Kevin Faulconer
Mayor Kevin Faulconer appears at the US Grant Hotel on the night of the June 2018 primary election. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

The mayor won something, guys.

Nobody has been more willing than us to tally up, fairly frequently, the list of struggles San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has had getting things done.

Just this week, he lost another one as the years-long effort he championed to remake Balboa Park’s Central Mesa died.

But also this week, he finally achieved something that had alluded him: He got a majority on the City Council to support the effort to raise hotel-room taxes.

Yes, he succeeded in the impossibly quixotic quest to get Democrats to advance a tax increase.

We kid the mayor. It was an achievement. With the support of his Republican allies, Council President Georgette Gomez and District 2 City Councilwoman Jen Campbell, Faulconer moved the vote up to March 2020 – not even a year from now. In the process, he has managed to turn somewhat ambivalent support from labor leaders for the measure into passionate support from labor leaders.

And thus, the campaign to raise the tax to expand the Convention Center, fund homeless services and repair roads had its best week so far.

Some of the people who opposed the move to March said they did not buy the idea that March would be better for the measure. But there are three major reasons it will be helped:

  • The November ballot is shaping up to be filled with other tax measures. They all may have had a deleterious effect on one another. March is maybe a lot better. Not just because it will be less crowded but if labor is really on board, it could really rally support as Democrats flock to the polls to pick a presidential candidate in March.
  • There really is a chance the ballot measure could only require a simple majority vote to pass. And there really is a chance that loophole that keeps it from needing a two-thirds vote could close soon.
  • And yeesh, why would you not want this conversation to be over as soon as possible? Who is not sick of the Convention Center expansion talk among you? Stand up and show yourselves. We can see a definitive decision on the horizon.

Who are we kidding? It will never end.

Basking in a Victory

On the podcast, we imagined the mayor’s staff weeping a bit out of joy that something, anything, even just a vote on when to make people vote, had gone their way. Maybe the mayor just walked a few blocks to stare silently at the Convention Center, a passerby slow-clapping for him.

We asked if that’s what happened. Matt Awbrey, the mayor’s chief of external affairs, said the staff did feel vindicated and that they’re really happy with Gomez and Campbell.

“The best part is we’re on an upswing. We have a strong coalition that continues to grow and get even stronger,” he said in a written message.

That seems actually true?

The case for the Convention Center expansion: At the City Council hearing, a lot of people spoke in favor of moving the vote to March but it sure seemed like only one person made a straightforward case for the Convention Center expansion itself. It wasn’t the Chamber of Commerce representative, who focused on addressing homelessness.

It was the hotel workers union, Unite HERE, Local 30, and president Brigette Browning.

“We’re doing the work that nobody one wants to do in this city. We’re maintaining the tourism industry. And the hardest thing for us is when the rooms are vacant and we don’t have hours. I’m totally in agreement – we need to take as much money out of the hoteliers pockets as we can. There’s nobody in this room doing that more than I am.”

It’s kind of Browning’s way to hit hoteliers hard until they deal with her and then she’s a powerful advocate for them and the sector.

Related: We were startled this legislation hasn’t gotten much attention. The hotel workers union and hotels are supporting a bill by Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath to severely restrict vacation rentals along the coast.

Reflection: This week we reported that philanthropists led by Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs dropped their plan to remake Balboa Park’s parking and plazas. They did that after meeting with Councilman Chris Ward and pitching a segmented version of the plan to save immediate costs. He was not into it. According to Lisa Halverstadt he brought up several concerns about the process going forward if not the vision

As one observer noted to us about Ward: It is quite a week when you help end Irwin Jacobs’ almost decade-long effort to remake the infrastructure of the park and pick a fight with labor.

Mayor’s Race Update

Todd Gloria
Assemblyman Todd Gloria is running for mayor. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

There is still no major Republican running in the race for San Diego mayor. We know the reasons why but it’s still fascinating.

San Diego City Councilwoman Barbara Bry held a fundraiser recently with developers Tom Sudberry, Michael Turk and David Malcolm. They’re active leaders of the Lincoln Club, a right-of-center political advocacy group.

So was this a sign Bry would head to the right as she seeks a path to the mayor’s office? It’s not clear. A couple weeks ago, after all, we wrote she was intent on bringing pensions back for city employees. That’s certainly not a high priority for the Lincoln Club.

We asked Sudberry why he supported Bry and he declined to comment.

Bry has received a high-profile endorsement from Rep. Mike Levin.

Bry’s consultant Tom Shepard told us he’s never managed a mayoral campaign that did so well fundraising so fast.

Meanwhile, Assemblyman Todd Gloria is racking up endorsements on the left. He’s gotten laborers and a teachers union and now the union of university employees. A big recent one came from Sen. Toni Atkins. And the first Democratic Club went for Gloria: Democrats for Equality.

They’re not the only two candidates: Cory Briggs seems intent on this lane: “We don’t need to ruin San Diego by turning it into San Francisco in order to meet our local housing needs. But that is what the YIMBYs here and in Sacramento want to do. No, thanks,” he wrote.

And activist Tasha Williamson appeared on the annual Grade the Media panel hosted by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Big Day Coming at SANDAG

SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata at a live Voice of San Diego Podcast recording at Whistle Stop Bar. / Photo by Megan Wood

Leadership at the San Diego Association of Governments is poised to make a splash next Friday.

The agency has pushed its recent committee meetings so they’ll all coincide with Friday’s board meeting. That’ll mean as many as 150 local officials will be present in one room as staff outlines the new direction for the region’s transportation system. There’s never been a gathering like that at SANDAG before.

‘5 Big Moves’: The meeting’s agenda doesn’t include many details about the presentation, but it does say that staff will be explaining the basis of the region’s new, long-term transportation plan, which the agency is set to approve in 2021.

Previously, Hasan Ikhrata, SANDAG’s director, said he would unveil the framework of the new plan in November. Now, though, SANDAG is introducing what it’s calling “5 Big Moves,” the key strategies it will follow as it puts together the new regional plan.

SANDAG was previously set to adopt a new plan this year, but Ikhrata announced in February that the plan they were pursuing was incapable of meeting state mandates for greenhouse gas reductions. The new plan will necessarily mean more transit, though it’s unclear what shape that will take. Ikhrata has said, however, that the big transit station near the airport that he has in mind would be reachable by transit from anywhere in the county with only one transfer.

The next shoe to drop: Re-imagining the region’s transportation system is only one of the big things SANDAG will have to tackle in the coming months.

Ikhrata has also pushed the agency to acknowledge that TransNet, the sales tax-funded transportation plan extended by voters in 2004, won’t have enough money to build everything voters were promised. He told us during a podcast recording last month that many of the highway expansion projects are dead.

But killing projects that are in TransNet, and reallocating what money remains to different projects or priorities, requires a vote of two-thirds of SANDAG’s board.

The first step of coming clean on TransNet was simply admitting that money was short and some projects weren’t going to happen. But the next step – formally killing off those projects, and deciding how to spend the money that remains – would still need to happen.

The politics on the board aren’t going to make that easy. Plenty of officials, like Supervisor Jim Desmond, have made it clear that they still expect SANDAG to spend money on congested freeways. At the same time, if the agency is outlining a new transportation vision next week, there will be a strong push from Ikhrata and others on the board to spend the dwindling share of TransNet funds to give that new transit-focused vision the boost it needs.

Dem Clubs Disappear Into the Night

San Diego Democratic Party Chair Will Rodriguez-Kennedy / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Dispatch from Jesse Marx: At a Democratic Party central committee meeting this week, Jessica Hayes stepped forward as officials were about to vote on whether their clubs should be chartered — or officially recognized — for the next year. Clubs within the Democratic Party structure are engines of the grassroots, making recommendations on the candidates who are worthy of money and attention, but activists have alleged that a political consultant was gaming the system for personal profit.

After that allegation was made earlier this year, officials got to work on a series of reforms to ensure the clubs were operating legitimately, some of which were approved Tuesday.

Moments later, Hayes asked whether the group had a quorum. The meeting has stretched well past 10 p.m. on a Tuesday, and the audience had dwindled. There weren’t enough central committee members present to vote, meaning the chartering process — a seemingly noncontroversial thing — fell apart.

In other words, Democrats began the evening by considering the best ways to police their clubs and ended the evening with barely any clubs to speak of. Technically, 59 of the San Diego County Democratic Party’s 61 clubs do not exist. (The other two were chartered at a previous meeting.)

Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, the recently elected chair, was not happy. I asked him the following morning for his thoughts and he blamed Hayes and another member of state Sen. Ben Hueso’s staff for rounding up supporters to leave the room.

“We passed a lot of really strong reforms, despite the gamesmanship and blatant political manipulation,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said.

Hayes is now working for Hueso, it’s true. But she told me that her new job had nothing to do with her decision to request a count of the members present. She was just respecting the rules governing when a vote can and cannot take place, and the new chair should have been more considerate of everyone’s time, she said. “He’s responsible for putting the important items at the front of the agenda,” she said.

Hueso’s beef: He’s running for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors and he clearly views the clubs in the South Bay as a threat. Many of the clubs there are close to Nora Vargas, a Planned Parenthood official who’s also running for District 1.

Last month, Hueso called on the party to postpone discussions of which 2020 races should be declared critical. If it is, and Vargas gets the endorsement, she’ll have an advantage over Hueso and other opponents. Rodriguez-Kennedy told Hueso to mind his own business.

The Democrats take their rules seriously: Throughout the evening, I watched as various conversations dragged with every request for clarification and point of order. There was an amendment to an amendment.

Those rules are, on the one hand, a tool of inclusion, a way to ensure everyone’s voice is heard and respected. But the rules are also weapons that can used against opponents.

On Wednesday, Kelvin Barrios also blamed Hayes for causing their group to miss “important resolutions” and deadlines.

Hayes responded saying she’d been unfairly targeted and demanded an apology.

And then order was restored.

Rodriguez-Kennedy reported to the central committee on Friday that the county party’s staff and executive board had come up with a solution. The board voted to charter the clubs via email.

They’re good through 2019.

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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...

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

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