Dr. Margot Kushel of UC San Francisco speaks at the University of San Diego for Politifest 2023 on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023.
Dr. Margot Kushel of UC San Francisco speaks at the University of San Diego for Politifest 2023 on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. / Vito Di Stefano for Voice of San Diego

One of the best conversations at Politifest occurred between our Lisa Halverstadt and Dr. Margot Kushel, the director of the Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative at UC San Francisco. She oversaw the largest study of homeless individuals ever done with interviews of nearly 3,200 people across the state. (You can watch the video here)

She made a lot of points everyone who cares about this crisis should grapple with. But I thought her best quote was when Halverstadt asked her about drug use. She said about one-third of those her team interviewed reported using methamphetamine at least three times a week, which means probably every day.

Then she said, as a medical doctor, it had long been obvious to her that patients who want to get off the drugs are by far the most successful. Then she said this:

“I think the most important findings we found was that amongst people who use drugs three or more times a week or drank heavily, 35 percent of them reported currently wanting and trying to get treatment that they had been unable to get. And I sort of think we need to put aside all of these conversations about forcing people to treatment and treat those folks first. When we drive that number down to zero — or I’ll give you 1- or 2 percent – then, maybe, we can have a conversation. But we’re just fooling ourselves. Why would we force people into treatment when it’s very unlikely to work when those are going to use the treatment slots of all the people who desperately want treatment, who we can’t get them into. It’s just political theater.”

There seems to be a widespread assumption that all the people we see on the streets are actively avoiding treatment and should be forced into it. This is part of the motivation behind the new bill the governor just signed into law, SB 43, which will make it much easier to force people into treatment.

It’s just not true: As Halverstadt has reported now extensively, if you rely on the state’s Medi-Cal program for health insurance, there are very few beds for you to get help recovering from the severe withdrawal symptoms that come from quitting opioids or other powerful drugs. Getting a bed is like winning the lottery.

Maybe call it a pandemic: In the worst days of the Covid pandemic hospitals put up emergency tents and created other plans for mass emergency room and ventilator needs.

Overdoses left 1,300 people dead last year in San Diego County. Maybe we could act with the same urgency about them.

Not super related: This may have been one of the most covered Politifests we’ve had. The U-T covered the county supervisor candidates debate and politics columnist Michael Smolens wrote about our panel on the 20th anniversary of the historic water deal, the Quantification Settlement Agreement.

He noted the same fist-bump seen by every major water leader around as the general managers of the Metropolitan Water District and San Diego County Water Authority showed some solidarity after decades of their agencies feuding.

As Smolens noted, there was still an undercurrent of skepticism on the panel (which you can watch here).

“At one point, he and Dan Denham, general manager of the water authority, actually bumped fists. But that kumbaya moment didn’t exactly wipe out years of wariness among all the panelists.”

All the Politifest discussions: are here.

The Mayor Doesn’t Want City Attorney Measure

Mayor Todd Gloria’s staff confirmed for me Friday something I had heard: that he does not support the proposed measure to eliminate the elected city attorney as it is now.

They didn’t offer any further comment but that’s interesting enough.

Gloria’s close ally, attorney Gil Cabrera is one of those pushing the measure, which would allow the City Council to appoint a “municipal counsel” and leave an elected city attorney oversight over just the prosecutions of misdemeanor crimes in the city. As change to the city charter, it would require approval from voters. The proposal specifically left the mayor out of the process of appointing the city’s legal counsel.

I’m guessing he doesn’t like that and that the candidate he supports for city attorney, Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, also doesn’t want the job he’s applying for to be different.

Same for the other one: Chief Deputy City Attorney Heather Ferbert wrote a commentary for us about why she doesn’t want the proposal to go forward as she runs for city attorney.

Go so so much deeper: I wrote about City Attorney Mara Elliott’s blistering review of the proposal and her alarm that it would eliminate a “branch” of city government. Then I wrote last week about her claim that she hasn’t actually taken a position on this proposal that she clearly does not like.

It is not unalive: The City Council delayed its discussion about the measure but it can very easily bring it back. The savvy take is that a bare majority or more on the City Council may support putting it on the ballot but one of them, City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe, may not be on the City Council much longer if she wins the race for county supervisor.

View from the House Minority

As the U.S. House of Representatives completes its second week without a speaker, I thought I would check in with U.S. Rep. Scott Peters, a Democrat, about what it’s like.

Peters said the Democrats had to just watch former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy implode.

“We would have helped him. He just had to ask. He was very clear he didn’t want to work with Democrats and he said that before and after. He was very intentional about getting that referendum on his speakership from his colleagues and he got it,” Peters said.

“He said the Democrats would still work with another speaker candidate as long as the House got rid of the rule that allows one member to push the speakership to a referendum. McCarthy had agreed to the rule to placate members who didn’t want him as speaker so he could get the job.

He completely caved to their demands to get the speakership he learned you can’t trust those people,” Peters said. Regardless, the Democrats wouldn’t have a high price right now to support someone.

“They’re going to have to come to Democrats. We don’t need much. We would like votes on aide for Ukraine and Israel and we’d like to keep the government open. We’ll be reasonable and it would an easy deal to put together,” he said.

“I can’t understand why those folks are so resistant to picking up the phone and working with us on a bipartisan solution,” Peters said. “Their nature seems more disposed to be the minority party and not to govern.”

He said Congress was supposed to be out of session and representatives had plans in their district.

“We had to cancel a lot of district work at home and we have heard no word on when we’re going to vote,” he said. “A lot of Californians are homesick here.”

Cops Running

In journalism, we have a rule that if you have three data points on something you can call it a trend.

Well, we have three city of San Diego police officers running for local elected office. It’s a trend!

Jared Wilson, the leader of the Police Officers Association, announced he is running for Poway City Council.

“In my years as a Police Sergeant, I’ve seen firsthand the difference that dedicated public service can make. Safety and community well-being have been the focus of my career, and now I want to bring that dedication to the City Council,” he wrote in an email blast to potential donors.

Two others: Larry Turner, another active duty San Diego city police officer is the only challenger so far to Mayor Todd Gloria in the city. The former Marine told me at Politifest he wanted to be a cop for fun after leaving the Marines and was thrilled when he was finally eligible for overtime.

Terry Hoskins, a community relations officer for the Mid-City district, is running against Council President Sean Elo-Rivera. Unlike Wilson and Turner, though, Hoskins is retiring later this month.

We rounded up a little post about Turner and Hoskins’ views here.

Related: Wilson’s union, the Police Officers Association, endorsed Amy Reichert in her race for county supervisor against City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe. Bill Walton also endorsed Reichert.

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

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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  1. Every drug addict “wants” to get treatment. When it happens, they refuse to go or they leave early because they “wants” drugs more than treatment. You write these articles as if you’ve uncovered something, but common sense gave your readers the answer decades ago because these are not new issues, they are just being treated differently which is why the outcomes are so much worse now. Jail was a better solution than this woman taking millions of dollars and interviewing drug addicts who have no value to their families (that’s why they abandoned them for the state to care for) or society.

  2. Powerful citizens beget power and power begets more power ala Walton et al. Turner is trained by the Marines to kill. At a time in society when we need a peacemaker. But Americans love power and the voters even more so hence the Walton turner duo.

  3. When Mr. Bill Walton asks the voters of this city to jump, they say how high. Walton endorsed some cat turner et voila! Instant credibility, instant media darling, instant frontrunner! Fox News, KUSI News, NBC all have promoted Turner and Smiechowski is left to die in the Warsaw Ghetto. America — you have failed!

  4. “Larry Turner, another active duty San Diego city police officer … told me at Politifest he wanted to be a cop for fun after leaving the Marines.”
    and SDPD didn’t flag this as psychologically unfit?! holy moly.
    “Not super related: This *may have been* *one of the most* covered Politifests we’ve had.”
    hey Scott, congrats for using TWO of the most worthless phrases – especially for a journalist. perhaps that’s more “related” than you think.

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