The Morning Report
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Once again, San Diego Democrats are poised to split over a major race for a seat on the County Board of Supervisors.
Last year, it was over the District 4 seat, when Supervisor Nathan Fletcher emerged from a crowded Democratic field amid a heated dispute in which the party backed him but different unions chose sides and spent heavily on attacks ads against each other. It eventually led to a realignment of local labor groups, before Fletcher trounced the Republican candidate, former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, in the general.
Now, some of the folks who were on the same side of that mix-up find themselves parting ways in the pivotal 2020 race for the coastal North County District 3 seat.
Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, a Republican, is running for re-election in a district where Republicans and Democrats are roughly even. The winner is likely to determine which party controls the board.
Who stands where: SEIU 221, the union that represents many county workers, voted Friday to endorse university professor Terra Lawson-Remer over Escondido Councilwoman Olga Diaz and firefighter Jeff Griffith.
“No one knows better than the 10,000 county employees that SEIU represents that we don’t just need another vote on the Board of Supervisors, we need a strong voice to turn our county government around,” said David Garcias, SEIU 221 president, in a statement.
Laborers Local 89, which represents 3,000 county construction workers, joined SEIU in backing Lawson-Remer, who also launched her campaign with Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins by her side.
Diaz got her own big endorsements last month: Fletcher, who has delighted Democrats (including SEIU) by pushing the board to the left even as a minority of one, and his wife, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who is among the most powerful lawmakers in Sacramento.
What’s notable: SEIU strongly backed Fletcher during his campaign, so much so that they left the Working Families Council in the middle of the campaign after the umbrella union group backed his opponent, and returned to the rival San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council that supported him. And his aggressive actions since winning have been exactly what his supporters said they were looking for.
Union opposition is nothing new for Diaz. UFCW Local 135 attacked her during her 2014 Escondido mayoral run, after she voted to let a 99 Cents Only store move into a vacant downtown property.
That move was led by former UFCW leader Mickey Kasparian, who later led UFCW to leave the Labor Council and create the Working Families Council, which then opposed Fletcher, causing SEIU to go leave the Working Families Council and return to the Labor Council, the union group that Gonzalez led before leaving for Sacramento. Time is a flat circle.
This Week in SANDAG
Two of the most powerful figures in regional transportation, SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata and MTS Chair Georgette Gómez – shared a stage this week at the La Mesa-Foothills Democratic Club.
Ikhrata kicked it off by acknowledging the elephant in the room: his embattled vision to remake transportation countywide.
“I’m not a communist, I’m not a Soviet, I’m just trying to do my job at SANDAG,” he said.
Broke as a joke: Then Ikhrata clapped back at the North County and East County electeds who have said his proposal reneges on the voter-approved sales tax TransNet.
“Before we put that out, there were press releases, saying ‘oppose SANDAG’s plan.’ We hadn’t even talked about it. People went on to say, ‘SANDAG is stealing the highway money and giving it to transit.’ I have news for you. The secret. We have no money to be stolen … All this talk that SANDAG is taking money from transit and giving it to highways is not true. There is no money to be taken.”
As a result of the scandal that took down Ikhrata’s predecessor and made way for a state law that remade the agency’s governing structure, TransNet is facing at least a $10 billion shortfall.
He acknowledged TransNet will still bring in some money, but said it’s “not enough to finish the projects that were originally on the list.” He’s said there’s enough to finish what’s already underway, which includes both transit and highway projects, but not enough to break ground on anything that hasn’t – a list of almost exclusively highway projects.
Newsom shade: When Ikhrata took the SANDAG job, he said, a friend of his who became governor and used to be a mayor (kinda like Gov. Gavin Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco), warned him that “San Diego is different.” Ikhrata said he asked, “How so?”
“He said, ‘Well San Diego takes things slowly. San Diego doesn’t like to do big stuff. They don’t think of themselves as a big urban area,’” Ikhrata recalled.
Yeesh. Thanks, gov.
Gomez: There Is No MTS-SANDAG Split
La Mesa Councilman Colin Parent, who moderated the discussion, pointed out that Gómez and Ikhrata are to some extent offering different visions of transit in San Diego.
Ikhrata has proposed a brash plan to build underground and elevated heavy rail lines around the county, while Gómez has pursued a ballot measure at MTS that would largely expand the existing bus and trolley system.
Underground rail projects in L.A. are costing roughly $1 billion a mile, Parent pointed out, and he hasn’t heard Gómez proposing an MTS measure, which could potentially raise a total of $12 billion, that would build only 12 miles of rail.
But Gomez said she rejected the premise.
“I want to be very clear, there’s been some media narrative – and even what was said today – I want to be very very clear that what I’m saying and what Hasan is saying, it’s not one or the other,” she said. “What I’m doing through MTS is trying to figure out how to support the system that we currently have for the now, and how do we do that in a way that we can transition that expansion of the now for what the future has for us.”
She said Ikhrata’s vision, which could apply for the next 100 years, is necessarily bigger than the resources immediately available for it.
“We’re not clashing, I want to make sure we are addressing the issue snow, and we can do it through MTS,” Gómez said. “I’m on the board of SANDAG, and I’m very much supportive of what has been laid out.”
“The reason I’m not participating in this media spectacle, that’s what I call it, is because the vision is not crafted yet,” Gómez said. “What comes and what it’s going to take to make it happen, none of that is there. It’s not – the media, and the Republicans to be frank – they’re trying to create this narrative of roads versus transit, and the Democrats are taking our money. But we’re not doing any of that. There’s no money to be taken. Secondly, we haven’t made a decision as a board. It’s this is what we’re thinking, we’re going to do some more work. The conversations are barely in their infancy. I refuse to engage in that conversation, because we are supporting one another, we’re in it together.”
The Big Pension Decision That No One Seems to Care About
It’s pretty hard to get people excited about the city of San Diego’s big pension decision Monday, but we’re going to try again. There was some more behind-the-scenes maneuvering this week.
Catch up with some of the background because this is quite a moment. Ever since voters approved the 2012 initiative Proposition B, to eliminate pensions for most future city workers, the city has defended the action in court. Last year, City Attorney Mara Elliott convinced the City Council to take it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Even though most of the Council probably doesn’t support the measure, it has steadfastly defended it.
Until now. There’s a very real chance that Monday, the City Council will drop its defense and embrace the unions position that Proposition B should officially be removed from city law.
Last week, we linked to a memo from the lead attorney for city employee unions, Ann Smith, who argued that the city should stop wasting money defending the law and should instead join her and the other unions in petitioning the state to finally remove the law from the City Charter.
Her argument, in short: The California Supreme Court decided that Proposition B was a city effort, not a citizen’s initiative. As such, the city should have followed state labor law. It did not. Thus, what happened was illegal and the measure has no right to remain as city law. The unions will be going through a process known as quo warranto, to have it removed. The city should stop fighting because this is inevitable, she wrote. It is basically impossible for any court not to agree.
But now supporters of the law have chimed in: Kenneth Lounsbery, a lawyer, warned city leaders that they should continue to defend the law. His point? The labor law that the city violated – the Meyers Milias Brown Act – has nothing to do with initiatives, he wrote. Voters don’t have to follow the laws that city councils and mayors do.
Lounsbery pointed out that the court could have invalidated Proposition B but did not despite the labor law violation.
“And the Court had the perfect chance to cite that as a reason to invalidate Prop B (as the Unions urged) but it pointedly did not,” Lounsbery wrote. (He acknowledged the court also didn’t decide whether it should be invalidated at all.) Lounsbery hasn’t yet returned a call to handle some of our follow-up questions.
Smith responded: In an email, she said initiatives must comply with state law. Then she pointed out that the California Supreme Court told the Fourth District Court of Appeal to decide how to remedy it. And the Fourth District told the city to follow the decision of the Public Employment Relations Board, and that body actually told the city it had to join the unions to pursue taking the law out of City Charter.
She cited this section from the PERB ruling demanding that the city “Upon request by the Unions, join in and/or reimburse the Unions’ reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs for litigation undertaken to rescind the provisions of Proposition B, and to restore the status quo as it existed before the adoption of Proposition B.”
That request is what the unions have done.
Lounsbery warned city leaders that if they follow this course, they could end up paying his bills too. No matter state labor law, initiatives must stand.
“The right of the citizenry to engage in the initiative process is a reserved right; it cannot be abrogated by any legislative enactment,” he wrote.