Politifest 2019 / Photo by Vito Di Stefano
Politifest 2019 / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

What is Politifest?

Politifest is a San Diego public affairs summit produced by Voice of San Diego.

Launched in 2011, Politifest focuses on issues affecting our community. During election years, the event focuses on candidates and ballot measures. In non-election years, it focuses on the most important topics that drive public policy and community conversation.

Politifest 2019: Housing and Transportation Summit

No greater challenge faces the San Diego region – and California in general – than the cost of living here. Rents are soaring and the concept of buying a home is unfathomable to many residents. But the economy is booming, jobs are being created and babies are being born, both of which drive up the demand for homes. This affects everything. The economy, quality of life, health care, education and the environment. If people can’t afford to live in our cities, it will cripple local economies for decades.

Housing is intricately connected to transportation and San Diego leaders have touched off a major, if not historic debate about the future of transit and highways in the region.

In 2019, Politifest was a daylong journey through these discussions and debates. We began the day with a performance from the San Diego Homeless Choir, followed by a range of sessions led by subject matter experts. Panelists discussed housing supply, homelessness and potential solutions, the future of transit, and new tax and policy proposals. We also held candidate debates focused on these topics, which you can watch and hear below.

Politifest 2019 took place at the University of San Diego on Oct. 26, 2019. 

Watch Politifest 2019

VOSD Podcast Live: The Mayoral Candidates Tackle Housing, Transit and, Obviously, Scooters

We ended Politifest 2018 with a live podcast featuring three of the people rumored to be running for mayor in 2020: Rep. Scott Peters, Assemblyman Todd Gloria and City Councilman Chris Cate. How things have changed.

Gloria was the only one of the three elected officials who ended up jumping in the race, and he was soon joined by City Councilwoman Barbara Bry and Tasha Williamson, a community activist. Not a single Republican candidate has entered the contest. All three sat down with Voice of San Diego’s Sara Libby, Scott Lewis and Andrew Keatts for another debate at Politifest 2019 to talk about housing, transportation and homelessness in San Diego.

Read the highlights.

Sizing Up California’s Housing Shortage

California’s housing crisis has, for some time now, become the dominant political issue in the state. The median home costs nearly $600,000, and the average rent is $1,000 a month more than the national average.

So, how did we get here? And what do we need to do to correct the market? Liam Dillon, who covers housing for the Los Angeles Times, moderated a fascinating discussion at this year’s Politifest with a group of housing experts, including Sen. Scott Wiener, the author of Senate Bill 50, which would allow for increased density near transit.

“It’s a political situation where you have to inspire people to think long-term to say we are going to take short-term steps to triage to make sure people aren’t getting pushed out, to make sure that people are stable,” Weiner said. “We’re going to do that, and we’re going to move as fast as we can to build supportive housing for the homeless and so forth. But we have to stay the course for a long period of time.”

Other panelists included Elyse Lowe, San Diego’s director of development services; Ray Major, chief economist for SANDAG and Maya Rosas, policy director for Circulate San Diego.

Transit’s Role in the Car-Crazed West

Like most cities in California, San Diego was built with the car in mind. Only 2.6 percent of people here commute by transit — that’s extremely low compared with dense cities like Chicago, New York and Boston.

But how do we improve the system? And what can reasonably be done given the constraints in place? Voice of San Diego’s Andrew Keatts sat down with some of the county’s most prominent transportation leaders at Politifest 2019 to discuss the issues and potential solutions.

“Our infrastructure is at capacity and we’re not going to be able to build our way out of it,” said Paul Jablonski, CEO of San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. “I never advocate for get rid of all cars. Cars serve a purpose and there’s not everywhere that transit can go, but we can do a better job at taking 10, 15 percent out of their cars and into transit. That would make a world of difference.”

Other panelists included City Councilwoman Georgette Gómez, SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata and Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey.

The Hotel Room Tax Hike Debate

After years of trying, the city of San Diego is inching closer to increasing its hotel room tax.

In 2020, voters will be asked to approve a measure that does that. The money it would generate will fund an expansion of the Convention Center, homeless services and roads.

Supporters have made their case almost exclusively around the need for more funding to fight homelessness but critics say that’s an inadequate side note to the main cause, which is to serve the tourism industry.

At this year’s Politifest, Voice of San Diego’s Scott Lewis moderated a debate about the measure between homeless advocate Michael McConnell and Gil Cabrera, a San Diego Convention Center board member.

Cabrera, who’s in favor of the measure, argued expanding the Convention Center will bring in more business and revenue from tourists who visit San Diego. McConnell, who’s not in favor, said the measure does not guarantee funding for homelessness services.

“There’s no guarantee one unit of housing will be built. There is no guarantee $1 would be spent on homelessness,” McConnell said.

“Gimme Shelter” Live Podcast Recording

Gimme Shelter” is a biweekly podcast that looks at why it’s so expensive to live in California and what the state can do about it. The hosts are Liam Dillon, who covers housing affordability issues for the Los Angeles Times, and Matt Levin, data and housing reporter for CALmatters.

[box title=”More Politifest 2019 Sessions”]Check out audio and transcripts from other panels and discussions here.[/box]

Check out the full 2019 schedule here.