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The election is just two weeks away, and San Diego voters have big decisions to make.
Will control of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors flip for the first time in a generation? Which Democrat will lead San Diego as mayor? Should a portion of the city’s coastal height limit be repealed?
Voice of San Diego’s Scott Lewis went on Reddit to answer questions about local politics and the election. Here are some of the best parts of that conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.
For me the hardest decision is on smaller races like school board or judges. It’s hard to find info on candidates and it seems most journalists/editorials don’t cover these races because of the hyper-local specifics. What’s the best way to research and make a decision on these types of races?
Hi, well, they do get covered but you have to really be plugged in to follow them. I think the problem is that there’s just so much to cover. We focus only on local public affairs, for example, and are overwhelmed with major races we want to investigate and measures we want to explain. So you have to prioritize. Judges are no more local than mayoral races, so that’s not the reason either. They’re just considered lower on the priority when you’re divvying up reporting resources.
If you want some perspective on the actual races this time, here are a couple things to keep in mind. With local judges, a great place to start is the San Diego County Bar Association. They rate the judicial candidates based on their qualifications. And if you ever see one rated not qualified, then you know it’s serious.
There’s only one race on the ballot for this general election in San Diego County: Tim Nader verses Paul Starita.
Starita is rated Exceptionally Qualified, which means: Presently possessing exceptional professional ability, experience, competence, integrity and/or temperament indicating an exceptional ability to perform the judicial function.
Nader is rated well qualified, which means: Presently possessing a high-level professional ability, experience, competence, integrity and/or temperament indicating high-level ability to perform the judicial function.
Starita earned the Union-Tribune editorial board’s endorsement as well. He is a Republican and has a more conservative set of views and background than Nader, who is the Democrats’ choice.
As for school board, perhaps you would consider watching our debate for the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education here.
That leaves the community college districts and the County Office of Education board members, which I agree are hard sometimes to find information about.
Which race do you think has the most similar candidates?
I saw this last night and I’ve been thinking about it a lot. It depends, right? There are several races where the rivals are in the same party. The San Diego mayoral race and two of the three county supervisor races come to mind. In District 1, South Bay, Ben Hueso and Nora Vargas are both Democrats. Big political players on the left, like labor unions and Supervisor Nathan Fletcher decided not to endorse either of them. Rather surprisingly, the Democratic Party endorsed Vargas, even though Hueso has been a state senator for many years and before that was president of the San Diego City Council.
So I think you could look at Hueso and Vargas as very similar on their policies. But that race has gotten fierce and mean. Here are some of the attacks coming at Hueso and some of them hitting Vargas.
And I think there’s something similar playing out in the San Diego mayoral race. Todd Gloria secured almost every major institutional endorsement he could hope for, from the U-T to the Democratic Party, the Chamber of Commerce and most labor unions. The chamber and labor are spending big on his behalf.
Bry has run a bit to the right now to pick up some of the Republicans and independents who will vote. But she and Gloria have similar perspectives on a number of issues, even housing, where they appear to disagree the most.
We have a nasty race in the 50th. Do you have thoughts on that?
Yeah, it is nasty. The 50th is the most conservative district in California. The Republican, Darrell Issa, should probably be running away with it. But he appears to be sweating a bit. At the same time, in an effort to appease right-leaning voters, Ammar Campa-Najjar has really ostracized some of his progressive supporters. He appeared on the livestream of a Facebook group – Defend East County – that is drowning in conspiracy theories and hatred of movements for criminal justice reform and Black Lives Matter. That’s got him twisted in some knots. Campa-Najjar got the (reluctant?) endorsement of the Union-Tribune. “Maybe Campa-Najjar is willing to say anything to get elected, but he’s not saying derogatory things,” they wrote.
It could get very interesting.
How do you see the city attorney’s race shaping up? It’s a position I believe that is often overlooked and not talked about as much, but it is an important office that handles misdemeanor prosecutions and city legal matters. Most famously is what was Mara Elliot’s involvement with 101 Ash St. situation.
By how I see the race shaping, do you mean pure politics? Like, who will win? I’m going to try reaaallly hard not to prognosticate here. But I probably will a little. Look, it’s very hard to oust an incumbent in a race like this. Very few people know what the city attorney does. Few people even know who it is.
Now there was a very recent example of an incumbent getting booted handily: City Attorney Mike Aguirre won election in 2004 after lining up an incredibly diverse coalition of supporters. By 2008, they had nearly all dropped him and even though Democrats did really well in 2008 everywhere, he failed and was knocked out by the Republican, Jan Goldsmith. It was the final chapter of a very polarizing time for the city attorney’s office, and he came out the vanquished.
Cory Briggs is probably better known than the vast majority of lawyers in town and so he has an advantage against a lot of people in trying to take on an incumbent like this. But a lot of that notoriety is not very positive.
But he does have money, and has put some of it into the race. Briggs has raised a total, with his own funds, of more than $219,000 (through Sept. 19). He had just more than $6,000 left, however. Elliott for her part had already spent more than $319,000 and had almost $200,000 left to spend.
He has said before Elliott should have to interview for her job again and he has served that purpose to force her to be held accountable for some decisions she has made. One of those, of course, is the one you mention, 101 Ash. Most of the deal was overseen by her predecessor, Goldsmith. But she was in office for the last signature, which she literally had to cross his name off and put hers on. The criticism is she should have reviewed the document and refused to sign something that gave so much leverage to the landlord/sellers of the building protecting them from liability.
So all that said, Briggs is clearly the underdog but Mara has given him a lot of fodder and it has helped him string together a network of her critics that may cause the night to be closer than we all would have thought.
What’s the latest on fabricated footnote 15? Last I heard NBC suspended two employees.
Hi, yes, the station suspended Dorian Hargrove and Tom Jones and published a retraction acknowledging that Footnote 15 was fabricated. It all seemed to be done: The reporters had been duped and politics upended.
However, since then, Hargrove has hired an attorney who argues that he does not accept that finding, NBC should put him back on staff and pay him for lost time. She argues that NBC editors and lawyers signed off on the story. She has also filed a claim against the city on his behalf.
It’s really a mystery at this point. The city has so far refused to release the actual report Hargrove was citing. But Hargrove has also not released the report or identity of his source. He at first claimed he got the document from a trusted source. Then later NBC wrote that it came from an anonymous (to him) source. Now in the letter he says he got it anonymously then called a source to ask if he/she had sent him something and got confirmation that way.
Is there any active opposition to the Midway height limit repeal? Are there are politicians or political groups that are opposing it?
Yes, there are two men in particular, John McNab and Scott Andrews, who have spent about $50,000 opposing the measure as part of the group Save Coastal Access – No on E. McNab was a fierce opponent as well to the McMillin-led redevelopment of Liberty Station back when I first started reporting in San Diego.
I have a couple questions about the Midway district. The plan from Brookfield is based on the 30-foot height limit being eliminated by the voters. What happens if the 30-foot repeal doesn’t get passed? Does the city open the competition back up again or are we stuck with a 50-year-old arena and a sea of parking lot?
So this is a really interesting question. Voters approved the coastal height limit in the city of San Diego in the ‘70s. It prohibits building anything above 30 feet on land west of [Interstate] 5 within the city of San Diego. To get around it, you have to get a vote of the people, like what SeaWorld did in 1998 to get roller coasters approved.
Measure E provides an exemption for the entire Midway area, including the land that goes all the way to Old Town. If Measure E fails, well, yeah, they can’t build a new sports arena. The current one is 60 feet, and unless they found a way to dig down probably into the water table, they could not build a new one. (The old one was built before the height limit was put in place by voters.)
I suspect that if the measure fails, they will just come back in 2022 – perhaps with a measure just for an exemption for the area around the Sports Arena. But also, Brookfield could very easily lose its exclusive deal to design a project the City Council would review. Neither mayoral candidate will say they are 100 percent committed to them. Barbara Bry outright opposes Measure E.
Are we going to get results and outcomes on races and the propositions earlier than normal this year? I know in past elections it can take several days for some results, especially on hotly contested issues. But because of the high volume of mail-in ballots and because they can be pre-counted, do you think we’ll see, say, a winner declared in the mayor’s race election night?
Thank you for asking this. It’s not widely understood. They count most of the early, mailed in and dropped off votes before Election Day. So right when the polls close, they will release those results and I imagine they will be a more complete representation of the entire vote than we have ever seen. HOWEVER, it could still take days if not weeks for some of the outcomes of races to be clear. That’s because any ballot sent in postmarked by Election Day or sooner will be counted even if it arrives up to 17 days after the election (it’s normally three days but the state extended it this year). So if there are any tight races or if a lot of people hold onto their ballots until the last minute, it could still be a long wait. The registrar must verify each ballot that comes in and compare it to previous signatures. It takes time.
On the podcast and such you all often talk about “San Diego” problems, like weird mistakes that prevent the local government from accomplishing things. What do you think is the root cause of those issues?
There’s kind of a junior varsity flavor to our politics locally. I think it is heavily weighted to punish big, decisive, impactful moves and reward caution. I think a lot of that comes from the fact that San Diego is full of people who like it the way it is. So doing big, transformative things is hard and solving bedeviling issues is hard. I also think there is a fear of conflict that is exaggerated sometimes. We have to learn to hear criticism and fierce debate without thinking it’s a bad thing but rather could lead to compromise and consensus.
Does being a nonprofit create limitations or conflicts of interest when reporting in politics?
Not really. We do not endorse candidates. I’m proud that we have a very diverse group of donors and members – 3,721 as of last week – and they all have different perspectives. I certainly hear complaints and praise often. But our reporters work independently and with an eye on our What We Stand For document, which our staff and board created as basically our “agenda.”