trash pick up san diego
A side-loader city of San Diego sanitation truck collects recycling in a residential area in North Park on Dec. 23, 2021. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

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This week, a story in the U-T about candidates for City Council and their positions on Measure B got our attention.  

The measure would allow the city of San Diego to study, and then implement, a new, special fee for trash collection. The paper reported that Tommy Hough, a Democrat in a tight race for the Council District 6 race came out strongly opposed to the fee.  

“I’m not going to impose a tax, especially of an unknown amount, on my blue-collar and middle-class neighbors on fixed incomes,” Hough told reporter David Garrick. San Diego is the only city in the region that does not charge a special fee for trash collection and most residents of single-family homes with access to a city street do not pay special fees for trash collection. It’s a service guaranteed in a very old law known as the People’s Ordinance.  

However, most families who live in apartments or condominiums do not get city trash service and must pay private haulers. Though they would have to persuade the public to vote to change the law, people who believe the city needs more money to provide better services to the community have long eyed this as source of new revenue.  

That’s why Hough’s position that he opposed a fee for trash collection was so interesting. He’s a liberal Democrat.  

It turns out he hasn’t always felt this way. When he sought the endorsement of the San Diego Municipal Employees Association, the largest union of city employees, in March, Hough wrote that he would support a fee.  

We obtained a copy of the questionnaire he filled out for the union. Here’s two questions that were next to each other.  

“To the extent you support pay increases to bring City workers up to the compensation level of workers in other cities and counties in the region, how would you propose to pay for those increases? 

“I would look for ways to increase public revenues, perhaps by leasing or selling surplus public land, selling public assets, or increasing developer fees.”

“Do you support reforming the City of San Diego’s ‘People’s Ordinance’ and charging a fee to recover the cost of trash collection, as literally every other city in the County does? 

“Yes.” 

His response now: Contacted Friday, Hough said he supported reforming the People’s Ordinance and that’s all he remembered the question being about.  

“It wasn’t Measure B at that time. The question was about reforming the People’s Ordinance. I would support a real reform that would include funding to repair streets and maintain parks and augment what city spends on those things,” he said.  

“But I’m not going to levy another fee on the middle class – but I’m not going to support a new tax on them. Measure B screws over homeowners to pay for the $86 million 101 Ash debacle,” he told us.  

He’s referencing the amount the city paid to purchase the 101 Ash Street tower outright. Mayor Todd Gloria has appointed a committee to submit feedback and ideas for how to redevelop the area around City Hall including that building. But the city was not able to borrow money as it may normally do to purchase the building because it would not actually use the building. So it had to use funds set aside for other capital needs and borrow money for those instead.  

“The city certainly needs revenue,” Hough said. “But it’s hard to make a revenue argument after throwing $86 million into the Ash Street settlement.” 

MEA ended up supporting Hough’s opponent, Kent Lee.  

Third Time’s the Charm for Driving Fee Removal? 

The driving fee is part of SANDAG’s 2021 regional plan. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler for Voice of San Diego

The board for the San Diego Association of Governments voted Friday – yes, for the third time since December – to direct staff to remove from the agency’s long-term transportation plan the assumption that drivers will begin paying a fee for every mile they drive in 2030. The fee would both help pay for the transportation infrastructure the plan envisions and discourage driving to help the region hit state emissions-reduction targets. 

Why it matters for politics: Nixing the fee has been a major priority for both Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear and San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria. Blakespear is running in a tight Assembly race against Republican Matt Gunderson, who has attacked her for supporting the driving fee. As long as it remains officially in the plan she supports, it’s hard to clearly say she doesn’t support it.  

But staff said the earliest the agency could formally remove that fee is a year from now, providing the new date to see if the board’s direction to get rid of the unpopular policy is followed.  

The board directed staff to kill the fee in December, the same day it approved the plan including the fee. In July, the board reiterated that it really did want to kill the fee. SANDAG Director Hasan Ikhrata, though, in August told state regulators he wasn’t going to kill the fee, despite board direction, when they asked how he planned to comply with state law without it. 

What’s next: Friday, SANDAG staff laid out three options. In six months, they could kill the fee without an environmental analysis, which would probably be illegal, they said. In 12 months, they could kill the fee with a new environmental review, but that would screw up other agency work the agency and risk losing state funds. Or, they could remove the fee and redo other parts of the plan to replace the lost funding and satisfy climate goals. But that would take up to two and a half years and cost $10 million.  

The board chose the second option, so now we wait to see if this request, the third one, is the one that sticks. 

Notes 

He’s running: Bill Walton is known as an eccentric guy, especially when he’s calling basketball games. But as a citizen in San Diego, he’s almost exclusively been a booster: a reliable and valuable spokesman for various initiatives and promotions.  

His comments about Gloria’s failures, though, and homelessness have caught fire this week. We talked about some of the response on the podcast. The Politics Report asked him about the response to our story and he indicated it’s just the beginning.  

“I have been overwhelmed with positive and encouraging responses, and a surging demand for more,” he wrote. “I’m ready, I’m all in … I’m currently planning my next steps, which will be onward, forward, and further.” 

We’re not sure exactly what that means but another shoe dropped Friday when the Lucky Duck Foundation, the group founded in part by businessman and Feeding San Diego CEO Dan Shea and Padres ownership chairman Peter Seidler, announced that Shea would appear at a press conference with Walton Tuesday.  

The press release said only that they would announce “a new initiative.” 

Special podcast interview on homelessness: Scott sat down with Council President Sean Elo-Rivera for a special interview just about the homelessness crisis. “We want to get folks off the streets and into shelter. We also need to recognize though that we could get every single person who we see on the streets right now experiencing homelessness into a shelter and we would not have actually solved any individual’s homelessness.” 

Big gambling debate fizzles: Proposition 27, which would legalize gambling on sports online in California is struggling. The initiative has been ubiquitous in ads on television and streaming services. But it seems to be struggling. Polling for the initiative has been dismal and there are some indications promoters of it are pulling back with a couple weeks still to go before ballots are sent out. We’ve been having trouble finding official supporters of the measure to debate at Politifest.  

The Politics Report asked Adam Day, the chief administrative officer for Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation for his take on what’s been happening. Sycuan and Day have been opposed to Proposition 27.  

“California, in general, has seen very tenuous support for online gambling. There’s a lot of concern about regulation and access by minors. Combined with opposition from tribes across the states, voters are confused and now it seems like the initiative is in a death spiral. The more attention they bring to it, the more they tick off voters,” he said.  

Scott Lewis

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...

Andrew Keatts

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

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3 Comments

  1. dear VoSD: can someone please explain why Democrats like Mayors Gloria and Blakespear are against even exploring a mileage fee in place of a gas tax. seems to me the fee would be more equitable for all, especially as non-gas powered vehicles proliferate. no?

  2. Kent Lee will be elected! The cat is a smooth talker and slick chameleon. Calm as a cucumber such a consummate politician. The guy makes me sick! Smiechowski

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