Politics Report: Thanksgiving Public Affairs Potluck – Voice of San Diego

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Aerial view of the Nobel Drive Trolley Station under construction. /Image courtesy SANDAG

For this Thanksgiving Week edition of the Politics Report, we have pulled together 10 side dishes on local politics and public affairs. You will have to make your own Politics Report out of the leftovers for next Saturday. Maybe bring some to the office Monday.

The Mid-Coast Trolley is Here, Warts and All

Sunday morning, residents can get a free ride on the trolley extension that connected the Blue Line from Old Town to University City. In planning since the late 80s, the Mid-Coast trolley cost a cool $2.2 billion.

Amid the celebration, remember what the Mid-Coast isn’t: an example of the type of public transit SANDAG executive director Hasan Ikhrata has said the region needs.

That’s because the line runs along a freeway, putting four of its new stops right next to Interstate 5. Imagine a circle with a quarter mile radius around each station, where everyone within it can walk to the stop. Now cut the circle in half, to account for the freeway on one side.

Here’s how Hasan Ikhrata, SANDAG’s executive director, described the issue during a live podcast a few years ago, about a different project, the Purple Line.

“I looked at SANDAG’s plan, and there’s this Purple Line, in the middle of the 805,” he said. “Now how many people live on the 805 here? How many people work on the freeway themselves? How many? So, why do you think they put it on the freeway? Because the right of way is there, it’s easy, let’s just do it. That’s baloney. If you want to build transit, build it where people live and work.”

Before the ribbon cutting, he had a blunt assessment of the Mid-Coast, too.

“This is not going to move a lot of people – choice riders – to leave their car in the garage and go where they want to go,” he said of the project.

But if you decide to take the tour Sunday, please, send us a photo of all those surface parking lots next to the new transit station. (630 new parking spaces in the first four stations north of Old Town.)

The Parks and Library Tax

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The jungle gym at Dennis V. Allen Park in the Mount Hope neighborhood on Nov. 91, 2021. / Photo by Megan Wood

The thing about parks and libraries is that if you want the San Diego region to handle population growth with housing inside cities – like the city of San Diego — rather than spread homes even further out into wildlands leading to more emissions that future residents must spew to get to those homes, you need parks and libraries to be good.

And if a lot of people tear up their yards for ADUs, their need for parks will only increase.

But parks in San Diego are not good. They are embarrassing right now. The disrepair, the restrooms, the fields – the needs are overwhelming. The inequity is unconscionable. This goes for recreation centers too. They’re not embarrassing as much as just not delivering.

This week, the Library Foundation and the Parks Foundation launched their campaign for a ballot initiative that would add a parcel tax to property tax bills across the city of San Diego.

What we’re looking for: What exactly will be the breakdown of how the money is used between building and fixing things and paying people to run programs and operate existing things.

We don’t have any preferred balance or a take on whether this measure would fix the many issues. It will just be very interesting to see.

One of the biggest sponsors of the measure was behind the scenes a bit this week during the announcement of the campaign: the Municipal Employees Association, the largest union of city employees.

The union would obviously be most interested in the programs promised by the spending – and the funding it would provide for the employees who run those programs.

Here’s what proponents say the parcel tax would fund: “It will provide revenue for academic programs, homeless outreach at parks and libraries, technology and free public Wi-Fi, safety and security improvements, rehabilitating aging facilities, and expanding libraries and parks in communities that need them most.”

The Pot Tax Is Too High

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Cannabis plants grow at Glass House Farms in Santa Barbara in 2018. / Photo by Liudi Hara/Shutterstock

San Diego is on its way to slashing its tax on certain cannabis businesses.

Th city charges an 8 percent tax sales from companies that grow cannabis or manufacture it into edibles or other products. City voters in 2016 said officials could raise the tax up to 15 percent.

Instead, the City Council’s economic development committee this week voted to drop it to 2 percent.

Cities all over (Oceanside, La Mesa, Los Angeles, San Jose, Long Beach, San Francisco) have lower rates than the city, driving the decision.

“The local industry is noncompetitive in the (cultivation, distribution and manufacturing) market,” reads a staff report supporting the move written by Councilman Raul Campillo’s office.

City regulations allow up to 40 such companies to operate here, but just 19 businesses have opened.

The Not-So-Secret Housing Commission Reform Committee

A funny thing happened during a Council hearing on potentially reforming the San Diego Housing Commission: Council President Jen Campbell revealed three Council members have formed a working group to build a reform package, and two Council members revealed they were to some extent unaware of the working group.

The group — Councilmen Christ Cate, Stephen Whitburn and Joe LaCava — was news to Councilwoman Vivian Moreno. She said during the meeting that she learned of it when Campbell mentioned it. And Councilman Sean Elo-Rivera said he didn’t realize it was a formally recognized body. We all got to learn of the news together.

Now, though, it’s Cate and Elo-Rivera who are asking the city’s independent budget analyst to do a bit more research and analysis to inform those reform discussions, according to a Friday memo obtained by Voice of San Diego. It was also Cate and Elo-Rivera who this summer requested the analysis the Council discussed Tuesday.

The new review Cate and Elo-Rivera are asking for points towards potential reforms — and to some changes to the city’s relationship with the agency’s chief executive (although it does not mention Housing Commission CEO Rick Gentry).

They’ve asked the IBA to compare the Housing Commission’s chief executive’s employment contract to those pf other housing agency executives around the state, and to analyze how other cities evaluate whether those executives are doing a good job.

Cate and Elo-Rivera also asked to look into how the city could put a single board in charge of the agency, rather than the current arrangement, in which it is overseen by both a Housing Commission board and by the City Council.

And, they want to know how other agencies that have their own nonprofit development company — like the Housing Commission does — ensure competitiveness for other companies that build low-income housing.

This Was a Good Tweet

In general, Friday was a bad day for Twitter. Frankly for the last five years, Twitter has been a hellscape.

But this tweet from Darshana Patel was very good. Patel is a school board member at the Poway Unified School District.

“At our school board meeting last night, I was ‘accused’ of being a politician. It kind of reminded me of when I was in second grade and was repeatedly taunted for being Hindu, called ‘pagan’ by a classmate. I looked up the definition and thought, well, I guess I am a… pagan,” she wrote.

Loyal readers of the Politics Report know our thoughts about how good politics is. Not because of the sport or game of it but because politics is the peaceful sorting of power in a democratic society. This is good! It’s still precious and beautiful that we endeavor to divide up our power based on political contests and the tradeoffs representatives must make. Some of that is unseemly and sometimes it’s outright unethical or flatly corrupt. But we can fight that.

It hurts every time someone uses “politics” or “politician” as a pejorative. Because if you don’t want politicians, what do you want?

The alternative is the sorting of power through violence and might.

Part of the reason Twitter was such a mess Friday was because of the verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial in Wisconsin and his acquittal on all charges related to his killing of two people and injuring of a third (this is the best most thorough explanation of what he did that night). Regardless of the flaw or logic of the verdict, it certainly did not punish him for bringing a firearm into that situation, which led to the havoc and loss of life.

Protests and counter protests are part of that peaceful democratic sorting of power. But we do not want to see them become armed firefights and civil warfare. That’s when politics will give way to violence and might.

Threats to the concept of politics as the accepted way to run things seem more acute. Like at the Poway school board.

Here’s the U-T on the meeting Patel was talking about.

“The board voted 5-to-1 to keep the Dec. 16 meeting online due to ongoing safety concerns. [Superintendent Marian Kim] Phelps announced in a special meeting last week that board members have received death threats and had protesters visit their home with ‘stacks of manifesto documents.’”

For more than five months, we have had no restrictions for COVID-19. No lockdowns. Nothing is closed because of government enforcement. We don’t even have the broad mask and vaccine requirements that other counties have.

Just masks at schools. That’s what we have. And some people are making violent threats about that. With access to firearms so easy, where exactly are these tensions headed?

We hope nowhere. For now, embrace politics. Love politics. Follow politics. Share politics. Politicians can be bad or good but they are neither just because they’re politicians. Look up the word and be OK with it.