- Photo by Dave Rolland
“Oh yeah,” the first-term San Diego City Council member says. “Totally.”
Nervous chuckles from everyone at the table at the Horton Plaza Panera Bread. Sitting beside Zapf is her chief of staff, Job Nelson, and communications advisor, Alex Bell, acting as chaperons for the interview with editor David Rolland, who’s also shooting photos, and me.
“The campaign, just overall, was very difficult, and if I harbored hard feelings, you know, I wouldn’t be able to move forward and do my job,” Zapf continues after the laughter subsides.
CityBeat laid hard into the novice politician when she ran as the Republican candidate to replace progressive hero Donna Frye in 2010. Despite all the personal muck we raked, Zapf triumphed over lackluster Democrat Howard Wayne.
More than a year later, while we disagree on most policy matters, CityBeat has found itself on the same side as Zapf on a few issues, including exposing wasteful spending at the Service Authority for Freeway Emergencies [SAFE], the independent body that funds roadside call boxes. But, in all that time, this is the first face-to-face encounter we’ve had with Zapf.
CityBeat: You’ve been in office for about a year and a quarter. Anything about the job hit you unexpected?
Zapf: I thought I’d come onto the 10th floor [at City Hall] and it would be really contentious, especially after the rigorous campaign I was in; there would be hard feelings toward me. So, the biggest surprise for me is that I’ve developed a very good relationship with a lot of my colleagues. Even though you might be up at the council on opposite sides, fighting, but when we’re walking down the stairs, it’s over.
Who’s your strongest relationship with on the council?
Gosh. I don’t know that I have a strongest. [Council President] Tony [Young] and I have worked really well together the past year on the small-business-package stuff, and I consider him becoming more of a friend. We’re going to work together on education issues. I really respect him. I love his style. [Councilmember] David Alvarez and I, right out of the gate—I really enjoy his company. We just walk into each other’s office and sit down and chat about things.
In the San Diego County Taxpayers Association’s annual satirical video, you played a cocktail waitress, serving Councilmembers Kevin Faulconer and Carl DeMaio. Is there any truth to that characterization?
I was a cocktail waitress in Malibu. I could do the role well. Frankly, I expected a bigger role [uses a mock diva voice], but I got a little cameo and so, you go with it. If you don’t have a sense of humor, then, you know, what do you got?
Are there any issues where you’ve broken from Carl and Kevin?
With Carl, it was just the two of us loners out there when it came to retiree healthcare [for former city employees]. I have my line-in-the-sand issues, and then there are others you can work with and, for me, that was a line-in-the-sand issue. I would say, to the community, the most glaring thing [for Carl and me] is our differing opinions on arts and culture.
What is that difference?
I think that arts and culture make a great city. It’s probably my background, my frame of reference, because my great grandfather was an opera singer in Germany. My dad’s a professional musician. Both of my daughters are very artistic. My uncle is a professional musician. There’s just that vein of music and art in my family. It’s not just fiscal issues, but there’s the heart and soul of people who are artists and they deserve to be served, too.
You go to the opera this year?
I am not personally an opera person. My kids are young so we do a lot of junior theater. There’s a lot of things I would go to if I could take my kids. But I do appreciate that other people, that’s their love. I’m more of a big band and Led Zeppelin type.
Can you get with the mayor on Pink Floyd?
Absolutely. I was at the Dark Side of the Moon concert, the original, at the Long Beach Arena.
County Supervisor Ron Roberts [who supports SAFE] has a reputation for not being someone you want to piss off. How would you characterize your relationship with Roberts these days?
A tad frosty. [Laughs.] But we are together all the time, and so I think we try and reserve our fighting for the SAFE boardroom and try to be—what’s the word?—agreeable and respectful, because we serve on other boards and so forth. We’re not going to be doing lunch anytime soon.
You’re chair of the City Council’s Land Use and Housing Committee. Take us through the efforts you’ll be making in the next couple months.
Well, there’s a lot of things we have to look at differently now, especially with redevelopment all of a sudden going away. We have to look at how we can do a lot of the things we were planning to do with redevelopment through the city and without as much money. One of the things that we were talking about doing is updating our community plans. We get people coming into our office that want to open a retail [business] but it’s not zoned right but it really should be because things have grown so much in 30 years, but they’d have to have variations and conditional use and all this stuff, and it’s expensive. We’re looking at maybe doing just important portions of a community plan that pertain to business areas. I’m looking at getting a panel of essentially land-use experts, not the special interests, not necessarily the [Building Industry Association] or the affordable-housing advocates, but people who are looking at the big picture and how can we really do affordable housing more affordably.
Now, you're a supporter of the Comprehensive Pension Reform initiative. So if this passes, being "comprehensive" does this mean we can move onto other issues? If so, what will be the next big issue?
What I'd like to see is really continuing competitive bidding and fundamentally realigning some departments. We got so spread out in government. I mean, we took on everything and this competitive bidding is starting to shed back into the private sector services that I believe belonged there all along, like auto maintenance, printing, things like that. So what was really exciting for me is that I ran on managed competition, which is just injecting bidding into our services, and my very first council session I was able to help push the first managed competition for publishing forward. That resulted in like a million dollars in savings doing the exact same job with about a third of the workforce gone. The next big one was fleet services. That was shocking to me because it's the exact same level of service and yet the employees won the bid with 40 percent less workforce and four-and-a-half-million dollars in savings annually. I feel like we're really turning the corner. We've got some extra money to spend. What a shock! We haven't heard that in years and years and years. Add more police officers, restore some library hours. It's just crazy.
I understand you’re not endorsing in the mayoral primary. Why is that?
Well, the three Republican candidates were all supportive of my campaign and did various things for me, endorsing me and helping fundraise and things like that, so I just can’t.
But you’re probably closest with Carl in terms of your working relationship. In 2010, Carl said he wasn’t going to endorse in your primary, because he liked [another candidate] Steve Hadley and he liked you. But, in the end, he made the decision and came out and backed you at a time you really needed it. Now that Carl’s got the Republican Party endorsement, why not come out for Carl?
Same thing still holds. It’s really up to the citizens. I don’t see that endorsements from politician to politician is that big a deal.
How has redistricting affected you? You have a little bit different district—.
Oh yeah. Just a tad. No—I was shredded. People ask me, “Are you upset?” I say, “If I was, would it matter?” It is what it is, and you just have to deal with what you’re given, and I was elected to represent [District 6], and so D6 is going to be very different at the end of the year. In fact, Kevin [Faulconer] is my new representative. I’m going to have to call Kevin if I need something done.
What’s going happen?
I’m picking up Mira Mesa. I’ve already gone and met with the town council and started to introduce myself. I have one staffer that is starting to really get more immersed in Mira Mesa issues and the Little Penasquitos, but other than that, I still have Kearny Mesa and East Clairemont. To be honest, I haven’t taken a deep dive in yet. I lost Mission Valley, Linda Vista and Serra Mesa, and I really enjoyed representing those three. For me it’s kind of painful to lose them, because I’ve gotten to know the people. I really like the people at Bayside and in Mission Valley and really gotten into the issues, and now it’s kind of like, “See ya!” It’s a bummer.
What about 2014? Will you run in District 2?
Honestly, I really don’t know what I will do. It’s our family home and I don’t have any plans to move, but you don’t want to say anything definitive, because if you change in a year or two, it’s, like, “Aha!” You don’t know what life brings. My sister, out of the blue, was diagnosed with stage-four cancer, right? Out of nowhere, she’s going to be dying in a few weeks. You just don’t know what life brings.
I never expected to be here. I didn’t have plans to have a political career, and I really don’t feel like I have a political career. I feel like I’m a citizen who has infiltrated government to try to make it better. I just don’t see myself as a politician. When people say that, I cringe.