San Diego City Council District 6 candidates Kent Lee, left, and Tommy Hough, right, at USD on Oct. 8, 2022. / Photo by Vito di Stefano

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Last month, we wrote about how Tommy Hough, candidate for San Diego’s open District 6 City Council seat, seemed to change his position on the People’s Ordinance.

Measure B would let the City Council study and then impose a special fee for trash service to all city residents, reversing a century-old law that entitles most single-family home residents to trash collection without paying a direct fee, while most apartment and condo dwellers have to pay private trash haulers for the same service. In a candidate survey with the Municipal Employees Association, Hough wrote that he supports overturning the law to let the city charge a trash fee. In a later interview with the Union-Tribune, he said he opposes the measure.

Hough is running for the seat against Kent Lee, director of the Pacific Arts Movement, a fellow Democrat. As Election Day nears, Hough has fully embraced his position against Measure B as a differentiator in the race – in the process angering former allies who see the measure as both essential to the city’s climate efforts and a social equity policy.

His case: Hough tried to triangulate his different takes on the issue at a debate against Lee at Politifest by proposing a different policy fix. He said the city shouldn’t overturn the People’s Ordinance with a ballot measure. Instead, it should pass a new tax rebate for the apartment and condo dwellers who pay for trash service out of pocket, leveling the field between them and single-family residents.

Here’s his full quote:

“I would say that if there are opportunities to go and refine the law to ensure that those who live in condos, as I do, or to ensure those who live in apartments wind up having some kind of a credit so that they’re not being dinged for the trash pickup… that’s something that seems to me like it would be a more fair way to go about doing this,” he said. “But what I’m not going to do is I’m not going to levy a new tax on folks who’ve already been paying a tax through their property taxes, and move the goalpost and say, ‘Well, you know, you really haven’t been paying for trash since 1919.’ I don’t think that’s fair, and I don’t think that’s right, and I’d love for you to come out and meet some of my neighbors, because you’d be loath to go in and impose a new tax on them when they’re paying over $6 a gallon for gas, where they’re paying the highest water and sewage rates, in the state.”

The response: “What I’m hearing from my opponent, who has often touted himself as being the progressive Democrat, that is shocking to me, is that his statements seem to really reflect Carl DeMaio, and the same arguments that are being used for why this is a tax,” Lee said in response.

Some context: Right now, the city officials pushing Measure B are eyeing their ability to charge a fee to cover the $43 million, and potentially up to $71 million, cost to the general fund of collecting trash at all the homes that have access to the street, freeing up that money for other potential uses. Hough has instead proposed rebating all the households that already, in essence, pay a comparable fee. The city’s Independent Budget Analyst didn’t analyze how much they send to private haulers. But multifamily residences make up roughly half of the city’s housing stock, so it would cost in the ballpark of what the city already spends for single-family homes.

The politics: Hough’s campaign seems confident it has a winning issue, either because of internal polling or a gut feeling. It’s trying to make the split on Measure B the central issue in the race.

“Tommy Hough is fighting Todd Gloria’s Trash Tax,” a new mailer supporting him reads. The ad hits Lee for supporting “Gloria’s trash tax” (the measure was championed internally by Council President Sean Elo-Rivera far more than Gloria), and attaches it to his support for “Todd Gloria’s $96 million 101 Ash Street payoff” and for collecting donations from developers.

The dismayed former friends: Hough’s persona in Dem circles has always been as an environmentalist. He co-founded the San Diego Democrats for Environmental Action. Until this run, he was also squarely associated with the city’s core Democratic leaders – Gloria, for instance, endorsed his last City Council campaign (as did the Democratic Party).

His tack against Gloria and Measure B, along with his campaign’s increasing willingness to oppose housing projects and bike lanes that rile some residents in the suburban district may have turned off some the activists he’s previously worked alongside, but it’s also awfully reminiscent of the campaign that former Councilwoman and current assessor candidate Barbara Bry ran when she opposed Gloria for mayor two years ago. Maybe we’re beginning to see the contours of the political coalitions emerge when two Democrats face off in safe Democratic seats, in the new version of San Diego politics where Democrats dominate everywhere.

New PAC With Big Antisemitism Allegation in La Mesa

San Diegans Against Hate, a new political action committee that positions itself as a bulwark against antisemitism in San Diego, has stepped into La Mesa’s City Council race.

The group has raised $33,000 dollars this cycle, and has already reported $26,000 in spending on political mailers – not a huge total, but enough to influence a local race, especially in a city the size of La Mesa.

It doesn’t lack for major supporters from the region’s Democratic establishment. It’s collected donations from Bry and Councilwoman Jen Campbell, along with $5,000 from Alan Viterbi, son of Qualcomm co-founder Andrew Viterbi. Mayor Todd Gloria wrote in a September newsletter that he had attended a group event for a conversation on “the important work to combat hate. Sixty percent of religious hate crimes target the Jewish community,” he wrote, and San Diego has one of the largest Jewish communities in the western hemisphere.

“Allyship is important to combatting hate, which is why I am proud to stand with our Jewish community against hate,” the newsletter reads.

The group’s first, and so far only, target for support or opposition is Mejgan Afshan, a La Mesa City Council candidate. Afshan is the founder of Borderlands for Equity, a pro-bono civil rights nonprofit, and the East County Justice Coalition, a nonprofit focused on racial justice in East County. She, too, counts the region’s Democratic establishment among her supporters: she’s endorsed by the San Diego County Democratic Party, the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, and County Supervisors Nathan Fletcher and Nora Vargas. She’s the former advocacy and policy coordinator for the San Diego chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

San Diegans Against Hate alleges her stance towards Israel has crossed into antisemitism. In a letter sent to La Mesa voters, the group wrote that she “has an extremely troubling history of antisemitic activism and promoting anti-Israel extremism.”

They tag her as a leader of the local boycott, divest and sanction effort towards Israel, which it says is an antisemitic movement. “Antisemitism IS on the ballot in La Mesa,” the group writes. The group cites a history of old social media posts in which she advocated an end to police training trips to Israel, urged the Democratic Party to distinguish between Anti-Zionism and antisemitism, and used the hashtag “Free Palestine.”

In its first mailer, the group sets her photo against a background of flames and images of rioters. “Mejgan Afhsan’s Defund the Police Agenda is dangerous and wrong for La Mesa,” it reads. A protest against police violence in La Mesa in the summer of 2020 devolved into a riot in which a building was burned to the ground.

Jared Sclar, a political consultant for the group reached for comment, said there are two more mailers planned against Afshan. He said the letter and the mailer were sent to a combined 6,000 La Mesa households.

Afshan did not respond to a request for comment.

Gloria: Stop Criticizing Me on Homelessness, Housing

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria is coming close to saying there is nothing more that the city can do about homelessness crisis than what it is already pursuing despite rising numbers of tents downtown, deaths on the streets and criticism from former allies.

At the Politifest session on the Politics of Homelessness, Gloria made a plea for people to support housing construction of all types.

“When you see me advancing community plan updates, Blueprint SD, Homes for All those housing action package the Midway Sports Arena redevelopment, Civic Center redevelopment, you see, we’re trying to tackle this to scale. And I need your help, not your criticism. I need you to pick up an oar start row with me, not tweeting at me and acting like this is OK. It’s not OK, I’m the first to admit that,” he said.

So much Politifest content: We made a page with all the stories we have pulled out from Politifest, including:

  • Nathan Fletcher, the chair of the county Board of Supervisors, was on stage with Gloria. He said you should manage your expectations about the impact the state’s new CARE Court system will have on homelessness in the streets.
  • The region’s top labor leader says it was a mistake for the labor movement to support SDSU Mission Valley. (The university’s leaders disagree!)
  • Universal TK, or transitional kindergarten, was implemented this year in California, essentially allowing 4-year-olds to go to school on elementary campuses as part of a universal pre-K push. But 4-year-olds are important for existing day cares. Their tuition subsidizes the care of younger children and infants who need more supervision and they may not be ready for school campuses. “I think universal TK is breaking the childcare sector,” said Laura Kohn, senior director of Mission Driven Finance, which is trying to provide capital for child care facilities.
  • Former City Councilwoman Barbara Bry, who in 2020 ran for mayor on a platform designed to appeal, in part, to people worried about development in the city and coastal communities, had opposed Measure E on the same ballot. The measure would have removed the building height limit in the Midway area. Now, as candidate for assessor, she supports Measure C, which would do the same. But she also put her opponent, Jordan Marks, on the spot about his previous appearance at an anti-abortion rally. He assured the crowd he supported access to abortion and the assessor would not challenge clinics’ tax status if he ran the office.
  • We did a round up of more highlights in this week’s podcast.

If you have any feedback or ideas for the Politics Report, send them to scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org.

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...

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...

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