Politics Report: BIA Talks New Tax

Alexan Gallerie apartments in Mission Valley / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Environmentalists and union laborers are working on a ballot initiative that could be some form of property or parcel tax to fund needed improvements and infrastructure in how we handle stormwater.

SANDAG and supporters of transit have been talking about the need for a new tax measure to expand the options people have to get around San Diego.

And we broke the news here that the largest labor union of city of San Diego workers has joined with the philanthropists behind the Library Foundation and Parks Foundation to support a measure that would implement a parcel tax to bring in more revenue to support libraries and parks in the city.

There’s a lot of tax talk going on.

And now there’s more.

The Building Industry Association, which is only a few weeks out from installing a new CEO, has outlined an ambitious plan to try to spur the creation of more affordable and middle-income housing. And one feature of it is to put a fee on real estate transactions.

It’s not something the group is determined to pursue but the idea has now advanced far enough to reportedly irk some of its allies. It’s part of a document the group is working on called a Three-Pronged Approach to Finance and Build Additional Restricted Affordable Housing in San Diego.

“This transfer tax (% to be determined) should be charged only at the point of a property sale, and should only be charged on the amount of property value increase a property owner received,” the document reads.

Lori Holt Pfeiler, the new CEO of BIA San Diego, cautioned the idea is just that – an idea. And she was a bit frustrated that the Politics Report got a hold of the document laying it out because she hadn’t had a chance to really discuss it and have partners, like real estate friends who have partnered with the BIA over the years, to influence it and get on board.

“We’re kind of kicking the tires and brainstorming,” she said. “I’m not sure there’s any clear idea of if you raise those dollars where would they go. The polling says we need middle-income housing but revenue from a transfer tax would support low-income housing.”

Yes, they have been doing polling. Here’s the review of that from Strategies 360 Research & Manolatos Public Affairs.

Stunningly, the BIA has found that people want more housing in San Diego.

We kid, we kid. That’s a logical conclusion to make as people really are struggling to make it work here.

Here’s one takeaway: “Reflecting a growing understanding of what new housing could look like in practice, San Diegans believe that increasing the supply of homes that middle- and working-class people can afford would have a positive impact on the environment and climate rather than a negative impact by a 49-31% margin. Additionally, nearly two-thirds support reducing regulations on homebuilders so they can build more affordable housing.”

Tony Manolatos, who serves as a spokesman for the BIA, told the Politics Report that he wouldn’t be surprised if the measure was advanced for the November 2022 ballot.

“They haven’t settled on any tactics,” he said. “There is a real sense of urgency, though, to create more housing especially for the middle class.”

Holt Pfeiler said that she believed the most critical need in the housing market would serve those who make between 50 percent and 80 percent of the area’s median income. For the county as a whole, right now, the median income is $95,100.

“We could build more of that housing it would solve a lot of the homeless crisis – you would pull people up out of homelessness if they had affordable housing. People want homelessness solved,” she said.

What to Do on Question 2

Vaccine San Diego Gavin Newsom
Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a press conference for a pop-up vaccine site in City Heights. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Saturday the San Diego Chapter of the Black American Political Association of California is hosting a forum about the recall election, and we’re trying to throw together an intro for it.

It’s at noon and you can check it here.

BAPAC is struggling with what a lot of people are struggling with: What to do and what to advise people to do about the recall ballot.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and his Democratic allies made a calculated but colossal bet on this recall push: They put all their chips on him. No prominent Democrat is among the list of contenders to replace Newsom if a majority of voters chooses “Yes” on the recall.

Democrats are mostly united in their message to just vote no and leave the rest blank but that’s uncomfortable for a lot of people. If you care about democracy and work to get informed, leaving a question blank is weird.

The Los Angeles Times wasn’t having it: “We have urged voters to say no to the recall on the first question and to hold their noses and select Faulconer — the least bad option on the list of replacements, on the second. Lodging a protest vote by writing in, say, Tom Hanks or SpongeBob SquarePants might feel good in the moment, but it’s as much a cop out as not voting for a replacement at all,” the paper wrote.

You can see the Faulconer mailer now: “We have urged voters to … select Faulconer …” – Los Angeles Times

Even Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez is unsure about this big gamble. This week she tweeted: “My stepfather was not thrilled when he just asked me how he should vote on Q2 & I said to leave it blank. My daughter suggested she would pick the most absurd candidate. I have to be honest, ‘No on the Recall, Yes on Bustamante’ seems far more rational to me now.”

Then-Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, of course, didn’t come close in the 2003 successful recall of then Gov. Gray Davis. But a big movie star was in the mix (Gonzalez worked for Bustamante).

Why is it this way: The Democrats and Newsom deciding, and being able, to prevent any prominent Democrat from joining the list of contenders was a huge, um, coup, for Newsom. If an Antonio Villaraigosa or some other prominent Democrat had signed up to be on the list, and if they had deigned to argue in favor of recalling Newsom, it would have been devastating for him.

But now Dems are stuck arguing that it’s him versus all these other guys and to vote for him you have to vote no and that’s it.

Local Dems Place a Marker: Desmond Is Top Target

Jim Desmond coronavirus
Illustration by Adriana Heldiz

Dan Rottenstreich, one of the go-to campaign consultants for Democrats and progressive causes in San Diego, launched a political action committee with one aim: ousting County Supervisor Jim Desmond from his mostly inland North County seat.

The announcement didn’t mention a preferred candidate in the 2022 race for District 5 – thus far, only Doug Applegate, a two-time congressional candidate for the overlapping CA-49 seat, has said he plans to run. Instead, the committee launched a website outlining the campaign against Desmond, namely his downplaying COVID-19 and tying him to Trump.

Last year, Desmond was an early COVID-19 skeptic, stressing on a podcast critical of public health measures that the county’s death toll at the time included only six “pure” deaths, meaning those without comorbidities. At the time, 194 people had died; that number is now over 3,800.

Then things changed: A few weeks ago, he abruptly offered a new tone. Exactly a year after that podcast, he penned an op-ed for the Union-Tribune saying that despite his disagreements with them, he thinks the county’s top public health officials “have done an outstanding job dealing with an unprecedented virus,” and calling on everyone to reflect on what we’ve learned during the pandemic so we can “start to debate in a civil manner and let’s treat everyone with respect.”

But since then, Desmond has resumed signaling solidarity with the county’s angriest residents. On Fox News this week he said he doesn’t blame anyone for being angry about vaccine mandates, and earlier went on KUSI to thank all the protesters who came to the County Board of Supervisors, going viral in the process, to rage against mask mandates and lockdowns that aren’t in place in the county. Last month he amplified a similar public commenter, tweeting “SOUND ON” along with a video clip of someone saying she “does not consent to lockdowns.”

It all places Desmond as maybe the top pick-up opportunity for Democrats who are running out of seats they can flip in the first place. The San Diego County sheriff contest is suddenly a high-profile race after Sheriff Bill Gore announced he wouldn’t seek re-election. And the City Council’s District 6 seat could go from red to blue, though redistricting will determine who is in that race, and Democrats already have an 8-1 advantage on the Council regardless. That leaves Desmond as likely the biggest target.

And the fundamentals suggest a close race. The 139,400 Democrats in the district outnumber Republicans by about 8,000, though, again, that’s all subject to changes with redistricting. But even that undersells the district’s recent voting behavior, with even President Joe Biden winning there in 2020.

The Long March to Settle a Brief Political Controversy

In the waning days of the 2018 election, the race to represent District 4 on the City Council heated up over a classic community-specific concern.

The Bay Terraces Community and Senior Center, which local Filipino seniors from the Bay Terrace Fil-Am Senior Association had been fighting to build for some 27 years, had a ground-breaking scheduled for late October, just ahead of the Nov. 6 election.

Then-Council President Myrtle Cole had to tell the community the bad news: a contracting error by the city forced it to push off groundbreaking on the $5 million project for five more months. Burned too many times already, the community wasn’t buying it.

“I’ve been hearing it for 25 years,” said Virgilio Parayno, a 72-year-old Paradise Hills resident. “It’s not happening.”

Cole and her top staffers pleaded with the community to understand the delay wouldn’t kill the project. The contracting issue needed to be solved, and soon it would, and the project would be up soon.

That wasn’t entirely wrong, but she wasn’t in office to see it through. Days later, Councilwoman Monica Montgomery-Steppe ousted the incumbent, which at that point hadn’t been done in just about as long as the community had been promising Bay Terraces residents a new community center. It was one of many instances of grassroots, district-specific political outrage that led to the change.

That groundbreaking went forward the following March, and long after it became a political flashpoint in the final days of the 2018 cycle, Montgomery-Steppe late last month joined Mayor Todd Gloria in a ribbon cutting for the center, touted as the city’s first “zero net energy” building.

Marking the occasion, the opening took front page of the Filipino Press last week.


Whoa: Proposition 22, the measure sponsored by Uber and Lyft last year that severely constrained California’s ability to ever force them to consider their drivers full workers, was ruled unconstitutional but an Alameda County Superior Court judge. The ruling won’t change anything for now as it goes to appeal.

The sheriff shifts on jail transparency: A couple weeks ago, Lisa Halverstadt wanted to find out what crimes warranted booking in local jails. The threshold had changed as local officials tried to keep jails less crowded during the pandemic but now they were putting people back in. The sheriff, though, would not tell her what crimes actually got you there. Now, the office has decided the risk is minor. So criminals, here is your guide to what can get you put in jail.

Journalist sues city (not for records): Dorian Hargrove, a journalist with NBC 7 San Diego, has filed suit against the city of San Diego for a litany of claims including “malicious and unlawful violations under color of state law of PLAINTIFF’S individual constitutional rights to free speech as well as state civil rights claims … and state tort claims for civil conspiracy, defamation, intentional and/or negligent interference with prospective economic advantage, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

A lot of it seems to be about this letter City Attorney Mara Elliott and her deputy John Hemmerling wrote to Hargrove demanding to know who his sources were on a leaked document and threatening him with criminal prosecution. It was absurd and she backtracked.

Then there was the fabricated footnote ordeal, in which NBC retracted Hargrove’s reporting about a document that indicated investigators thought Mayor Todd Gloria may have played a significant role in the city’s decision to acquire the building, but were shut down by Elliott when they tried to interview him.

City attorney response: “We hope to learn what NBC knew at the time it retracted Mr. Hargrove’s story, suspended him, and forbade him from covering issues related to City Hall. As to Mr. Hargrove’s baseless claim that the City Attorney is responsible for his damaged reputation, we remind San Diegans that Mr. Hargrove has previously apologized for his conduct on Twitter, saying, ‘This is on me,’” wrote spokeswoman Hilary Nemchik.

Sara Libby has left the building. So if this is a mess, it’s on us. We’re doing something special this coming week. We’ve scheduled five essays to publish, one each day. They’re on San Diego Specials, those persistent civic riddles we can’t seem to solve. Our newsroom has been instructed not to post any additional stories and to focus on some of their longer-term projects. The Politics Report will likewise take next week to gather itself. Unless some good, juicy things happen, we’ll see you in two weeks. If you have any feedback or ideas for the Politics Report, send them to scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org.

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