramento and out of state, including Geico Direct, health and biocom groups and alcohol distributors.

Gover has about $32,000 cash on hand and has received donations from fellow Democratic candidates including Sara Jacobs and Dave Myers.

In the 76th District, Warren has just under $14,000 cash on hand. Fittingly, she’s received many donations that end in 76 – $76, $176, $576, etc. – including several from herself and her husband. Boerner Horvath has more than $80,000 on hand and has received donations from several union PACs, including the state and local building trades and a California Teachers Association PAC.

Warren’s and Gover’s performances in the June primary, however, show that it’s possible to succeed without much money: Warren actually won the most votes in the 76th District primary in a crowded field, and Gover came within 13 points of Maienschein despite a massive cash disadvantage and running against a Republican incumbent in a primary, which tends to favor Republicans.

San Diego City Council Supports Bail Reform Bill

Now that she’s facing an incredibly competitive re-election bid, San Diego City Council President Myrtle Cole has become far more visible lately.

That includes sending out a press release – the first one I’ve ever seen from her office – trumpeting the Council’s vote to support SB 10, a bill to reform the state’s bail system.

The bill, which would require a risk assessment for certain accused criminals that could lead to some being released before trial, “addresses racial and economic disparities in the criminal justice system,” Cole said in a statement.

SB 10 was put on hold last year but is still alive in the Legislature. Before it was put on hold, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office was listed as an official opponent of the measure.

Though District Attorney Summer Stephan said during her campaign earlier this year that she supports bail reform, she declined to say whether she supports SB 10 specifically despite being asked directly by the Union-Tribune editorial board.

Golden State News

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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