The San Diego County administration building / File photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran

Nathan Fletcher’s rapid fall from his status as San Diego’s premiere Democratic politician was one of the most explosive local political stories this year. His resignation from the County’s Board of Supervisors came after an employee of the Metropolitan Transit System, whose board he chaired, accused him of sexual harassment and assault

Given the political fireworks, you’d be forgiven if you didn’t realize there was an election to fill his now vacant seat. Though there’s only one question on this special election ballot, there’s plenty at stake.

Democrats Janessa Goldbeck and Monica Montgomery Steppe and Republican Amy Reichert are duking it out for spots in the runoff. If Reichert wins, Republicans will retake control of the board after Democrats pried it away from years of Republican management with the 2020 election of Terra Lawson-Remer. 

And even if one of the Democrats wins, Goldbeck’s election could lead to changes in how the region approaches housing production.

The money: But the biggest spending isn’t coming from Reichert. Supporters of both Goldbeck and Montgomery-Steppe have dumped a lot of bucks into the race and deployed those funds in some creative ways

  • One mailer opposing Montgomery Steppe on Goldbeck’s behalf paid for by the San Diego Police Officers Association has raised some eyebrows. It included iffy assertions that Montgomery Steppe supported defunding police on the San Diego City Council, and led to claims of racist dogwhistling. 
  • Political consultant Mason Herron, who has been tracking spending in the race here, had two updates yesterday: a) The first negative spending occurred against Janessa Goldbeck via Real Working Families (paid for primarily by the laborers union). b) San Diego Labor Coalition spent another $22,000 propping up Amy Reichert.

Labor unions that support Montgomery Steppe have overtly supported the Republican Reichert, believing she would be easier to beat (and cheaper for them) than Goldbeck in a runoff.

If you live in District 4, which stretches from Clairemont to La Mesa, the last day to turn in your ballot is Aug. 15

Special Podcast: Happy Hour, Story Time

(Left to right) Alain Stephens and Andrea Lopez-Villafaña in the VOSD Podcast studio, Aug. 7, 2023.

Our podcast producer Nate John had an idea: It’s often a lot more fun to talk to journalists than read their stories, especially if they’ve had a drink or two.

So he brought the usual podcast hosts, Scott Lewis and Andrea Lopez-Villafaña into the studio with special guests Alain Stephens, a reporter from The Trace, which closely covers firearms and gun violence and Greg Moran, a former investigative reporter at the Union Tribune.

What they discussed: Lopez-Villafaña told a story about a popular reality show that suddenly became part of an ugly housing story our old friend Liam Dillon uncovered in the LA times. Stephens went through a history of the U.S. government’s support of firearm manufacturers.

Moran explained the tale of Fat Leonard, the Navy contractor who admitted to his lead role in a massive corruption scandal and then mysteriously escaped his home arrest. Ad finally Lewis told a story about his 20 years covering the County Water Authority and desalination.

Nate John’s bet that this would turn into a good show seems like it paid off.

See our notes about the show and listen to it here.

North County Report: Oceanside Wants to Limit Downtown Development

A housing development being built in Oceanside on Dec. 8, 2022.

The city of Oceanside is proposing a limit to the number of homes built in its downtown area, but also wants to find a way to encourage developers to incorporate more lower income units into their projects.

But the city’s lack of an approved housing plan, also known as a Housing Element, might get in the way.

The idea: The city wants to limit mixed-use developments in downtown to 100 units per acre. The average size of developments right now are about 175 units per acre.

By creating a cap, Oceanside is hoping it can maintain some control over the sizes of the projects developers are building downtown.

The city is not attempting to go around the state’s density bonus law, which allows developers to add more units to their projects if they include some affordable housing. But the goal is for the cap to allow the city to keep developments from going above 200 units per acre even with density bonuses.

But wait: The city’s Housing Element, which is a state-mandated housing plan that outlines the city’s housing goals, was not approved by the California Housing Department.

That means a proposal like this could potentially clash with a handful of state housing laws.

Read the North County Report here. 

Newsom Says No to Emergency on Tijuana River

California Sen. Alex Padilla talks with South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant Area Operations Manager Morgan Rogers on June 5, 2023. The two overlook the overloaded primary treatment system.

California’s leader decided Wednesday that the broken wastewater plant polluting the Pacific Ocean needs “urgent” attention, but it’s not an emergency.

That’s a big disappointment for the mayor of Imperial Beach – along with many other local San Diego leaders – who want President Joe Biden to declare a federal emergency to fast-track money to repair the plant, which receives Mexican sewage and treats it across the border in San Diego. 

“When you declare a state of emergency you can cut through all the red tape,” said Paloma Aguirre, Imperial Beach Mayor. “That’s the only thing that will bring this its deserved level of urgency.” 

What he was willing to do: Newsom instead asked Biden to consider adding some extra cash to this year’s and next year’s budget for the plant’s repairs. 

“It’s a very weak request,” said Phillip Musegaas, executive director of Coastkeeper, a statewide non-profit clean water advocacy organization. “The governor has the authority to take quick action and make a direct request of Biden and he is still failing to do that.” 

Background: The federal government neglected maintenance on the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment plant for years, which came to light this summer when the Biden-appointed commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission sounded the alarm.

Beaches are closed off and on throughout the summer months as summer ocean swells carry sewage from the mouth of the Tijuana River northward along the California coastline. 

Politifest Is Back

We’re joining forces with CalMatters to bring together prominent political leaders, policy experts and thought leaders from across California. 

We will explore this year’s themes: the social, political and economic implications of the growing housing emergency and the potential water crisis facing our state.

We’ve also organized a special kick-off event in Imperial Beach to discuss how local leaders plan to preserve their iconic shores from erosion.

Join us Oct. 6 in Imperial Beach and Oct. 7 at the University of San Diego. Learn more and get your early bird ticket here.

Voice of San Diego members get discounted or free tickets. Use the email associated with your member account at checkout to get access. 

Song of the Week 

San Diego has always had a delightful strain of weirdness running through its local music – just check out Bill Perrine’s excellent new book “Alien Territory“ which surveys the strange, avant-garde sonic landscape of San Diego’s 1970s to get a taste of how far back that tendency goes. 

Gary Wilson, “Debbie Debbie”: In homage to that legacy, I thought I’d choose a song from one of my favorite off-the-wall experimentalists, Gary Wilson. “Debbie Debbie“ mixes familiar tones into an unfamiliar brew. It’s chock full of musical left turns and Wilson’s trademark off-kilter vocals, but most of all it’s fun. The kind of song that perplexes on its first listen but sticks in your head for weeks after. 

Wilson and his band put on a heck of a show, too. Catch them at Soda Bar on Tuesday, Aug. 15 

In Other News

Jakob McWhinney, Tigist Layne, MacKenzie Elmer and Lisa Halverstadt wrote the Morning Report. Editing by Andrea Lopez-Villafaña and Scott Lewis.

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