Summer Stephan
District Attorney Summer Stephan appears at the US Grant Hotel on the night of the June 2018 primary election. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

On Sept. 28, your Politics Report asked the question: How much longer will District Attorney Summer Stephan be a Republican? That week she told us, on the most popular political podcast recorded in this part of downtown San Diego, that she had been “taking feedback” on whether she should leave the GOP.

Turns out, the answer was 14 days. She needed 14 more days of feedback. Exactly 14 days after that podcast, the U-T’s Michael Smolens broke the news that Stephan had indeed left the Republican Party. She told Smolens a lot of the same kinds of things she had told us – that she had always acted independently, etc.

“But I still felt sometimes people didn’t feel they could approach us because they still think that there’s some political angle of being DA,” she told Smolens.

(Hold up. We can see what she’s saying here but let’s be clear: There is a political angle to being DA – it’s an elected position! “Politics” has come to be a negative term but that is a disservice to democracy. Politics, in America, is what we’ve chosen to do instead of letting people gain power over governments with brute violence. Let’s, maybe, back off the default assumption that politics is bad and “political” is a pejorative. Politics can be bad but if all politics is bad then what exactly are you saying about how we should be running things instead? Now, back to the … Politics Report!)

GOP in the red: 2019 has been quite a tour for the Republican Party of San Diego. Let’s review. January: Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, rumored to be a Republican hopeful in the race for mayor, left the party and became a Democrat. April: San Diego City Councilman Mark Kersey, also considered a young mayoral prospect, leaves the GOP and becomes an independent. And now October: The district attorney, one of only a few countywide elected officials, also peaces out and becomes an independent.

So what are we doing here? One per quarter? Or did the party hit bottom?

Each one of these announcements makes an even smaller splash. When Nathan Fletcher jumped out of the GOP Big Tent, it was in the New York Times! Now, Stephan does and we barely got four retweets on the Twitter machine.

Awkward YIMBY Endorsement

Olga Diaz / Photo by Sam Hodgson

The YIMBY Democrats of San Diego County rapidly ascended to political influence in San Diego but faced an awkward moment Wednesday.

That night, the club considered endorsements for the two major San Diego County supervisor elections – District 1 and District 3. Port Commissioner Rafael Castellanos got the nod for D1. But Escondido City Councilwoman Olga Diaz was not able to make it to the meeting, she had a meeting of her own for the Escondido City Council to attend.

And it just so happened she was considering two projects that night on the City Council, both the type of projects the YIMBYs are so interested in. One, the Aspire project, proposed putting 131 apartments in a mid-sized tower in downtown Escondido on a plot of city land that, legend has it, was purchased by local businesses that wanted a parking lot for people who came to shop.

The other was a 32-unit project near the Sprinter station at Quince Street between Grand Avenue and Second Avenue.

Diaz joined two other Council members to kill the Aspire project and joined the majority to approve the 32-unit project.

But the YIMBYs felt burned. Ginger Hitzke, an affordable housing developer based in San Marcos, was especially distraught. She had served as a proxy for Diaz at the meeting and secured the endorsement and then found out about the decision to reject the Aspire project.

She tweeted that Diaz’s reasons for rejecting the project were straight-up NIMBY reasons.

“And I stood in as her surrogate requesting their endorsement of her. Imagine how I feel right now after being used like that because she knew how and why she was going to vote the way she did,” Hitzke wrote.

We reached Diaz, who said she apologized to Hitzke and felt terrible that Hitzke felt that way. She said she voted against the project because it was a piece of city-owned land that had not been put out for bids and proposals to the public. The developer, she said, was seeking too many fee waivers, had not got the community to buy in and had not even met with her to discuss her concerns until that day.

“What is YIMBY, though?” she said. “Is it a yes on everything? I’m a yes on a lot of things. In my mind I was doing my job. I supported one project and I opposed another.”

Maya Rosas, the president of YIMBY Democrats, saw a bright side.

“The fact that Olga Diaz is getting significant pushback is a sign of the growing political support in San Diego for more homes,” she said in a statement.

Rosas said the club would hold their endorsed candidates accountable and Diaz still has the endorsement.

SDSU West Watch

After months of secret negotiations, SDSU West will have its day in a public hearing at City Council Monday.

The university appears poised to present the Council with its offer to pay the appraised $68.2 million price, while making some commitments to building a river park, demolishing SDCCU Stadium and funding at least part of a Fenton Parkway extension near the 132 acres of city-owned land that the Chargers used to call home.

City negotiators have their own view of how much the land is worth ($86.2 million), and they got a boost late Friday when the city’s independent budget analyst stepped in to say it could even be worth $104.5 million. (Read that analysis here.)

It had been clear for months that there was tension between the city and university. Whatever the case, things actually look pretty straightforward from here. Some of the theories that SDSU wanted the land for free have clearly been disproven while murmurs about the great deal the university and its developer partners are getting may persist.

Wherever the price ends up, it’s reasonable to expect elected officials and university leaders to sort out an $18 million negotiating standoff over a project that already received voter approval.

That seems to be the perspective of a somewhat odd pairing of figures: Council members Barbara Bry and Scott Sherman penned an op-ed in the Union-Tribune Friday saying now that the secrecy is over, it’s time to get a deal done as quickly as possible.

Bry was one of the earliest supporters of SDSU West, and her decision to step into that role seems to have played a part in vaulting her into the mayoral race. Sherman, meanwhile, was one of the only local officials who supported SoccerCity, a rival project proposal for the property.

What to Watch For: All eyes are on the purchase price, but that isn’t the only part of hashing out a deal. Traffic mitigation has also arisen as an obstacle, after the city took exception to the university’s environmental report for the project. How, specifically, that gets worked out bears watching.

The Council could also want clarity on when the deal will formally close escrow, whether there will be any contingencies based on potential litigation over the project, and whether the payment for the land will come in a lump some or spread over installments. None of those things are likely as significant as the purchase price, but they each present another potential stumbling block.

Hotel Tax Hike Launch Launches

Mayor Kevin Faulconer speaks at a press conference for the Yes! For a Better San Diego campaign in October 2019. / Photo by Megan Wood

Dispatch from Lisa Halverstadt: Prominent political consultants from both sides of the aisle are now leading the campaign behind a March 2020 ballot measure to raise hotel taxes to fund a Convention Center expansion, homeless services and road repairs.

Republican strategist Stephen Puetz, Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s former chief of staff, and Democratic strategist Dan Rottenstreich, who has run campaigns for City Council President Georgette Gómez and County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, are now at the helm.

The unlikely duo’s rival political leanings speak to the diverse labor and business coalition behind the measure. Supporters include both Faulconer and Democratic mayoral candidate Todd Gloria.

At a Thursday press conference relaunched the campaign, hoteliers and labor union leaders alike literally lined up to sign a letter supporting the measure.

Chris Wahl of Southwest Strategies, who had led the campaign through its failed bid to get on the November 2018 ballot, is less involved this go-round.

“With the initiative moving toward a full-fledged campaign, the committee has retained a team of campaign consultants who’s charge is to pass the initiative in March,” campaign spokesman Greg Block wrote in a statement to VOSD. “Chris and his firm did a great job during the public affairs portion of this race and he’s still involved in an (unpaid) advisory role with the initiative.”

Gover Not Running

Dispatch from Jesse Marx: Last year, Sunday Gover narrowly lost her bid for the 77th Assembly District by about 600 votes out of 200,000 votes cast. It was a paper-thin margin and given the changing demographics of the northern suburban San Diego district, she was well-positioned to take another shot at the seat in 2020. She wasted no time in announcing another campaign.

But then her Republican opponent, Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, switched parties.

In recent months, Gover has effectively but unofficially suspended her campaign. She hasn’t reported any donations for this year and her campaign website is down.

Since becoming a Democrat in January, Maienschein has locked down the support he needs for re-election, including the party’s nomination. Technically, the California Democratic Party won’t make the endorsement until mid-November, but Maienschein is on his way to securing it. He prevailed in a pre-endorsement conference held last weekend, when no one filed to contest him.

He’s also won the support of local groups, including San Diego Democrats for Equality, a progressive club. That’s significant considering that he’s straight and she’s a member of the LGBT community.

Dan Rottenstreich, Gover’s campaign consultant in 2018, said Gover is now eyeing 2024, when Maienschein will be termed out.

Maienschein not in the clear yet, though: His opponent on the Republican side, June Cutter, raised more than $100,000 in the first six months of 2019.

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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 is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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