Measure C supporters hold a press conference in downtown San Diego. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The campaign behind a hotel-tax hike that would fund a Convention Center expansion, homeless initiatives and road repairs said for months that it was aiming for the backing of two-thirds of voters.

But as of early Wednesday, Measure C fell short of the two-thirds threshold with 63.55 percent of the vote.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer and campaign leaders said Wednesday they are for now hoping to eke out a victory once additional ballots are counted but as Lisa Halverstadt reports, supporters may also consider court action they laid the groundwork for more than two years ago if it doesn’t.

Boosters behind Measure C opted to pursue a citizens’ initiative two years ago based on a prospect now being tested in the courts that citizens’ measures – as opposed to those introduced by government entities – may be able to bypass the two-thirds requirement and instead pass with a simple majority.

Halverstadt explains the 2017 state Supreme Court ruling that rocked discussions statewide about attempted tax increases, including Measure C, as well as the possible next steps for the San Diego initiative if it ultimately fails to garner a two-thirds majority vote.

How North County Races Shook Out

The opponents of Newland Sierra, a proposed housing development outside Escondido, scored a victory Tuesday when Measure B went down. The no campaign earned 58 percent of the vote. 

Still, a spokesman for that effort said his group is not done fighting. “We are ready for whatever Newland tries to do next,” he told Kayla Jimenez in the North County Report. 

The developers behind the project are reassessing their plans for the property. 

Measure A, an initiative that would force certain types of development in rural and semi-rural areas onto county ballots in the future, is still too close to call, but a number of other North County contests have been decided. Jimenez rounds ‘em up. 

Council Seeking a New Kind of City Attorney

Four San Diego City Council members want to reform the way the city receives its legal services and they’re seeking a November 2020 ballot measure. 

The city government gets its legal advice from the city attorney, who is elected by the people. Several candidates over the years have promised during their campaigns to be dispassionate arbiters of the law but once in office found themselves at the center of political discussions.

In a memo Wednesday, Council members Mark Kersey, Barbara Bry, Monica Montgomery and Vivian Moreno asked Council President Georgette Gómez to docket a discussion on a charter amendment. The current “structure is ill-advised and does not serve either the City’s officials or its citizens well, regardless of who holds the office of City Attorney,” the memo reads.

The proper role of the city attorney in San Diego has been a recurring source of tension at City Hall for the last 15 years. When she first ran for the job in 2016, Mara Elliott pointed to the county’s form of legal services as something worth replicating. But rather than blend in, Elliott has stood out on some of the most contentious issues, leaving the mayor and Council to pursue their own goals within her interpretations of law.

She’s also been openly critical of City Council members at times. In January, she said any members who felt misled by the smart streetlights program, because the law enforcement uses of the technology weren’t front and center in 2016, hadn’t asked tough enough questions and hadn’t done their job. 

Instead, the memo suggests that the city attorney in San Diego should remain an elected prosecutor but the mayor and Council should appoint a new attorney to assume “civil advisory and litigation functions.” That change would require a vote of the people. 

City Auditor: Court Should Probably Sort Out New Ash Street Claim

In a memo obtained by the Union-Tribune, interim City Auditor Kyle Elser said he may need to secure “legal assistance” to consider new allegations surrounding 101 Ash St., the downtown high-rise that was deemed a public nuisance in January because of asbestos and evacuated.

Last month, the city’s Audit Committee requested that Elser review how the deal came together and what went wrong during the remodel. Real estate investor Sandy Shapery struck a lease-to-own agreement with the city through Cisterra Development in late 2016. 

Last week, City Councilwoman Barbara Bry threw fuel on the Ash Street dumpster fire when she pointed the public to a lawsuit filed by one of Shapery’s former employees alleging that Shapery had “withheld the existence of harmful contaminants in the property.” 

In court documents, Shapery denies the claim. 

Elser said it may be better suited for investigation through the legal process, not an audit. In the meantime, he will review whether the city knew, or should have known, the extent of the asbestos inside the building and any deficiencies with it. 

“Regardless of whether the Lessor acted in good faith, it is incumbent upon the City to conduct thorough due diligence prior to entering into an agreement for such a significant property and provide decisionmakers and the public with sufficient information on the proposed transaction and planned uses of the property,” Elser wrote. 

CA-53 Goes National

The runoff between Sara Jacobs and Georgette Gómez in the 53rd Congressional District is already generating national media attention.

It’s not surprising: the race is between Jacobs, a former State Department contractor and granddaughter of Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs who has spent nearly $4 million of her own wealth on this and a previous congressional campaign, and Gómez, the community organizer-turned-City Council president backed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders, reflects national tensions within the Democratic Party.

By Wednesday morning, Ocasio-Cortez congratulated Gómez for reaching the runoff, boosting a story by The Intercept that latched onto the dynamic of a billionaire heiress facing a Sanders-backed former environmental justice organizer.

Vox jumped on the race, too, but without focusing much on Gómez. Its headline, though, got to the same place: “A tech billionaire spent millions to elect his granddaughter. It’s working.”

News Roundup

  • Sheriff’s deputies took 11 minutes to call 911 after discovering an unresponsive inmate during an inspection in the San Diego Central Jail. The man was later pronounced dead. (Union-Tribune)
  • A trio of Barrio Logan groups are working together to try to eke out new guidelines they hope will help the city revive a long-delayed update to the neighborhood’s community plan. (Union-Tribune)
  • A new study found that an earthquake along San Diego’s Rose Canyon Fault, which runs through the center of the city, could damage about 120,000 buildings and lead to $38 billion in losses. (NBC 7)
  • The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego announced Wednesday that it will stop sharing wine during church services to try to prevent the spread of coronavirus. (Times of San Diego)

Post-Election Quick Hits

Democratic Reps. Mike Levin, Scott Peters and Juan Vargas all came out on top in their primaries but must face their opponents again in November. (Times of San Diego)

Former City Council District 9 policy adviser Kelvin Barrios will likely face off against nonprofit executive Sean Elo in a bid for the District 9 seat this fall. (KPBS)

Superior Court judge candidates Michelle Ialeggio, CJ Mody and Alana Wong Robinson appeared victorious in the hours after the election, and one judicial race is likely headed to a runoff because no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote. (Times of San Diego)

The Morning Report was written by Lisa Halverstadt, Jesse Marx and Andrew Keatts, and edited by Sara Libby.

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