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During an election-year State of the City Speech Wednesday, Mayor Todd Gloria outlined his 2022 agenda, and at least for now it doesn’t include any of the tax measures aiming for the November ballot.
Gloria outlined the need for more money in multiple policy areas in which there are already potential ballot measures in the works: libraries and parks, stormwater, and transit. In each case, though, Gloria steered clear of mentioning whether he’d lead on those measures – or even if he’d support them.
After the speech, Gloria spokeswoman Rachel Laing confirmed that was by design. The mayor is not getting involved on any of the would-be ballot measures at this time.
“The mayor is not getting out in front on the various citizens initiatives that are still in the conceptual phase,” she said. “He’ll evaluate each measure carefully once they’ve qualified for the ballot.”
The potential ballot measures, though, each represent key points of the agenda he outlined Wednesday.
Gloria, for example, described the city’s stormwater liability. The city last year estimated it had a $2.3 billion gap in the next five years between the money it expects to have, and all the infrastructure it needs to fix. Stormwater – the city’s flood management system – accounts for $1.7 billion of that gap.
Wednesday, Gloria said stormwater needs called for a massive fix, in the same way the Pure Water system the city is building to provide an independent water source.
“This is the kind of all-hands-on-deck approach we need to repair our stormwater infrastructure,” he said. “The fee we charge to maintain our pipes, culverts, drains and treatment facilities hasn’t been updated in almost 25 years, and as a result, we’ve fallen far behind on critically needed improvements to protect our beaches and waterways.”
He did not say, though, whether he supported an attempt this year to put an initiative on the ballot to pay for those “critically needed improvements.” The Council’s environmental committee voted last year to work on a measure that could go on the 2022 ballot. Council President Sean Elo Rivera told us last month it’s still in the Council’s plans.
Parks and libraries supporters last year announced their own initiative to increase funding for city infrastructure, and while Gloria touted his goal of streamlining city funding for city projects from parks and libraries to roads and rec centers, he didn’t mention the ballot measure.
And while he announced that he’d launch a “collaborative, regional working group” of governmental agencies to bring as much money from the new federal infrastructure bill to San Diego, he did not mention the initiative, spearheaded by unions and environmentalists, to raise sales taxes to pay for regional transportation projects like roads, transit and freeways.
That initiative has done the most to leave what Gloria called “the conceptual phase.” It was endorsed by the San Diego County Democratic Party last month, and paid workers have been collecting signatures since just after Thanksgiving. Dan Rottenstreich, the consultant managing the initiative, said they have tens of thousands of signatures in hand already and are certain they’ll qualify by May 11 when they need to submit them.
“Democrats are fired up about it, the business community is fired up about it, everybody knows we need to do something about infrastructure, transit and traffic in this town,” he said. “We can’t wait any longer. We have the resources we need to qualify for the ballot and then some. I’m confident we’re going to qualify for the ballot, and then we’re going to win.”
Regional transportation would suffer a considerable setback if it doesn’t. The just-passed transportation plan for the county that Gloria voted for in December is already counting on voters approving a ballot measure next year, and for it to bring in more than $10 billion for new projects. It’s expecting voters to pass another similar measure on the 2024 ballot, and another on the 2028 ballot.
Prior to Gloria’s mum approach to tax measures this week, it was specifically his long-standing willingness to support revenue-increasing efforts that Michael Zucchet, head of the Municipal Employees Association, said separated him from other local leaders. On election night in 2020, Zucchet said he hoped Gloria would usher in a new era in which the city was honest with residents that they couldn’t get a world-class city on the cheap.
“Something has to fundamentally change in San Diego,” he said. “Citizens have been told for a generation that they don’t have to pay for trash pickup, that they don’t have to have the same taxes and fees as other cities not just in California, but in San Diego County, that we can do more with less. The fact of the matter is, we can’t. We want to have the best streets, the best parks, the best public safety, all at a discount. Something’s got to give here. The city is not in good shape right now. There’s going to be a fundamental decision, are we going to be the bigger city Todd has articulated, and we have to grow the pie with projects he’s talked about, or to grow revenue, or to reprioritize what we want to do as a city.”
Aguirre Will Sue the Chargers, NFL
We’ve written and talked about St. Louis’ incredible legal victory over the NFL and Rams owner Stan Kroenke. The city, county and sports complex of St. Louis sued the NFL and Kroenke and settled for $790 million, with attorneys pocketing $275 million of it.
The NFL and Kroenke settled for a lot of reasons but they faced enormous pressure after a judge allowed the St. Louis attorneys to start deposing NFL owners and searching through their records.
The settlement must be, by far, the most significant accomplishment of any effort by a city to hold the NFL accountable for moving a team after a city expends public resources to try to keep them or accommodate them. And many of us here in San Diego looked at it with happiness for our compatriots in St. Louis.
But it felt like something only actual big cities could pull off. And the city of San Diego, unlike St. Louis, had explicitly agreed never to sue the Chargers for leaving San Diego, in its 2004 revised lease with the team.
One guy thinks that’s not a problem for the city. Former San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre, whose career is mostly about public interest lawsuits like this and the potential settlements they deliver. He said he was inspired by the St. Louis lawyers’ work.
This week, Aguirre alerted the city he planned to file a similar suit on behalf of taxpayers Jan. 21. It’s not clear who the plaintiff will be in the case, specifically, but Aguirre did offer the role to the Politics Report. We declined.
Aguirre had previously argued to us that the lease the city signed with the Chargers was illegal and thus void. But now he said the St. Louis case opened his eyes. And the lease has nothing to do with the target of a lawsuit here
“I wasn’t smart enough then to think of this,” he said.
St. Louis argued that the NFL had for years established a de facto contract with cities. They would no longer just move teams out of cities at their unilateral discretion. They would make the process a city could take to keep a team clear. St. Louis followed the process and spent nearly $20 million trying to keep the team through that process. But then, the lawyers argued, they discovered that the NFL and the Rams had no intention of respecting that process.
The NFL argued that its team relocation policy wasn’t a contract at all. The judge disagreed and set up a potential blockbuster trial where the city would try to prove that the Rams intended to leave the city no matter what, essentially misleading the city and violating the NFL policy and its de facto contract with cities. St. Louis wanted $4 billion.
Aguirre said it doesn’t matter that the city agreed never to sue the Chargers, this same violation occurred here. That at some point, the Chargers had no intention of staying here. The city’s lease may not have been violated but the contract with San Diego as a whole had been.
“We’re a third-party beneficiary. They have to act in good faith,” he said.
It still is not convenient that the city agreed not to sue the Chargers or NFL if the team moved. The new contract had been signed to keep them in San Diego for just three more years at a minimum.
“The City hereby acknowledges and agrees that the NFL shall not be liable to the City with respect to any such activities,” reads the lease.
Case rates may be peaking: Christopher Longhurst, the chief medical officer, at UC San Diego Health gathered some graphs Friday that seem to indicate “we are sliding down the omicron slope” — COVID-19 infections in San Diego may have peaked.
The fire: We very much hope the fire at the home of County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher and former Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez was a random accident. Police say it is “suspicious.” We hope because the implications of arson are grave. No political system can be productive, or fair, if leaders face assassination attempts. Even if attacks don’t succeed, they deliver intolerable trauma to public life. If they do succeed, the consequences are horrific and destabilizing.
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