Measure C supporters hold a press conference in downtown San Diego. / File photo by Adriana Heldiz

For many years we have closely followed the consequences of a 2017 California Supreme Court ruling that declared citizens initiatives weren’t covered by the California Constitutional provision that governs tax increases.

That part of the Constitution also includes the requirement that, if a government wanted to raise taxes for a special purpose (like a stadium or a train to the airport), it needed approval from two-thirds of voters. The bombshell ruling six years ago meant, at least theoretically at the time, that if a citizens initiative intended to raise taxes for a special purpose, it could pass with just a bare majority of voter support.

Then it happened. San Francisco voters approved tax increases that way and the courts held it up.

The news: Friday, the Court of Appeal ruled a 2020 vote on a hotel-room tax initiative in the city of San Diego only needed a bare majority to pass (it got much more than that). The measure would increase hotel-room taxes in the city to expand the Convention Center, fund homeless services and pay for road repair. So … did it happen?

Of course not.

As Lisa Halverstadt reports here, the Court decided it didn’t have enough information to rule on an accusation that a Convention Center Corp. official had been too involved in the citizens initiative thus making it an actual government initiative and subjecting it to the two-thirds

“De-ja fucking vu,” was a text I got from a local political consultant.

That language! Yeah, he wasn’t the only one who saw the irony.

The city is still dealing with the fallout of a 2012 ballot measure, also a citizens initiative, that ended guaranteed pensions for most new city employees. But courts later ruled that former Mayor Jerry Sanders had been too involved, in fact, he had taken credit for the initiative. That meant it was his action – not a totally independent citizens initiative. And since he was the city’s chief labor negotiator, he had violated labor law by pursuing it.

The city has since been forced to make all the thousands of employees it hired since then right. Pensions are back. It cost the city $75 million and more.

What’s Going to Happen Tuesday

Clockwise from left: Janessa Goldbeck, Amy Reichert, Monica Montgomery Steppe and Paul McQuigg

Well, Tuesday is the last day to vote in the special election for the county supervisor seat vacated by former Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. I got some polling numbers in the special county supervisor race from a camp friendly to Democrat Janessa Goldbeck. It showed Goldbeck in third behind Republican Amy Reichert and showed her behind City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe.

But there’s a lot of undecided and a lot of spending.

Speaking of which …

One note about the race’s dynamics: Diligent readers of the Politics Report will remember the post several weeks ago about the new law SB 1439 that is having a major impact on candidates up and down the state. It requires elected officials to recuse themselves from votes involving anyone who gave them more than $250 in campaign contributions.

There’s only one candidate in the special election this affects, and it seems to have hindered her fundraising: Monica Montgomery Steppe. The number of issues a City Councilmember votes on is immense and the law applies to all the people of any firm or interest group. It’s not just developers but contractors and lobbyists of all kinds. As a sitting elected official, Montgomery Steppe would have normally been able to raise quite a bit. But as of the end of July, she had raised just less than $155,000 whereas Goldbeck had pulled in $206,000 and Reichert $153,000.

Doesn’t matter that much: Montgomery Steppe’s supporters, mostly among labor unions, have spent $600,000 in support of her independently.

But the other candidates aren’t entirely off the hook. If they got donations this cycle from people who will have contracts or issues in front of the Board of Supervisors and they win, they too will have 30 days after connecting the dots to return the money or recuse themselves.

I’m telling you, it’s quite a law that continues to flummox officials and their consultants across the state.

The candidates on homelessness: Halverstadt also gathered all the candidates’ takes on homelessness and the behavioral health crisis in the county.


Fun with RFPs: You probably saw the news this week that the former owner of 101 Ash St. submitted a bid to buy back the troubled tower. Sandor Shapery isn’t the one who ended up selling the property to the city of San Diego but he wanted to and then a middleman came in. But Shapery now wants to prove that it can be easily cleaned up and serve the function the city intended it to: be an office.

One thing about that: His bid, of course, is bogus. This round was specifically following the Surplus Lands Act, which means the only eligible bidders for the Civic Center properties, which includes 101 Ash St., are affordable housing developers. Shapery is not that and his bid wasn’t responsive to the housing mandate. But he got a story out of it.

It is fun: If you like our podcast, you should love the special Happy Hour episode we did this week. I’ve gotten lots of good feedback on it. “It is fun…I find it entertaining,” said a listener (not my mother).

More me: I also appeared on KPBS’s Roundtable this week to talk about SANDAG CEO Hasan Ikhrata’s resignation.

If you have any feedback or ideas for the Politics Report, send them to

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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