San Diego CityBeat Blogs - Last Blog on Earth | News <![CDATA[Sarah Boot tracks down Lorie Zapf at contentious candidate forum]]>

What does a voter need to do to get a debate around here?

Wednesday night's Q-and-A session featuring City Council District 2 candidates Lorie Zapf and Sarah Boot was a long time in the making. 

Held by the Pacific Beach Town Council at its monthly meeting, the debate-like event had originally been scheduled as a solo forum for Zapf who currently represents District 6. That is until Boot, who'd been trying to square off with her opponent for months, got wind of the event and scheduled a simultaneous appearance.

“We definitely think that district residents should be able to ask questions and hear the candidates’ views, and we’re committed to that as many times as possible,” said Boot’s campaign manager, Laura Fink. 

In February, Boot publicly called for a series of debates. However, Zapf never agreed. The issue got more attention in March when Zapf was the only candidate not to attend a forum set up by the Ocean Beach Town Council.

“We were only given two dates to choose from and neither worked for the Councilmember’s schedule,” said Zapf’s campaign manager, Sara Kamiab, in an email. “The President of the OB Town Council, who is a supporter and major donor to Ms. Boot, was unwilling to look at any additional dates.”

Wednesday's event drew more than a hundred people, many with questions for the candidates. But before voters could lob their queries, the candidates explained who they are and flossed their credentials. 

Zapf, who was elected to represent District 6 (Claremont, Linda Vista and Kearny Mesa) in 2010, lives in Bay Ho. Redistricting, in 2011, put her home in District 2, which also includes Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach and Point Loma.

Zapf noted she was the first Latina elected to the City Council, and outlined a childhood riddled with poverty. “I had a very tumultuous upbringing and at one point, the result was that my brother, my sister and I, we were split up and put into foster homes.”

That experience helped make her a fiscal conservative, she added. “So I’ve been [on the City Council] the last three-and-a-half years working on reforms that have brought a lot more money into our coffers. And you just saw that just this week. Our budget is well above what we had projected. The pension savings, the managed comp savings, the efficiencies from the audits, all of that’s paying off.”

In her opening remarks, Boot, who lives in Midway, said she’s “passionate” about public service, citing her time as a federal prosecutor and president of the Lawyers Club of San Diego. She also talked about her work in the private sector as a consultant for companies such as Google and Yelp.

“I’m running for City Council because I’m going to fight for our neighborhoods, like Pacific Beach, that have been neglected by the city for so long,” she said. “Let me give you an example of that. In Mission Beach, yesterday, we had a big water-main breakage, and that was destructive and costly. And things like this are all too common. That’s the kind of neglected I’m talking about.

“Throughout my career, I’ve been a strong advocate for justice, for equality for the community,” she added. “I plan to take those advocacy skills to the City Council and fight to make sure that our neighborhoods get their fair share of resources and that we’re not just investing all of our money in Downtown.”

Boot ended her introduction by slamming Zapf for taking a monthly car allowance available to council members: “My opponent Lorie Zapf is the only person on the council to take the $800-a-month car allowance,” she said.

However, Zapf’s campaign team was on hand fact-checking, and political strategist John Hoy bellowed from the crowd, “Not true!”

Later, CityBeat confirmed that councilmember Myrtle Cole also receives a car allowance.
That exchange set the tone for the rest of the debate, which went on for roughly 40 minutes, touching on topics ranging from potholes to height limits on development to crime to gay marriage. A full recording of the debate is available at the top of this post. 

The next candidates forum is scheduled for Thursday, May 1, at 7 p.m. in the Cadman Elementary School cafeteria (4370 Kamloop Ave.). The event will be hosted by the Clairemont Town Council and moderated by Janet Poutré, publisher of Clairemont Community News. Both Zapf and Boot have promised to be there. 

<![CDATA[Faulconer's budget plan includes $1.9 million for homelessness]]> In early February, interim Mayor Todd Gloria announced a plan to reallocate the $1.9 million former Mayor Bob Filner set aside to keep the city's two homeless shelters open year-round. The money would still go to homeless services programs, Gloria said, just not entirely to the shelter.
Unknown was whether Kevin Faulconer, who was elected mayor on Feb. 11, would include the full $1.9 million in the 2015 budget. In March, Matt Awbrey, Faulconer's communications director, told me via email:
Homeless services are a budget priority for Mayor Faulconer. Because the fiscal year 2015 City budget is still being developed, it's premature to say whether the budget proposal will be exactly the same as the Council President's, but because Mayor Faulconer supports funding homeless programs that help San Diego secure more federal funding and focus on long-term rehabilitation and care, it is reasonable to expect there will be more similarities than differences.
Faulconer released his spending plan today and it includes Gloria's full $1.9-million proposal. The City Council will still need to approve the budget.
The biggest chunk of the money, $800,000, will go to the city's winter shelter and provide enhanced case-management services. This month, after being open for 17 months, the adult shelter in Barrio Logan and the veterans tent in Sports Arena will close and revert back to their traditional November through April schedule, temporarily reducing the city's already low number of emergency shelter beds by 370. 

How the $1.9 million breaks down:

$800,000: Covers four months of shelter operations, plus additional case-management services

$400,000: Helps fund a countywide coordinated intake and assessment system, as required by federal law, that would track people as they move off the street and through programs

$120,000: Restores a funding cut to the San Diego Police Department’s Serial Inebriate Program, which puts homeless chronic alcoholics into treatment rather than jail

$80,000: Pays for additional services at the Neil Good Day Center in East Village

$40,000: Helps fund the San Diego Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team

$150,000: Covers operating costs for the Homeless Transitional Storage Facility, where people can store their belongings

$300,000: Closes a funding gap for Connections Housing

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<![CDATA[Susan Riggs heads to Sacramento]]>

In late January, Gov. Jerry Brown announced that he'd appointed Susan Riggs to the position of deputy secretary of housing policy at the state's Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency. It was good and bad news for left-leaning San Diegans—good news to have a San Diegan working on housing policy at the state level, bad news because Riggs, who'd been the executive director of the San Diego Housing Federation since 2010, had been a charismatic champion not just for affordable housing but also a larger progressive vision for the city. 

I sat down with her a couple weeks ago for an informal chat before she left for Sacramento (her last day with the Housing Federation was March 7). At that point, the City Council hadn't yet voted to rescind an increase in the workforce-housing offset (also known as the linkage fee), an impact fee that commercial-building developers pay into the city's affordable-housing fund. The council, with its Democratic majority, passed the fee increase in December. Soon after, a coalition of developers and business groups, led by the Chamber of Commerce, launched a petition to overturn it. Riggs was hopeful the fee increase would go to the ballot—specifically the November ballot, which would give affordable-housing advocates time to develop a campaign strategy. She acknowledged that countering the housing-offset opponents' "jobs tax" soundbite would be tricky, and she talked about misconceptions about the fee, an idea for boosting housing production and one of her proudest accomplishments at the Housing Federation.

<![CDATA[The silent treatment]]>

A recent issue concerning government transparency in the city of San Diego has been defined largely not by open communication but reticence and obfuscation.

Citing concerns from the City Attorney’s office, the City Council has swept aside a ballot initiative, sponsored by City Councilmember David Alvarez, aimed at increasing access to public records.

In response to concerns about a culture of secrecy at City Hall, Alvarez teamed up in November with government-transparency group CaliforniansAware to craft an initiative for the June ballot.

“Since I’ve served on the City Council, I have seen that, in many cases, the city has not lived up to the spirit of open-government laws,” Alvarez said in an email. “There have been many times that the media or members of the public are denied access to information without cause.”

The proposed measure would change San Diego's city charter to require the city to legally justify each of its individual policies in the municipal code for withholding documents from the public that exceed what's already exempted from disclosure under state or federal law. There are roughly 20 city policies that would need to be approved with legal findings, according to the Independent Budget Analyst's office. The council would need to approve these findings two years after adoption of the measure and then again readopt findings every three years.

However, the council, which had to approve the wording of the proposition for it to be placed on the ballot, never discussed the merits of the proposal. Instead, the council repeatedly directed CaliforniansAware to work on the proposition with the City Attorney's office, which in turn continuously rejected the draft language.

The proposal was then indefinitely tabled at a Feb. 25 City Council meeting after Councilmember Sherri Lightner expressed concern that the proposal might “overlap” with a statewide ballot initiative.

“It has recently come to light that there is a state initiative, Proposition 42, which will be on the June ballot and includes many of the proposals included in Councilmember Alvarez’s initiative,” she said at the meeting.

If Prop. 42 passes in June, the state will no longer be responsible for reimbursing local agencies for costs related to the Brown Act—the state's open-meetings law—or the California Public Records Act, according to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office. At the same time, it would amend the state constitution to require that local governments continue to follow open-government laws.

The two ballot proposals have no "substantive overlap whatsoever," Terry Francke told the council. “It’s essentially a financial policy decision. It’s adds nothing to either the Brown Act or the Public Records Act. It subtracts nothing from the Brown Act or the Public Records Act."

In response to a CityBeat inquiry, the City Attorney’s office said Prop. 42 overlapped with Alvarez’s ballot initiative because his proposition could also give the state an excuse not to reimburse the city for its costs associated with public records.

“Proposition 42, which is already on the ballot, will also affect this, because its passage would eliminate the state’s obligation to reimburse the city for certain state-mandated requirements,” said Deputy City Attorney Catherine Bradley in an email. “Thus, there is concern about the overlap of the charter provisions and the state measure, and the effect they may have.”

If state reimbursements were cut off by Prop. 42, it would render moot any similar concerns about the local initiative. So it's not clear how the two propositions could affect each other.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer, City Council President Todd Gloria and Councilmember Lightner all declined to comment for this story.

Starting in January, the City Attorney’s office opposed the idea of having to legally justify withholding information from the public, citing concerns it could open the city up to litigation. What followed were several failed attempts by CaliforniansAware to get the City Attorney's office to help draft a proposition on which the council could vote to put on the ballot.

“From the start of the discussion about the proposed amendments to the city charter, the City Attorney raised questions but did not offer much in the way of solutions,” Alvarez said in an email. “Two of the three reports written by the City Attorney were either released the day before or the day of a public hearing where the proposal was discussed, which allowed little to no time to address their ever-evolving concerns, which I think was by design.”

About a month after first receiving the proposed language, the City Attorney’s office provided a report on the ballot measure one day before the issue was docketed to be heard by the council's Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee.

The committee—which consists of Chair Lightner, Vice Chair Mark Kersey, Alvarez and Marti Emerald, as well as Faulconer's vacant council seat—voted unanimously (including Faulconer, before he was sworn in as mayor) to have the City Attorney work with CaliforniansAware to solve concerns so that it could have an opportunity to be placed on the June ballot.

When the issue returned to the City Council on Feb. 10, the City Attorney's office released its second report just hours before the meeting.

Despite CaliforniansAware's numerous attempts to contact the City Attorney's office, the report was the first written response the group had received since mid-January.

Citing a need to review the report, Lightner made a motion to continue the issue to Feb. 25, when it would be indefinitely tabled.

Alvarez and Emerald voted against the continuance, as Lightner would not amend her motion to require the City Attorney's office to work with CaliforniansAware to produce a ballot proposal that could be voted on at the subsequent meeting.

“I can only support this continuance if we are guaranteed an ordinance back here on the 25th of February,” Emerald said. “Otherwise, I can only believe that this memo coming at the last minute is a stalling tactic.”

During the Feb. 25 council meeting, both Gloria and Faulconer declined to make any comments. However, Councilmember Lorie Zapf pointed out the elephant in the room.

“Changes to the city charter are permanent and very difficult to change quickly or often,” she said. “We’ve seen that time and again in the last few years that I’ve been here. I believe doing this as an ordinance rather than a charter amendment, we can still achieve the same goal without having our hands tied or be ensnared in any legal nightmares should there be any unintended consequences that are locked into a charter.”

Both Alvarez and Emerald quickly said they would support tabling the ballot initiative if the council would support an open-government city ordinance, which is far easier to tweak than a charter amendment. 

However, that idea got no traction.

“There are a lot of very good goals in this proposal, but I think there are some pretty key questions that Ms. Lightner raised that I’d like to see answered,” said Mark Kersey.

With that, the issue was tabled at least until after the June ballot, and the City Council completed what had amounted to three months of skirting any sort of substantive debate on Alvarez’s open-government-initiative proposal.

<![CDATA[Public record no more]]>

The city of San Diego has decided to delete all emails older than a year, according to an internal memo issued Thursday by interim Mayor Todd Gloria. The change in policy includes electronic communications, defined as “email, memoranda, calendars, tasks and attached documents.” 

The authorization was signed off by Gloria and several of the city’s top officials, including the City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and the Chief Operating Officer Scott Chadwick. City Council approval is not required for the administrative policy change.

On March 28, the city will start automatically deleting emails that are older than a year, said Gloria's spokesperson Katie Keach.

<![CDATA[Redeveloping Civic San Diego]]>

Is San Diego's Downtown redevelopment strategy a good fit for the city's most underserved neighborhoods? Absolutely, says Jeff Graham, outgoing president of Civic San Diego, the agency tasked with phasing out redevelopment under state law.

Despite pushback from a municipal-employees union, Graham maintains that the city-owned nonprofit corporation will continue to pursue sweeping planning authority under a proposal aimed at luring private development to low-income communities.

“This organization was created to be nimble, and it’s very critical that this corporation continue to be allowed to be nimble,” he said. “If there’s too many layers of restrictions or approval processes put on the corporation, it’s going to lose its effectiveness.”

<![CDATA[How San Diego voted]]>

Vince Vasquez, senior policy analyst at the National University System Institute for Policy Research, put together a couple of maps this morning showing how folks voted in yesterday's mayoral election. The maps, below, show a pretty clear geographic divide, with voters who live north of I-8 favoring Kevin Faulconer, while voters in San Diego's urban core and neighborhoods of color preferring David Alvarez. 

Shortly after he posted the maps, Vasquez tweeted that, for him, they confirm that "geography is a better indicator of voting behavior than political party."

<![CDATA[Aguirre's bombshell fizzles]]> Last week, I got an invite to a new Chinese restaurant in the Gaslamp. Packaged with the invite was a box of those little snapper things you probably bought as a kid in Chinatown. Those came to mind when I read this KUSI story titled "Aguirre drops pre-election bombshell."]]> <![CDATA[Todd Gloria announces plans for city-funded homelessness services]]> As mayor, Bob Filner pledged to turn the city's annual adult and veterans emergency homeless shelters—normally open Thanksgiving through Easter—into year-round operations. Though his initial funding allocation fell short, the shelters haven't closed since November 2012. 
Today, interim Mayor Todd Gloria said there are better uses for the $1.9 million it would cost to keep the shelters open 365 days a year. While it'll require the approval of the City Council and whomever wins the Feb. 11 mayoral special election, Gloria today laid out how he thinks the money should be spent: ]]>
<![CDATA[The truth about the latest David Alvarez attack mailer]]> The Feb. 11 mayoral special election has unleashed some pretty bad mailers. Yesterday, from the Kevin Faulconer-supporting Western Electrical Contractors Association super PAC came this: "Left out in the cold by David Alvarez," it reads. Then: "David Alvarez was the ONLY member of the City Council to oppose the Emergency Winter Homeless Shelter." The mailer cites an April 27, 2011, 10News story saying that Alvarez cast the lone dissenting vote against the shelter. 
True or false?
But it needs context. ]]>
<![CDATA[Race cards]]>

Protesting Tuesday outside of the office of the Lincoln Club’s campaign treasurer, about a dozen activists demanded that the conservative, pro-business political-action committee apologize for depicting Latino mayoral candidate David Alvarez as, they say, "a money-hungry gang member." The mailers show a frowning Alvarez casually waving stacks of $100 bills or holding a jar of cash. 

<![CDATA[Filner reportedly wanted Lansdowne out]]> In the months before sexual-harassment allegations forced his resignation, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner was trying to find a replacement for Police Chief Bill Lansdowne, says Brian Marvel, president of the San Diego Police Officers Association.  
Marvel says he heard from multiple, credible sources that in June and July, Filner—who resigned in late August—had been meeting with a number of people, none of them current San Diego Police Department employees, to see if they'd be interested in replacing Lansdowne. 
"I heard he was offering jobs to people," Marvel says. "Whether they accepted, I don't know."
Marvel said he wasn't given names of whom Filner was meeting with, nor the reason why the mayor wanted a new chief, beyond Filner not liking Lansdowne's approach to policing. A spokesperson for the police department said Lansdowne was traveling and not available for comment.
This week, the U.S. Attorney's office issued a complaint against former San Diego police officer Ernesto "Ernie" Encinas and campaign consultant Ravneet Singh for conspiring with Mexican businessman Jose Susumo Azano Matsura to illegally funnel money to local campaign committees, one of them being a PAC set up to support Filner's mayoral bid. Encinas told a representative of one campaign that any donations from Azano would hinge on a promise that the candidate, if elected, would fire Lansdowne and allow Encinas to pick his replacement. 
Today, Voice of San Diego reported that Encinas and lobbyist Marco Polo Cortes—who was arrested Wednesday for his role in the campaign-contribution scheme—met with Filner about liquor-license restrictions placed on a Downtown nightclub on whose behalf Cortes was lobbying city officials. Lansdowne, VoSD reports, offered a compromise that the club owners refused to accept. Lee Burdick, Filner's chief of staff, told VoSD that the mayor "would not second-guess the police chief on an issue of public safety."
Lansdowne's been San Diego's police chief since 2003. At a January 2012 mayoral debate, when candidates were asked whether they'd keep Lansdowne, if elected, Filner responded yes.
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<![CDATA[What we know about Ernesto Encinas and Marco Polo Cortes]]> Back in May 2012, a source sent me snapshots of a glossy flyer that, on one side, encouraged support for District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis' mayoral bid and, on the other side, promoted "Coed Thursdays" at Belo, a Downtown nightclub. I did some asking around at the time, but ultimately came up with nothing solid. Until now.  ]]> <![CDATA[The Lincoln Club's misleading mailers]]> Lincoln Club mailers are known for their size, but not their accuracy.
After a quiet holiday season, last week the conservative, pro-business PAC sent out two mailers, accusing City Councilmember and mayoral candidate David Alvarez of pledging to allocate "community development funds" to only three neighborhoods—City Heights, Southeastern San Diego and San Ysidro. What exactly these "community development funds" are, the mailers don't say. ]]>
<![CDATA[Judge approves Mikel Marshall's release]]>

A judge today agreed to release sexually violent predator Mikel Marshall to a house in Jacumba Hot Springs, contingent on Marshall signing off on roughly three-dozen pages of conditions.]]>
<![CDATA[Todd Gloria's remarks on the Barrio Logan Community Plan and referendum]]>

On Tuesday, the San Diego City Council was forced to make a choice between two bad options: rescind its approval of a landmark update to the Barrio Logan Community Plan or place on an upcoming election ballot a referendum that would allow voters to trash the plan update.

The choice was forced by a successful yet deceptive petition campaign spearheaded by San Diego’s shipbuilding interests, which worry that the plan update could harm their industry in the long run. There were numerous documented incidents in which paid signature gatherers flat-out lied to voters about the plan’s impacts, falsely claiming impacts such as the Navy leaving town and new condos replacing waterfront shipyards. Even mayor candidate Kevin Faulconer said the plan would eliminate 46,000 maritime jobs but later backpedaled because the claim had no basis in fact.

<![CDATA[Shipyard workers change course on Barrio Logan]]>

In an abrupt about-face, shipyard union workers have joined environmental groups in supporting the contested Barrio Logan Community Plan update.

"The map the City Council is proposing allows a buffer zone that’s good for jobs and good for the community,” said Robert Godinez, president of the local union chapter for the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers. “It’s not going to hurt the shipyard or the employment in any way."

<![CDATA[Dealer or grower?]]>

There have been two main responses to my recent article about Child Welfare Services taking the children of medical cannabis patients. One is a visceral gut wrenching at the plight of the family profiled in the story. The other is shock at the amount of cannabis found during the raid that led to the child’s removal—10 pounds!

<![CDATA[Does Irene McCormack literally work for the city of San Diego]]>

I've been asking city officials for months whether or not Irene McCormack still reports for duty at City Hall, and I haven't received much of an answer.

On Aug. 29, after former Mayor Bob Filner resigned, his interim replacement, City Council President Todd Gloria, announced that McCormack, Filner's director of communications, would remain in that role and that Katie Keach, who'd handled communications for Gloria's council office as part of her role as deputy chief of staff, would be moving into the Mayor's office as chief of communications. So, there would be a "director" and a "chief," but, Gloria announced, Keach would be the main point of contact for the media.

McCormack in July became the first woman to publicly accuse Filner of sexual harassment. Her accusations, which were accompanied by a lawsuit filed by attorney Gloria Allred, opened the floodgates for numerous other women to follow suit, and Filner resigned under immense pressure one month later.

In October, in response to my question, Keach said that McCormack was still employed by the city of San Diego but referred all other questions to the city's Human Resources department.

Asked in an email if McCormack physically reports to work on a regular basis, Human Resources Director Judy von Kalinowski responded only that "Ms. McCormack is an employee of the City of San Diego and is assigned to the Office of the Mayor." I've asked several times since then if McCormack actually does work, literally, in the Mayor's office, but have received no answer.

I asked Keach once more today. "Can't [answer] because of litigation," she said.

McCormack is seeking $1.5 million from the city in damages, costs for treatment and lost earnings.

I sent McCormack a text message today but haven't received a response.

<![CDATA[About that new GOP healthcare website...]]> This week, the media learned of an Affordable Care Act website, created in late August by the California Assembly Republican caucus.]]>