Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s “Complete Communities” plan could alter height limits near transit. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Mayor Kevin Faulconer is in the closing months of his administration, but at least one more significant policy he’s championed is heading to the City Council before he leaves office.

And it’s fitting into a familiar place for controversial topics: after Election Day, but before new city officials are inaugurated.

The City Council is set to consider on Nov. 9 Faulconer’s so-called Complete Communities plan, a set of policies that would encourage dense development near transit and change the way developers contribute to park and transportation funding.

The plan is maybe best known as the embodiment of the mayor’s pledge at the 2019 State of the City address to eliminate limits on building heights outside the coastal area, and to end parking minimums for new developments near transit.

In the end, the policy didn’t go quite that far. It creates a new optional incentive package that developers can use for projects that are both near transit stations and in areas that already allow apartment construction.

Even within a half mile of transit stations, more than half of properties would not be eligible for the new program, because it is illegal to build anything there except single-family homes. The mayor’s boldest land use proposal, offered on the way out the door, still pays fealty to the city’s century-long commitment to single-family housing above all.

Nonetheless, the plan has generated fierce opposition from community groups that oppose more development in their neighborhoods. It’s unclear whether the mayor has five votes on the Council for the plan, though his decision to push it forward in the first place suggests he has some confidence. Five of the nine Council members who will vote on the plan next month will be replaced by early December.

Don’t forget the second reading. The City Council will need to vote on the measure twice to implement it. That means while the outgoing Council could take a relatively easy vote, after Election Day, the second reading could still require approval from the new City Council.

This time four years ago, there was another vote scheduled before the outgoing City Council after Election Day. The Council on Nov. 14, 2016, just after that year’s election, unanimously voted for a second time to greenlight a lease-to-own deal for a high-rise building you might have heard about, located at 101 Ash St.

Cats and Dogs, Living Together

There has been a lot of talk about supporters of Todd Gloria sending out mailers that highlighted the support his rival, Barbara Bry, has gotten from Republicans. They sent them to people who don’t want generally prefer Republicans.

Very clever stuff.

But a couple weeks ago, it cut the other way. Those same supporters of Gloria, funded by the Municipal Employees Association and Chamber of Commerce, touted the support Gloria enjoys among popular local Republicans as well. This time, they aimed it at Republicans who may appreciate it.

The Republicans featured in the ad were aware and did not object to it.

The mailer also features prominently the endorsement Gloria received from the Police Officers Association, the union of officers in the San Diego Police Department. These days that’s been more controversial on the left than it used to be. The Democratic Party locally even demanded that candidates renounce and avoid such support.

Remember that?

BE IT RESOLVED that the San Diego County Democratic Party shall refuse all donations from Law Enforcement Unions and Associations and demands that all San Diego Democratic elected officials refuse such contributions as well and reject the endorsement of such associations;”

Gloria has not rejected the endorsement.

Candidates Spending it All (and More?)

Gloria and Bry don’t appear to be leaving anything on the table in this final stretch.

Bry spent nearly $1 million between Sept. 20 and Oct. 17, when you count expenses she incurred without payment yet. By Oct. 21 she had just about $65,000 to address about $388,000 in outstanding debts. Fortunately for her, $100,000 of that is debt to herself. She loaned her campaign $100,000. We reported a few weeks ago that she paid herself back for a similar loan from the primary campaign.

Her money is back in the pot.

She has contributed $550,000 total of her own funds to the campaign this year.

Gloria spent just less than $600,000 in that same Sept. 20 to Oct. 17 period. He had $253,000 in the bank with $47,000 in outstanding debt.

A Quick Roundup

You should read Jesse Marx’s pieces about what happens to the Board of Supervisors if Republicans remain in control and what happens if Democrats take control. Spoiler alert: It’s about money and how it’s spent.

If you somehow missed it: Check out Andy’s piece about Bry, who told him she would recuse herself from one of the biggest contracts the city will make for decades if Berkshire Hathaway Energy does end up bidding on it. We’re talking about the franchise agreement for delivering power. For 50 years, SDG&E has held that contract and they want it again but Berkshire Hathaway also indicated it might want it.

This week we asked Bry about an up to $1 million investment her husband has in the larger Berkshire Hathaway company and that’s when Bry said she would no longer weigh in on the matter if Berkshire bids.

So will it bid? As of Friday, Berkshire Hathaway had not confirmed it submitted a bid. SDG&E did.

The vote so far: As of Friday, the registrar had officially received 650,000 ballots, about 34 percent of San Diego’s registered voters.

Why We Vote for Judges

Dispatch from Randy Dotinga: Why the heck do we vote for judges when most of us don’t know compos mentis from corpus delecti?

The process depends on which judges we’re talking about.

Superior Court judges – the ones who run local courtrooms – have to be elected at least once: In a race for an open seat or in a general election after they’re appointed by the governor. They serve six-year terms. They can run again, and they automatically win unless someone runs against them.

This year, according to, 43 local incumbent judges automatically won re-election because no one ran against them. Three wound up with more than 50 percent of the vote in the March primary, meaning they won and avoided a runoff on Nov. 3.

Except for a very hot judge race in 2018 (stay tuned for details), no challenger has knocked off an incumbent local judge since 2002.

Do we get to vote for any judges at all this year?

There’s just one judge race on the ballot in the county. Tim Nader, a state prosecutor and former mayor of Chula Vista, is running against Paul Starita, a federal civil attorney and U.S. Marine judge advocate.

What about state-level judges?

The procedure is different for judges on the California Supreme Court and the state’s appellate courts. The governor appoints these judges (subject to a veto by the Commission on Judicial Appointments), and then voters decide whether to ratify their appointments in yes-or-no votes. There are even more complications, which you can read about here. There aren’t any state judicial races this year.

Why do we have to vote for judges?

Because California wasn’t one of the first states to join the union. Back when the United States became a nation, the founders of the first states liked the federal justice system, with judges who are appointed by Congress and get to serve a long time, said Brian Frederick, a political science professor at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts.

But by the 1840s, things began to change amid the rise of Jacksonian Democracy – an anti-elitist movement that wanted to give power to the (white male) people. “There was a push toward more democracy and accountability in the system,” Frederick said.

Every state that’s been admitted since 1846 – including California in 1850 – at least initially put judges up for election. Now, voters elect judges in about 40 states.

By the 1910s, the good-government Progressive Movement swept into California, allowing judges to be recalled – more on that in a sec – and killing partisan judge elections. That means we stopped voting for judges by political party, although it’s often easy to figure out which way a judge candidate leans.

Is it a good idea to elect judges?

It’s debatable. “Advocates say it makes judges accountable, that they have to take into account the concerns of the people they serve,” Frederick said.

But critics point out that studies say elected judges are harder on criminals – nobody runs on a not-tough-on-crime platform – and they’re less likely to support gay rights.

Other nations, meanwhile, think we’re nuts for electing judges. “We’re weird by international standards,” said Mitchel Lasser, a professor at Cornell Law School. For example, he said, wannabe judges in France go to judge school, and only 10 percent or 20 percent manage to pass required tests. Then they get accepted for starting judgeships that are out in the sticks.

Do judicial elections matter?

Judges usually don’t make the news. But when they do – oh boy.

One newsmaker is Gary Kreep, a birther and attorney specializing in right-wing advocacy who won a little-noticed 2013 judicial race. (Kreep ran against a prosecutor with the last name of Peed. Really.) He immediately became controversial and drove fellow judges nuts. Voters kicked him out in 2018 in the county’s only contested judicial race.

In 2010, a big-mouthed judge named DeAnn Salcido resigned in 2010 after getting in trouble. Among other things, the Union-Tribune reported that she “referred to court staff as ‘cucumbers,’ and belittled [a public defender] as the ‘slowest public defender we have’ and ‘Mr. Federal Case.’” She also “kept up a running commentary from the bench. After finding out that one man with mental health problems was hearing voices, she said, ‘You’re going to tell me if they say ‘hurt the judge, hurt the judge.’” Well, that does seem like a practical request …

What about recalls?

They’re rare but a big deal when they happen.

In 1977, once-and-future Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Rose Bird to be chief justice of the California Supreme Court. She became the first woman to serve on the court. (Now, four of seven justices are women, including the chief justice.)

Bird refused to uphold death sentences, infuriating Republicans. A third recall attempt – featuring a bumper sticker that said “Free the Night Stalker. Reelect Rose Bird” – succeeded in 1986 when voters sacked her by a margin of 67-33 percent. Two other judges were also recalled.

In 2016, voters in Santa Clara County recalled the judge who gave a lenient sentence to a Stanford University athlete who sexually assaulted a young woman.

Here in San Diego, a judge got recalled – sort of – in 1982. That’s when voters decided to sack Judge Lewis A. Wenzell, who was targeted because he’d been convicted of soliciting prostitution. The conviction was later overturned and the case dismissed, according to a news report.

Voters supported his recall by a margin of 83-17 percent, but they were too late: The judge had already resigned.

In a 2009 interview, Wenzell told me that recalls were fine in “extreme cases,” but “I didn’t think mine was that extreme.” I asked him if he was guilty as charged. “It’s none of your business,” he said. “I never said a word in the whole case about anything, and I’m not going to start now.”

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I'm Andrew Keatts, a managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at

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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