There’s hope for you yet

One of the reasons often cited by those leaving the Republican Party is its rigidity.

Some have discussed their frustrations with this inflexibility in addition to bullying, top-down mandates, and outdated values.

Republicans have won some elections by forcing members to join them in endorsements and policies, lock-step, but that restrictive model is failing. Silencing dissenting voices is not only un-American, its effectiveness is limited in the long term. Most people don’t like being told what to do, how to feel, and what to believe.

As members of the left-leaning community, “winning” won’t happen by emulating the GOP model. Dialogue, even fighting (as long as we avoid ad hominem attacks and are disciplined enough to argue issues) is healthy. Even in public.

There are times to set aside these disagreements and work together for a common cause. Last year, people were inspired to campaign and vote for Bob Filner for myriad reasons, but they primarily came down to: “Carl Must Not Win” and “We Want a True Progressive.”

We did it. We came together, especially after the 2012 primary, and we won.

The more we continue to engage in public discourse about the special mayoral election in two months, the merits of the candidates, progressive ideals, and visions for San Diego without denigrating one another, the more the political process will appeal to others.

Doomsday fear, blame, and negativity are de-motivational and rarely lead to good decision making, but lively discussion that welcomes differing opinions is inviting and can lead to better collaboration. We crave opportunities to share our beliefs and opinions and have them honored by others. This is the only way to learn from one another and articulate and refine our shared values.

Democrats aren’t the authoritarian party of “Be seen and not heard.” There are many differing motivations that inspire voters to identify as Democrat. It’s illogical to silence some of those perspectives in favor of forced unity. Besides, much of our richness and beauty is owed to our diversity.

The bigger our tent, the more voters we will attract. The more voters we attract, the better we will fare during the primary election November 19. The more civil – though impassioned – our conversations in the meantime, the easier we will transition to once again coalescing around the leading Democrat on November 20.

So have it out, folks. Please, keep talking. Join a Get Out The Vote effort and campaign for your chosen candidate tirelessly. If you say something that crosses the line, apologize and get back to arguing the issues, making phone calls, or walking precincts. And don’t burn any bridges you’ll need to cross on November 20.

by Sara Kent

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Kevin Faulconer has a common sense problem

Kevin Faulconer has a problem. He’s the Republican Party’s standard-bearer in the race for mayor, but the base doesn’t really know him yet. So in the early campaign he needs to be focused on proving his far-right bona fides to the base that Krvaric and DeMaio built, and to do that he has to go out and say some pretty outlandish things. It happened over the weekend when Faulconer tried to explain his common sense take on economics.

He also opposes raising California’s minimum wage from $8 an hour to $9 next July and to $10 in January 2016.

“I support more jobs for working families, not fewer jobs, which is what this bill will lead to,” Faulconer said Friday of the minimum wage bill. “Common sense tells us companies will hire fewer people, which could stall economic growth.”

Let’s look at what Kevin Faulconer’s version of common sense means here. He’s saying that if people have money, it’s bad for them and bad for the economy. These, of course, are people who would spend that money in the local economy, supporting locally owned businesses and sustaining jobs for everyone else in the community.

He’s also very specifically drawing a distinction between jobs that allow you to afford to live in San Diego and the jobs he wants to create. He’s saying the sorts of jobs that pay enough to allow a full-time employee to make it in San Diego are a problem for our economy, and Kevin Faulconer is very clear that he will not be a mayor who helps working families by helping them find a way out of poverty. You don’t have to be an economist to see a problem or two with Faulconer’s fretting here, but the common sense doesn’t stop there.

By saying that an increase in the minimum wage would hinder economic growth, Faulconer is also saying the economy would be better off if the minimum wage were lower, or didn’t exist at all (It’s probably helpful to note that even with the increase that has Faulconer fumbling to the nearest fainting couch, its inflation-adjusted value would still be below the 1960s level). Not only that, everyone making more than minimum wage (or more than nothing, if you think about it) is even worse, blocking the creation of more and more jobs with every dollar they make. Common sense right?

But here’s the common-sense rub: In the article above, Faulconer’s minimum wage stance is stacked alongside his recent support from the Chamber of Commerce. Do you think Kevin Faulconer went into the Chamber of Commerce and told them that if they make more money, it’s bad for them, for each other, and for the economy overall? Did he tell them that when they make money, they kill jobs? That the best thing they could do for San Diego would be to run their business at a loss? Would Vegas even offer odds on the possibility that this happened?

Or did Faulconer reserve that sort of criticism for people who are paid below the federal poverty line and way below the basic costs of living in San Diego?

Of course, he would have been much closer to right if he said those things to the Chamber of Commerce instead of working families. The top 1% in this country has captured 95% of the income gains since the recession ended, and while the stock market has set new record highs, the top 10% of households own 90% of the stock. Meanwhile, corporate profits are skyrocketing, and it’s lower-wage and middle-wage jobs that took disproportionately large hits to real income, including many of the lowest-paying sectors in our economy. In short:

The economy remains depressed for most wage-earning families. With sustained, relatively high rates of unemployment, businesses are under no pressure to raise their employees’ incomes because both workers and employers know that many people without jobs would be willing to work for less. The share of Americans working or looking for work is at its lowest in 35 years.

In other words, we’re living the exact opposite of the ‘common sense’ that Kevin Faulconer is trying to sell, because the cure he’s selling is just more of the disease. He might as well stand on the OB Pier and tell us it’s snowing, because that’s about as real as economic recovery trickling down… except maybe for some of his friends at the Chamber.

Perhaps Faulconer really believes this stuff and this really reflects his common sense, in which case he really shouldn’t be allowed near a budget. Perhaps he’s pandering to a base that isn’t comfortable with him just yet, in which case there are some major questions about who would really be running things if Faulconer becomes mayor. Perhaps both. Either way, Kevin Faulconer has a common sense problem.

by Lucas O’Connor

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

A deep breath on a clean sweep

It was a big win. Bob Filner, Scott Peters, and Dave Roberts. Proposition Z, Prop 30, and Prop 32. Sherri Lightner, School Boards, Encinitas and Chula Vista City Council. It came thanks to an unprecedented campaign effort involving the Democratic Party, Labor, and community groups like San Diego has never seen, and provided a validation of the San Diego Left that hasn’t been seen in a generation. But it’s just a beginning; an opportunity.

The Republican brand is dead in California, and teetering on the edge in San Diego. It got to this point not because the party has turned militant against women or immigrants or union members or environmental conservationists, although identity politics are real and identity warfare doesn’t help. Rather, the GOP finds itself increasingly irrelevant because the result of the identity politics has been a party led by people who feel no obligation to address or even acknowledge the needs of women, immigrants, union members, conservationists, on and on. Identity politics provides the accessible surface, but the trouble is when these people can’t see a future for themselves in one party.

The challenge for Democrats, and particularly progressives within the Democratic coalition, is to make all those excluded people into effective contributors to the political process, not just orphans passing through. That means a good deal of work in the trenches building capacity and foundational infrastructure to bring them meaningfully into political relevance. Not just to provide them a seat at the table, but to empower them to be most effective once they’re at the table. That’s a real power shift.

That’s also why the DeMaio general election model should be deeply worrisome. While DeMaio was uncharacteristically devoid of substance in his own post-mortem, his model was extremely effective in spite of being transparently disingenuous. Head-fakes to environmentalists, choice advocates, affordable housing, and transit activists were almost enough to pass for an actual, reasonable moderate. And it’s an easily replicated plan.

In no small part, that’s because there’s at least one full political generation in San Diego that hasn’t even considered what life would be like if the city was seriously invested in lifting everyone up instead of benefiting downtown elites. And while everyone has goals, plans, and aspirations, far fewer know how much is possible. At the core of the challenge for those coming into office is establishing a clear story and line of policy that demonstrates what it means in practice for a city to commit to neighborhood empowerment, clean energy, conservation, women’s health, affordable housing, real transportation alternatives, expanding the middle class, and integrating all cultures and ethnic groups. Without that, the next right-wing charlatan who tries to pass off a fake to the center might find just enough traction to undo this opportunity.

Let’s remember there’s an electoral divide just as stark as the I-8: General elections vs everything else. Take a look at the current and incoming Republican elected officials at City Hall to bear this out: Mayor Jerry Sanders will be departing due to term limits without ever winning a regular November general election. Same for Councilmember Kevin Faulconer. Carl DeMaio has never won a November election, elected outright in June like incoming GOP councilmembers Kersey and Sherman. There are only two November success stories for the GOP: Lorie Zapf in 2010, and Jan Goldsmith’s successful 2008 Aguirre referendum.

For good measure, only three (Lightner, Zapf, Alvarez) of nine councilmembers will have been elected by a November election in their district. Make it four with Todd Gloria who originally made it in that way, but it’s still a minority. This raises a number of questions about the health of small-d democracy, but no matter how concerned you are about the principle, there is an inescapable result of all this: Hundreds of thousands of San Diegans have no electoral tie or stake in the person representing them at City Hall. That’s a major challenge for an incoming administration that has inclusiveness and empowerment at the top of the agenda.

While the 2012 election marked a high water mark for San Diego’s left-of-center coalition, it’s just as possible that, between Zapf and DeMaio’s overachieving, the GOP’s days of hiding in low-turnout affairs might be waning. DeMaio has laid the groundwork for an effective middle-of-the-road campaign, and the Right has the capacity to churn out candidates who aren’t burdened by DeMaio’s record.

And we know the death-by-1000-cuts playbook that’s coming. The Right still has the network of message generators and messengers to nitpick incoming Democrats into the ground. We have a media infrastructure that is, in many cases, built to be most successful in the old system of transactional downtown power politics and will likely remain sympathetic if not outright militant in its defense.

There will be no benefit of the doubt, there will be no grace period to get up to speed, and there will be little interest in highlighting successes if there’s anything lacking to be highlighted instead. Combating that known problem requires the same sort of grassroots organizing as the campaigns used so effectively: neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block, person by person. Teaching San Diego what this moment means and how it’s being seized will go a long way to determining how long it lasts.

Ultimately, this election doesn’t indicate a shift in the electorate or even a ‘fixed’ infrastructure on the Left. Rather, it begins to establish a baseline of what the city can do. Bob Filner and others were right that a majority of San Diego was ready to say ‘enough,’ and the people stepped up and delivered. That in itself is a big step, but all of this electoral success is not victory. It’s an exciting chance to change how San Diego does business and prioritizes civic needs, but it’s hardly safe and the momentum is fragile.

We have the opportunity to tell our stories, to empower whole communities, to fundamentally change our civic perspective on how to build a city. But the work to seize that opportunity only begins now.

by Lucas O’Connor

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Bilbray shreds environment amid sprint to center

Some predictable theatre played out in Washington over the last week, as the House GOP took up legislation to waive environmental protections and give the Department of Homeland Security unlimited access to national parks within 100 miles of the border. That would effectively impose martial law over national parks near the border. It passed, with the support of Brian Bilbray.

Purely by coincidence, the debate over whether to essentially declare a state of immigration emergency to overrule environmental laws comes just days after President Obama announced a policy shift to provide relief from deportation to immigrant young adults brought to this country by their parents at an early age.

Your cynicism may vary, but as has been noted elsewhere already, this is no small roll back of environmental protections:

The legislation would override 36 environmental, safety and other regulations, including the Wilderness Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Antiquities Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Migratory Bird Act, the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, the Fish and Wildlife Act, among others.

Let’s highlight just a couple of those. The Antiquities Act is what invented national monuments in the first place. The Endangered Species Act is pretty self-explanatory, but this change would effectively mean that wiping out entire species is just the price we might have to pay to slightly reduce undocumented immigration.

But would it come to that? Sounds like it:

This legislation…would allow the department to do many things on this land, including using vehicles, building roads, fences, living quarters and airstrips and deploying forward operating bases. For example, national parks advocates have raised concerns that if the department determined it needed surveillance equipment in a park – say on Chief Mountain in Glacier National Park – it could install it without any public comment or even internal review process.

Of course it’s important to remember as Bilbray tries to throw the nation’s entire environmental protection system overboard, that authorities are already allowed to pursue into these wilderness areas. This is just an extra attempt to suspend all other laws to streamline the destruction of our national parks. May as well be martial law.

Of course, this argument of Bilbray’s that we must destroy our parks to save them is uncomfortably familiar. Early in his congressional career, Bilbray tried to permanently exempt San Diego from the Clean Water Act, later voting to gut the act. Bilbray has voted in lockstep with the GOP leadership for years to keep us in Iraq and Afghanistan. His strategy for fixing the health care system was to vote against providing health care to children. And one plan he floated for reducing undocumented immigration was to cut education to create our own poverty.

Might have written that off as a joke, but since then he’s gone after college financial aid programs, education funding for children with disabilities and low-income school districts. So he’s practicing what he preaches. With student loan interest rates set to double on July 1st, we’ll see where Brian Bilbray is.

It’s particularly interesting timing since Bilbray is now back in his ‘uh-oh, better start looking moderate’ kabuki mode that we get every two years about this time. This year, he’s once again facing the challenge of threading the needle between his hyperbolic freak outs over immigration and pretending to be an environmentalist. But when push comes to shove, Bilbray’s priority is clear: Abandon any environmental protection that gets in the way… or even the ones that don’t.

by Lucas O’Connor

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lori Saldaña’s attacks called out for “blatant falsehoods”

The battle to challenge Brian Bilbray in the suddenly Dem-friendly CA-52, with Lori Saldaña going on the attack early and often trying to pin the city’s pension problems on fellow Democratic candidate Scott Peters. She managed to convince out of towners like PCCC to echo the attacks, and now there’s mail going out to support Bilbray that recycles the hit. The only problem? Well… it isn’t true. Oops.

About a week ago, attorney Frank Vecchione wrote a letter to Saldaña. As he outlines, Vecchione was front and center for all the litigation surrounding the problems with city’s pensions, and he isn’t buying what Saldaña is trying to sell. The entire letter makes for an interesting read, but here are a few sections that stand out:

My office represented a former San Diego city employee and member of the SDCERS retirement board with regard to an onslaught of litigation stemming from the mutual decision of the City of San Diego and the SDCERS Board to modify an existing agreement between the two regarding the retirement system funding rate.

I recently received some materials and mailings disseminated by your campaign which are negative “hit” pieces directed at Scott Peters. I understand negative campaigning is part of politics. However, the allegations continued within the material which your campaign has directed at Mr. Peters is so rife with misinformation and blatant falsehoods that I consider it appropriate and necessary to respond.

Scott Peters did not “underfund the city’s pension plan by $1.5 billion.” The decision to “underfund” the pension plan originated in 1996 pursuant to a proposal by then City Manager Jack McGrory with the concurrence of Mayor Susan Golding…No one was sued. No one was prosecuted. More importantly, Scott Peters was not on the City Council in 1996. He was elected to the Council in 2000.

But Vecchione wasn’t done.

I am not affiliated with the Peters campaign nor do I represent him in any capacity. I do believe the allegations in your campaign materials are false and could easily be deemed defamatory and libelous with regard to Mr. Peters and many others who would be tarnished by these untrue statements…I thought you would appreciate an accurate recitation of the facts to assist you in understanding that you are relying on misinformation, which serves no one in the democratic process, and may reflect poorly on your campaign.

This may not surprise people who actually know what happened in the pension meltdown. But it certainly doesn’t reflect well on Lori Saldaña’s campaign just a few days before the election.

by Lucas O’Connor

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A Successful Day of Political and Campaign Management Training for Our Fellows

Today we have a preview of an NLC Institute day from Johanna Schiavoni with the San Diego Leadership Alliance (SDLA). The SDLA is a local nonprofit which hosts the NLC Institute in San Diego, and trains local young progressives to be more involved in civic life.  This item is cross-posted from the SDLA blog, hosted on at their website.


SDLA Co-Director Johanna Schiavoni introducing Christine Forester

As the Co-Director of the Board of the San Diego Leadership Alliance (SDLA), I take great pride in seeing our organization’s progress and growth over these past few years. Key among that is the ongoing success of SDLA’s benchmark program – our leadership institute, conducted in conjunction with the national non-profit New Leaders Council (NLC). Through the NLC Institute in San Diego, we bring together a diverse group of progressive emerging leaders for an intensive 6-month leadership training program. The Institute imparts practical skills in the areas of communications, fundraising, political organizing, campaign management and public policy. The goal is to help our Fellows and alumni succeed as leaders and changemakers in our community, in particular, to bring about lasting change toward a more progressive San Diego region.

On May 5, 2012, SDLA hosted one of its final sessions in this year’s NLC Institute. We met at the IBEW Local 569 Training Center, and our topic was Political Management and Organizing. What a terrific day it was!

Gayl Jaaskelainen, a veteran political consultant with experience at every level of political campaigns shared with our Fellows strategies for successfully building and managing a campaign. Gayl emphasized the importance of volunteers as the lifeblood of any campaign, in addition to fundraising, budgeting and having (and sticking to) a campaign plan. Next, Denice Garcia, the Director of Boards & Commissions and Protocol/ Binational Affairs in the Office of Mayor Jerry Sanders, spoke to our Fellows about the appointments process for board and commissions. She also shared some of the work the City is doing on regional planning projects, including in the San Diego-Tijuana border region. Aaron Friberg, a 2010 alum of the NLC Institute in San Diego and an appointee to the City’s Consolidated Plan Advisory Board, spoke about his experience serving on a City board, including the time commitment and skill sets involved.

As part of our Lunch Speaker Series, we were joined by Christine Forester, a business branding and strategies consultant, who also has been a major fundraiser for countless political candidates and causes. She shared her personal story of how she got involved in politics and her vision for San Diego playing a larger role in the national political scene. Christine also emphasized the importance of cultivating younger networks of donors and of activating people who might not otherwise pay attention to politics, by putting together unique events and opportunities to get involved.

After lunch, our Fellows took a tour of our host facility – the IBEW Local 569 Training Center – guided by Micah Mitrosky, the Local’s Environmental Organizer. In addition to seeing high tech classrooms, we toured the roof-top solar panels, which power IBEW Local 569’s entire Training Center operation and their new electric car charging station. They certainly are a community leader in building green career pathways in San Diego. Micah then served as a panelist, along with Rhiannon Jones the Protective Strategies Director for the DC-based Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, to discuss best practices in volunteer management. Based on years of experience organizing volunteers in issues campaigns, Micah and Rhiannon shared their top “dos and don’ts” for recruiting, engaging, motivating, retaining and promoting volunteers.

I then presented a session focused on key ethical issues in campaigns, with the Fellows working in small groups to discuss hypothetical situations. The Fellows did an excellent job spotting tough issues, brainstorming pros and cons of various options, and identifying further topics of research. The issue of ethics is particularly important for young people becoming involved in campaigns and advocacy, and our Fellows thoroughly discussed this challenging topic.

Finally, we rounded out the day with a dialogue on workforce issues. Evan McLaughlin, the Director for Politics and Legislation for the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council shared an introductory training on labor-relations issues, and Jerry Butkiewicz, the Workforce Readiness Manager for Sempra Utilities, shared his experience in recruiting the next generation of workers in the utilities arena.

All in all, it was a terrific day made possible by our generous space hosts, our diverse, talented and dedicated faculty, and, of course, our enthusiastic Fellows.

Johanna S. Schiavoni, is an attorney and partner with Jacobs & Schlesinger LLP. She specializes in complex litigation, with a focus in state and federal court appellate litigation, and strategic counseling in high-stakes trial matters. Johanna also serves as the Co-Director of the Board of the San Diego Leadership Alliance and a former chair of the NLC Institute in San Diego.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

70% of San Diego voters favor fining banks for blighted foreclosures

Post via the Center on Policy Initiatives, who held a press conference earlier today discussing the foreclosure crisis in San Diego.

Poll shows overwhelming support for proposed ordinance

San Diego voters – across the city and across the political spectrum – favor fining banks to cover cleanup costs for foreclosed properties that are not maintained.

In a poll conducted last month, 70% of voters who expect to vote in November said they support $1,000-a-day fines for banks that let foreclosed homes become rundown. The opinion research firm Grove Insight surveyed 600 voters in the city by telephone, and found only 14% opposed the idea.

“San Diegans are fed up with the blight in their neighborhoods, the hazards to their children and the damage to their property values,” said Clare Crawford, executive director of the Center on Policy Initiatives, which commissioned the poll. “And as taxpayers they’re footing the bill for police and fire calls, inspections, maintenance and other services the city must provide bank-owned homes.”

The Property Value Protection Ordinance, proposed by CPI and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), would require banks to register foreclosed properties and pay fines of $1,000 a day when they don’t maintain a home after complaints are received. The money would recover city costs.

The poll found more than 60% support the idea in every geographic region of the city, with 78% support among Democrats and 66% among Republicans and Independents. Overall, 70% of voters support the proposal, including 42% who “strongly” support it. Only 14% were opposed and 16% undecided.

“Foreclosure blight continues to be a serious problem in neighborhoods across our city,” said Councilmember David Alvarez, who is introducing the ordinance. “It’s time San Diego takes action, as many other cities have done, to recover the costs created by foreclosures and force banks to clean up their mess.”

Chula Vista and more than 70 other cities throughout California already have adopted similar ordinances.

ACCE member Rafael Bautista sent letters today to all candidates for San Diego Mayor and Council, asking them to take a stand on the issue publicly before the June 5 election.

CPI and ACCE issued a report last year that estimated foreclosures since 2008 have caused a combined home value loss of $19 billion for homeowners in the City of San Diego and cost taxpayers between $134 million and $855 million.

At today’s Land Use and Housing hearing, San Diego Councilmember Lorie Zapf, who chairs the Land Use and Housing Committee, announced that she has scheduled the first hearing of the proposed ordinance for July 11th, at 2pm. The public is invited to attend this hearing to ensure that the ordinance continues to move forward. Please contact Norma Rodriguez,, 619-584-5744 ext. 62 for any further questions.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Illegal Dumanis/Fletcher quid pro quo negotiations?

Over at Rostra today, Tony Manolatos levels a pretty serious accusation at District Attorney and mayoral hopeful Bonnie Dumanis:

Nathan Fletcher would benefit the most from a Dumanis exit but I don’t see it happening. Way back when there were no official candidates neither her nor Fletcher had any luck getting the other to bow out. I heard Dumanis offered Fletcher a deal back then: Serve as her chief of staff and she would step down after one term and support him for mayor.

First and foremost, if this is true it would likely be illegal under Section 599 of the U.S. Code on Elections and Political Activities:

Whoever, being a candidate, directly or indirectly promises or pledges the appointment, or the use of his influence or support for the appointment of any person to any public or private position or employment, for the purpose of procuring support in his candidacy shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if the violation was willful, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

That’s pretty straightforward if it went down in the manner Manolatos describes. Certainly he describes a scenario that flagrantly violates the purpose of the law even if there’s a technicality involved. It’s not as though it’s news that a high volume of the politics in San Diego goes on behind closed doors, and that horse trading of this general sort is where most of the bloodsport happens so that the GOP can present a relatively united public face.

Sometimes it bubbles over, as with Carl DeMaio unapologetically announcing his plans to reward donors from office or trying to force a council candidate out of their race. Or in this case with Manolatos accusing the District Attorney of a significant crime without appearing to bat an eye. It may be business as usual, and folks just forget sometimes that it isn’t for public consumption.

Or, exactly the opposite. Now that the party has closed ranks around extreme conservative Carl DeMaio, Manolatos got the job of tossing out some of the dirty laundry on the other candidates to help plow the road. Perhaps the SDGOP has enough confidence in the impotence of San Diego’s watchdog infrastructure that they feel confident they can get away with throwing a few crimes out into the public without fear of the whole operation getting rolled up to Tony Krvaric’s door. Certainly the press has its chance here to live up or down to expectations.

Because this is a serious and public accusation that’s been leveled at the District Attorney, one that challenges not only the legitimacy of her campaign, but her capacity to appropriately continue as District Attorney. It isn’t exactly an illogical notion if one sticks to the realpolitik of the situation, so if it isn’t true, we’d better get a good explanation soon from some combination of Dumanis and Fletcher and I’d forgive Team Dumanis if they double-checked the legal standard for libel.

If it is true, then it merits a thorough investigation — not just of Dumanis, but of anyone including Fletcher who failed to report the crime. And it would merit further reflection on just what passes for standard operating procedure these days in San Diego, and just who is dictating what passes for ‘appropriate’ behavior.

by Lucas O’Connor

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

The continued downtown giveaway

Don Bauder has a takedown this week of the continuing efforts to spend billions on redevelopment after the death of redevelopment. Developers still want those projects, and politicians are doing backflips to deliver the money any way they can.

Redevelopment as a concept remains sound — cities have a vested interest in creating an incentive for the market to venture into affordable housing and other areas that don’t otherwise maximize profit. But there’s wide, understandable consensus that the system had rotted into a good old boys network where politicians and developers rewarded each other, using CCDC as a pass-through. It distracted from the goal and the mission of redevelopment, and was ultimately its undoing.

But Bauder leaves out the most obvious example of business-as-usual downtown. With the end of redevelopment programs, developers are facing the prospect of facing city oversight, permitting, and fees. That is, the public would have oversight and set the standards for their projects. In response, developers have collaborated with the not-quite-ghost of CCDC to opt out of public oversight and instead hire its own oversight staff.

Instead of paying the city’s fees or being subject to the city’s oversight, developers came up with a plan to fund an oversight department at CCDC. It costs much less than city fees, and provides them with the ability to self-regulate since they’re paying to hire their regulators through a quasi-public entity.

Not only does it privatize the process, it’s apparently the Mayor’s model for how business should be conducted throughout the entire city. The Mayor thinks that a public service, which exists specifically to mitigate the extremes of the private market, should be privatized. It should cease to do the specific thing it was created to do.

Predictably, coverage (where it exists) has painted this as new fees for developers instead of the opportunity for yet another power grab. The developer hand out isn’t new — it’s another in a long line of government handouts to private enterprise. Most recently, Mayor Sanders and Carl DeMaio orchestrated privatizing control of the Convention Center, ensuring that it first goes to profit private hotels and serves the public last. Same principle, same give away, and anyone who isn’t a well-connected downtown developer loses out thanks to the big money power play.

The whole reason that redevelopment got tagged in the first place is that it’d been transformed into a public tool serving private interests first. Actions of the Mayor, CCDC and developers have proven that’s exactly the only reason they’re interested. Rhetoric about affordable housing or the public good is just a smokescreen; the process was just a way to funnel public resources to private companies, and now that push has come to shove, that’s the part that everyone is lining up to save here.

Who knows, at this rate maybe by the time the next mayor is decided there won’t be any city left to run. And we’ll have spent all the time, money, and effort for nothing while the city disappeared from under our noses.

by Lucas O’Connor

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

City Council completes Convention Center giveaway

As expected, the City Council earlier this week gave away control of the Convention Center to the private consortium ConVis, “approving a contract that is basically blank” as Councilman Alvarez put it. In the course of a meeting, councilmembers openly negotiated a contract with representatives of ConVis to outsource control of a public asset without any competitive bidding or even any data that would suggest the move would save or make money (for the city at least). We know it’ll be great for the private profits of hotels though, and it’ll come at the expense of the Convention Center. In fact, we have a great deal of data to demonstrate exactly that.

ConVis already had this specific responsibility until 2004. It was taken away because they got “boozy schmoozy” chasing potential clients for hotels and didn’t get around to actually booking the Convention Center. That’s specifically why the Convention Center Corporation was given the job:

Because the corporation, wholly owned by the city, derives 90 percent of its funding from events at the convention center, the move focuses responsibility for raising revenue and, as important, accounting for it.

ConVis’ lack of accountability and wasteful spending of tax dollars played no small part in City Manager Lamont Ewell’s recommendation to make this shift.

So we know exactly what they do with this power, because there’s still no accountability. Nowhere in the private sector, or even in the realm of still-functioning government, would you find a contractor being hired without terms, without multiple bids, or after having the job, failing catastrophically, and being successfully replaced.

But for the most part, the council didn’t care about any of this. As Liam Dillon pointed out, “No council members save David Alvarez, who voted against the deal, questioned the underlying motivations.”

That should be stunning all on its own, because that either means their support was negotiated in advance or that they’re incredibly negligent. But there’s also the remarkable two faces of ConVis president Joe Terzi. Here’s Terzi less than a year ago:

For his part, ConVis CEO Joe Terzi told me two weeks ago that nothing of the sort was being planned.

He said then that the Convention Center should keep its sales and marketing functions.

“They’re doing a good job and we believe it should stay where it’s at,” Terzi told me.

And here was Terzi this week at council:

But frankly if you look at the booking patterns and what the center has been able to achieve, the booking patterns have been stagnating over the last number of years.

In both cases, Terzi is talking about performance over the same period of time. So either he was lying then or he’s lying now, but no matter which it is maybe somebody on the council should have asked? But it didn’t really matter what Terzi or anyone else said; the council was already set to throw taxpayers under the bus.

Why? The Mayor, hoteliers, and downtown developer interests drew their line in the sand on the Convention Center expansion here, and the council had to decide whether to give away the convention center or face retribution. It’s why, in the months leading up to this vote, so few councilmembers were ever willing to say that control of the Convention Center was actually a dealbreaker issue for them. It was just important to put up a nominal fight in the interest of plausible deniability when constituents come asking.

And to accomplish this, they used the most basic tactic of rationalization and dodging responsibility. Even though the fix is in, implement it in small enough bites that no one is singularly definitive but all are inevitable. The vote yesterday was a rubber stamp on hotel owners controlling the Convention Center. It gives them not only the power, but nearly the responsibility to hollow out Convention Center booking for their own profit. Heck, they didn’t even hide it from the council.

By the time the terms are negotiated and the IBA has a chance to examine the impact, it will be a couple years before ConVis has done enough booking for performance metrics to kick in. By then, hotels will be taxing the public without a public vote and the city will be on the hook for an unlimited liability in the Convention Center Expansion. And wouldn’t you know? Because of the expansion it’s going to take another decade to really know whether ConVis is doing a good or bad job because the expansion totally changes the performance metrics.

And at that point? Well gosh, ConVis is the only organization that’s ever dealt with the shiny, new, expanded Convention Center. They’re the ones with the institutional knowledge, and the hotels and ancillary private businesses have so tightly woven their business models into the ConVis booking model for the Convention Center… It’s too big to fail.

By then, all the folks who delivered us will be long gone from here, so they don’t care. And in the meantime, they’ve feathered their beds in hotelier pockets with tax dollars, so they’ll stay comfortable.

by Lucas O’Connor

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment