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The San Diego Housing Commission building downtown. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The San Diego Housing Commission started 2021 fresh off a win.

The agency in charge of low-income housing in the city had just purchased two hotels and converted them into housing for formerly homeless residents, who in December moved into their new digs. In the world of affordable housing, the city’s move to buy the hotels and get new residents living there wasn’t just fast, it was blistering.

But early in 2021, the good feelings gave way to a series of controversies over those very hotels.

The agency spent the rest of the year fending off reform conversations that stemmed from those controversies.

The broker who helped the commission buy the hotels had invested heavily in the seller, prior to negotiating the purchase, an arrangement the commission’s counsel said was illegal. Quickly, the commission’s board and the City Council criticized the agency for how it responded to the issue, and how they were kept from communicating with each other about it. Eventually, the city attorney implemented new requirements of agency staff, based on a dispute with its legal counsel.

Months later, we reported that at least 10 residents of the hotels had either died on the property or due to incidents at the hotels. Again, the Council and commission’s board immediately criticized agency staff when they learned about the deaths only after Voice of San Diego began reporting on them.

Council President Sean Elo-Rivera and Councilman Chris Cate have spearheaded on the Council an effort to make changes to the agency’s legal structure and the accountability role the city holds over it. Those efforts have progressed in 2021, but are expected to fully materialize in the new year.

The idea that he’d spend so much time in 2021 working on reforming the agency, Cate said, never crossed his mind this time a year ago.

“There needs to be a catalyst for these kinds of things,” he said.

Elo-Rivera said he’s excited the city is making changes to an agency that’s responsible for providing low-income housing in a city that needs it.

“Governance work isn’t always glamorous, but if it isn’t done well the big, bold things we want to move on will fall on their face for lack of a solid foundation,” he said.

Click here to read more.

Big Day in Politics: South Bay Duel Setting Up?

David Alvarez, the former San Diego City Councilman and mayoral candidate, announced in a video he was going to run for Assembly. That, itself, isn’t all that surprising. (Though he told us in a recent San Diego 101 podcast that he had no plans to run.)

What makes it interesting is that the district is currently represented by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who, you may have heard, is kind of a big deal. Actually, it’s a new district. Gonzalez represents Assembly District 80, which had covered much of South Bay and her home in City Heights.

The new Assembly District 80 will be fully in South Bay: It covers Chula Vista, National City and stretches into Barrio Logan. It doesn’t include Gonzalez’s home. This happened to a lot of legislators. They got “double bunked” with other sitting legislators. In this case, Assemblywoman Akilah Weber and Gonzalez are now living in the same district.

But there are others: As we were all processing the implications of all this, former San Diego City Council President Georgette Gómez announced that she would like to run for the seat if and when Gonzalez is out.

“Recently, I called my Assemblywoman @Lorenasgonzalez to respectfully ask her for her endorsement to replace her whenever she is no longer representing #AD80. I’d be honored to one day continue her legacy in this district when she is done,” she wrote.

Gómez and Alvarez have worked together and been close allies and friends in the past. So are they now headed for an epic contest? Well there are others who may want to run for that seat, including National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis or Imperial Beach City Councilwoman Paloma Aguirre. But for now it is …

… All up to Gonzalez: She has been battling breast cancer and related complications and has been clear that’s her priority for now.

But the powerful California Labor Federation recently voted to endorse her to take over as its executive if and when its current leader, Art Pulaski, the secretary-treasurer, steps down. He has no plans to, though, so … yeah we don’t really understand this one.

As far as we know, she is running for re-election and hasn’t said otherwise. But she could run against Weber for the new 79th Assembly District or she could move into the new 80th in South Bay. Or, if she took the job with the Labor Federation, she would have to leave the Assembly.

And … Dems Endorse Myers for Sheriff

The San Diego County Democratic Party endorsed Dave Myers in the race for sheriff. Myers is a former deputy sheriff who ran against current sheriff Bill Gore.

Supporters of Gore’s No. 2, Undersheriff Kelly Martinez had hoped to stop the party from endorsing in the race. Prominent Democrats including Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, County Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher and U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas had tried to thwart competition for Martinez by endorsing her the moment she announced for the race. It was a big move — Martinez had only recently become a Democrat. Only Vargas would talk to us about why he made the move so urgently: He said it was because he believed Myers was “unhinged.”

But Myers’ support among party insiders and progressive activists is very strong. He counts new San Diego City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera, Councilwoman Monica Montgomery and others as supporters.

“I’m beyond elated that he received the [Democratic Party] endorsement tonight! It’s time for real change, not dress-up,” wrote Genevieve Jones-Wright, a lawyer and prominent criminal justice reform advocate.

Barrios Agrees to Pay Ethics Penalty

Kelvin Barrios, candidate for San Diego City Council, appears at Golden Hall on election night. / Photo by Megan Wood

Former City Council candidate Kelvin Barrios has agreed to settle a complaint with the San Diego City Ethics Commission and pay a $5,000 fine, according to the Reader.

For a week in 2019, Barrios worked for both Laborers Local Union 89 and then-Council President Georgette Gómez. But he didn’t disclose the overlapping income until after Voice of San Diego asked him about it in the final months of the 2020 election.

Officials are prohibited from being paid by an outside entity while also on the city clock and from working on issues with potential future employers.

By then, Barrios’ professional life had come under increased scrutiny in response to a Union-Tribune report revealing that the district attorney’s Public Integrity Unit was investigating him.

Dogged by a number of complaints, Barrios ended up pausing his campaign after Gómez and others dropped their support. Sean Elo-Rivera, now the Council president, won the seat. 

Other News

  • Mathew Packard, former vice president of the San Diego Housing Commission’s Housing Innovations Department, writes in a new op-ed that the city should consider an independent panel of citizens and experts who can ensure the City Council receives the information it needs to evaluate performance and maintain accountability when it comes to housing and homelessness. “We need new leadership, a force driven by mission and purpose, not motivated by political futures and retaining public office,” he writes. Read his full argument here.
  • inewsource checked in with the city’s first chief equity officer and what she’s been focused on since coming on board this summer.
  • City News Service reports that the city in January will kick off up to four months of work on the Ocean Beach Pier to repair damage sustained in January.
  • Mayor Todd Gloria on Tuesday signed the Barrio Logan community plan update into law years after an earlier attempt to update the plan was referred to the ballot and repealed, City News Service reported.
  • NBC 7 reports that the University of California system will move to online classes for at least the first two weeks of January out of concern about spread of the Omicron variant.
  • San Diego health systems told 10 News they are prepared for an expected post-holiday spike in COVID hospitalizations.
  • Fox 5 reports that trash is piling up outside apartments and businesses as more than 250 Republic Services sanitation workers continue to strike.

This Morning Report was written by Andrew Keatts, Jesse Marx and Lisa Halverstadt. It was edited by Megan Wood.

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