“The Homeless Reality” at Politifest 2019. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano
“The Homeless Reality” at Politifest 2019. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

Since 2011, we have regularly attempted to mount a festival of debates and discussions lovably called Politifest. And it seemed to have found its home at University of San Diego the last few years.

Until this one, that is. Gathering a 1,000 people indoors with their portfolios of pre-existing conditions was not going to work this season.

We decided to mount it as an online only event and over a week, not just a day. One of the problems with online things, though, is there’s no functional limit to what can be done. For example, our reporters don’t have to keep their stories short to fit in a certain space in a printed newspaper or a certain time constraint in a broadcast. So it takes great discipline to keep it tight.

We didn’t hold back with Politifest 2020. There was no limit on the number of rooms we could fill. We organized every session we could imagine and then we added some more.

This would not be possible without the help of our partners at KPBS, NBC 7 San Diego, AM 600 KOGO, Cox, The Coast News and so many others whose talent is going to help us moderate so many conversations.

We have nearly 40 discussions and debates scheduled. If you read the Politics Report, you’re likely someone who is going to want to check out many of them.

Check out the schedule. It’s something else.

Here are a few of the choice ones for real political diehards. Yes you, the ones who open the Politics Report Saturday morning while your kids play Minecraft and the bacon grease splatters on your hand.

(Maybe that is actually me?)

Inside the 10th and 11th Floors: We all know the politicians but so much of what happens at San Diego City Hall is cooked up on the 10th and 11th floors where staffs for the City Council and mayor work. I’ll moderate a conversation between Venus Molina, chief of staff for Councilwoman Jen Campbell, Frances Barraza, the mayor’s senior director of community engagement and Lucas O’Connor, the deputy chief of staff to Councilman Chris Ward.

I think we can get into how things operate but also what’s to come. The city’s politics is now dominated by Democrats. But divisions and dilemmas are not going away. How will they break? What are the challenges on the horizon? I’ve never seen a discussion like this and would love to go to one.

Alain Stephens is interviewing Xavier Becerra: Reporter Alain Stephens, who writes for The Trace, is great. He’s not shy. He’s going to have some great questions for the attorney general on policing in the 21st century.

Redistricting: Next year, the cities, county, states, school districts – all of them – will redraw their lines. It is a contentious, mathematical labyrinth of public policy. Yet it’s the first, crucial step of any democratic republic: defining the areas that elected officials will represent when they govern. We’ve got a diverse group of experts to talk about it, including the return of Midori Wong, the woman who ran the city’s contentious redistricting commission in 2011.

Fletcher vs. Bailey (with Prather!): We wanted to do a COVID-19 discussion for Politifest, and I think we got a good one. County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher has become as well known as ever as a voice of caution on re-opening the economy after the COVID-19 quarantine began. Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey has a much different take on where we should be going. But we were not going to let this discussion go without a scientist. Kim Prather, an atmospheric chemist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, has been instrumental in getting the global community of public health experts to accept that the virus travels mostly through the air. This has profound implications for how we can reopen things safely, and she has a vision for it.

That’s just a tiny selection of the sessions we have planned. Community groups have put together dozens of their own to talk about inequities in the response to COVID-19, Proposition 22 and Proposition 15 and much more.

Sign up, and if you cannot afford to register, remember it is free to students and let us know, we can provide some free entries. Some of the panels are open to the public, like the COVID-19 political discussion.

We Got Some Money News, Part 1: The Mayor’s Race

Councilwoman Barbara Bry jolted political observers when she dramatically outraised her rival, Assemblyman Todd Gloria, in their respective campaigns for mayor, during the last reporting period. But this one, the numbers we just got representing July through mid-September, weren’t nearly as good for Bry.



Part of what has happened is Bry has paid herself back $100,000. Bry loaned her campaign $100,000 in the primary and the deadline to pay herself back was September (180 days after the March 3 primary).

This isn’t something you normally see. Candidates always loan themselves money but normally wait to pay themselves back until after the election – until after they win when a lot of donors realize they may want to be on a candidate’s good side.

In city elections, candidates can loan their campaigns $100,000 and their campaigns can pay them back that much.

She could have, of course, not paid herself back for the loan during the primary and would have $100,000 more to go into the final battle with. She could not pay the loan back from the primary with people who gave her the maximum donation for the primary before the primary.

All that means that she raised a significant amount of money from new donors after the primary and a big chunk of it went back to her, personally and not to the fight ahead.

Gloria on the other hand now has substantially more resources to take into the final stretch.

We Got Some Money News, Part 1: Gaspar Comes Strong

County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar has about as hard of a challenge for re-election as she could have short of dealing with a major scandal. Her party, the Republican Party, has much lower registration in her area. The area went strongly in favor of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election and Gaspar has embraced President Donald Trump, who can be a little divisive.

But it’s still hard to oust a sitting county supervisor. Especially in no small part because of their ability to raise money. Which is part of why it was so surprising how poorly Gaspar had done at fundraising last period.

She had an explanation: She didn’t fundraise. She didn’t think it was appropriate with the struggles everyone was facing.

But she has come around, and brought in far more since July than rival Terra Lawson-Remer.



Hueso Opposes Proposition 15, the Property Tax Push

Nora Vargas and Sen. Ben Hueso / Photos by Jamie Scott Lytle and Megan Wood

State Sen. Ben Hueso is in a tight race for county supervisor against Nora Vargas, who is a trustee for the Southwestern Community College Board and a former Planned Parenthood executive. They’re both Democrats, and while Vargas got the endorsement of the Democratic Party, several labor unions have stayed out of it.

That may change.

SEIU 221, the union with the largest group of county employees, and the teachers union, have cared about very few efforts more than the one to “split the rolls” on property taxes and allow commercial properties to be assessed at their market value for the purpose of calculating their property tax evaluation. For more than 40 years, Proposition 13 has capped assessments at 1 percent increases unless a property changes hands.

This change would protect that for homeowners and residential properties of all kinds but would otherwise effectively increase property taxes on things like shopping centers and office parks.

And now, Hueso has come out against it.

“Right now, you’d have to be very disconnected from reality to want to support a measure that is not going to help businesses recover,” he told KUSI.

The unions may not be happy but that could be a clear call to business leaders across the region to pick a candidate in that South Bay race and help him.

Vacation Rentals! Yay, We Get to Talk About Them Again

Dispatch from Lisa Halverstadt: San Diego’s long-running vacation rental regulatory debate is about to be back in the spotlight – before the election.

City Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell’s office says a new ordinance based on a regulatory compromise brokered between Campbell, hotel workers’ union Unite Here Local 30, and Expedia Group, the parent company of vacation rental platforms HomeAway and VRBO, is headed to the planning commission on Oct. 8.

The compromise lays out a proposed licensing system to track and manage vacation rentals, a limit on the volume of whole-home vacation rentals the city can license and policies to address long-running quality of life issues such as noise and parking.

Venus Molina, Campbell’s chief of staff, said the office hopes City Council President Georgette Gómez will schedule a late October vote on the ordinance. Read: ahead of the November election that will reshape the City Council.

“We know that many of the Council members are tired of this issue, but we feel very confident knowing that we have a compromise between Expedia and Unite Here,” Molina wrote in an email to VOSD.

It’s unclear whether the mayor and a City Council majority, which has struggled for years to regulate rentals, will be on board with a pre-election vote on an issue that has for years paralyzed City Hall. Union support is likely to be helpful.

There’s already a hitch, though. Powerhouse rental platform Airbnb this week came out against the proposal, calling for an adjustment to the cap Campbell and others are proposing.

Bottom line: The coalition behind the compromise has its work cut out for it.

Andrew Keatts is out this week. You probably noticed based on the clarity of voice and logical construction of these crisp sentences. If you have any ideas for the Politics Report send them to scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org.

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...

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