Tuesday, November 14, 2017

County government laid bare

Part I: Who knew the race for San Diego County Board of Supervisors could be so hidden, so mysterious? 
County government leaders have gotten negative press lately with charges of complacency... neglect... elitism... callousness... and worse!  But that hasn't stopped a vigorous set of candidates from vying for a seat on the tarnished Board of Supervisors. 

What an intriguing mystery! It's time for girl-crusader-for-good-government Nancy Drew to do some sleuthing.  

She's got five big questions about county government.  And she's got a few question for the candidates whose eyes are glued on the June 2018 primary election.  All she wants are the facts, ma’am.

  • FACT:  Counties are political subdivisions created by state governments. As agents of the state, a county's job is to assist in matters of public health and welfare. Different states award varying degrees of power and responsibilities to their counties.
  • FACT: Counties are in charge of an overflowing basket of public services, like tax collection, jails, law enforcement, elections, voter registration, property records, birth/death/marriage certificates, libraries, mental health, public health, child and family welfare, animal control, environmental health… you get the picture. 
  • FACT: Counties work like financial funnels–directing federal and state funding and grants into local services and programs.
  • FACT: Responsibility for county business is in the hands of our five-member Board of Supervisors, each elected by voters within a District. Term limits of eight years now apply. 
  • FACT: San Diego County is the 5th most populous county in the entire USA, with 3.3 million people unevenly distributed across  4,300 square miles.  County borders stretch from Orange and Riverside Counties to Baja California, from Imperial County to the Pacific Ocean.  
  • FACT: Within San Diego County we've got 18 incorporated cities (each of which has its own government) and around 23 unincorporated towns and communities (each of which is overseen by county government).  About half of county land is owned by federal, state, and local governmental and tribal entities.
  • FACT: A breakdown of race/ethnicity categories of county residents looks like this: roughly 33% are Hispanic, 47.5% white, 4.4% African-American, 15% Asian, and 1% "other."
  • FACT: Close to 85% of San Diego County residents live in the urbanized regions of the county.  And as it stands now, the preponderance of high-income earners are concentrated in the northern part of the County–in Carlsbad, Encinitas, Solana Beach, Del Mar, Poway, and La Jolla. 
  • FACT: The Board of Supervisors is the overlord of multitudinous county departments (check the organization chart above).
  • FACT: The Board of Supervisors also has legislative powers over the unincorporated areas of the county–something like a City Council for the "backcountry."  Supervisors pass ordinances, create growth and development policies, settle land-use conflicts, and are supposed to uphold the county's General Plan, which guides long-term, far-reaching land use outcomes in the county's rural and outlying regions.
  •  FACT: The day-to-day management of county government is in the hands of a County Administrator (CAO), appointed by and answerable to the Board.  The CAO carries out the Board’s directions and policies and oversees the preparation, adoption, and administration of the County's $5 billion budget.
  • FACT: County voters also elect a Sheriff, a District Attorney, an Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk, and a Treasurer/Tax Collector.  These county officials are, for the most part, under state control and independent of the Board of Supervisors.   
Part II: Enough with the facts.  Let's get to the politics
Think about this: not since Leon Williams won a seat at the county has there been a touch of color on the Board of Supervisors. 

And it's even more lopsided.  For decades, Democratic politicians have also been mysteriously absent on the Board of Supervisors.  (But wait...wasn't there recently a Democratic Supervisor [gay to boot] who ruffled county feathers for a single term before he was sent packing?)

And while it's true that this once-exclusively male club has been breached by a scattering of female board members, it's also true that the county's mixed population has remained, decade after decade, under the collective thumb of five white Republican County Supervisors with a record of unlimited terms in office and redistricting practices bordering on the incestuous.

Is it any mystery that county government–historically–has been a hub of political and social conservatism? that its actions bypass environmentally-sane land development and promote urban sprawl? that it shirks its responsibility to provide residents with adequate social services? that (alongside the city of San Diego) it has permitted a hepatitis-A epidemic to ravage our homeless population? 

Might upending the status quo by electing a more diverse Board of Supervisors (color, ethnic, party...) start the ball rolling toward a fairer, wiser, more representative decision-making process in county government?

Part III:  Nancy Drew grills the candidates
For today's purposes, our relentless sleuth trained her eagle eyes on the Democratic contenders in San Diego County's 4th District, which happens to cover most of the city of San Diego.

She ID'd the candidates and peppered them with just-the-facts questions.  Here's her preliminary take:

Candidate #1: Ken Malbrough, a solid-as-a-rock kind of guy 
⧫ Grew up where? San Diego; graduate of San Diego High School, Miramar College
Worked as what? retired City of San Diego Deputy Fire Chief; Encanto Neighborhoods planning group; O'Farrell-Valencia Park town council
⧫ Political ID? Democrat 
⧫ Personal info? married with grown offspring; Afro-American; lives in Southeast SD; first-time candidate
⧫ Distinguishing features? independence; reliability; trustworthiness; committed to public service and underserved communities

Candidate #2: Lori Saldana, a fierce and forthright kind of gal 
⧫ Grew up where? San Diego; graduate of SDSU 
⧫ Worked as what? Three terms in the California State Assembly; Sierra Club; San Diego Earth Day; Professor/ Associate Dean, San Diego Community College adult education-business information technology
⧫ Political ID? Longtime Democrat, then "no preference," then return to Democrat
⧫ Personal info? Single; Latina candidate; lives in Clairemont 
⧫ Distinguishing features? strong environmental advocacy; outspoken; positive name recognition; principled; relentless; management and budgetary skills

Candidate #3: Nathan Fletcher, a persuasive and resiliant kind of guy
⧫ Grew up where? Carson City, Nevada then Smackover, Arkansas; graduate of California Baptist University in Riverside
⧫ Worked as what? political director California Republican Party; district director for Rep. Randy Duke Cunningham; Marine Corps Reserves; two terms in California State Assembly; Qualcomm employee; lectured at UCSD
⧫ Political ID? longtime Republican, switch to Independent, switch to Democrat
⧫ Personal info? Divorced, 2 young children, remarried following long relationship with State Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez; white candidate; lives in City Heights
⧫ Distinguishing features? self-confidence; promoter of Chelsea's Law; conservative voting record; advocate for veterans issues; premature endorsement for Supervisor by the County Democratic Party 

Candidate #4: Omar Passonsan earnest and dedicated kind of guy 
⧫ Grew up where? Clairemont, Lemon Grove
⧫ Did what? University of Arizona masters degree in Public Health; George Mason University law degree; San Diego Workforce Partnership; Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation; United Way, Center for Civic Engagement
⧫ Political identification? Democrat
⧫ Personal info? married; Afro-American candidate raised in white family; lives in North Park; first-time candidate
⧫ Distinguishing features? knowledgeable; principled; committed neighborhood advocate; land use planning and public health perspective

Part IV: Nancy Drew advises, keep your eyes wide open
What's clear so far is that the priorities of all four Democratic candidates are remarkably in tune with one another.  Each of their platforms expound on a common theme: the county's responsibilities for delivering a crucial set of health and social services. 

Yet to be revealed is how strong a stand each of them will take on county issues involving sprawl, law enforcement, labor contracts, transit, etc.  Harder to lay bare is which of these candidates will be consistent about pursuing the public interest over political or private interests.  

Insider intrigue within the Democratic Party has already put a heavy thumb on the scale in this race. But there are several months till the June primary, when voters will choose the top two candidates to face off in next November's race for 4th District County Supervisor.  By all means, keep your eyes wide open.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Hierarchy of elected venerables

You and I – as ordinary voters living in greater San Diego – have a mind-numbing number of opportunities to elect scads of people to serve as our public mouthpieces. 

We routinely go to the polls or mail in our ballots to select the "public servants" we believe will represent our personal and community interests and improve our well-being.  Keeping up with who's running for what is a daunting job.  

In fact, if we built a totem pole made up of all our elected officials, it would surely reach the clouds, maybe even touch the sky.

Curious about how it might look? 
  •  On the bottom level you'll recognize scores of neighbors elected to our city's 30+ community planning groups.
  •  A notch above you'll find a layer of School Board Trustees (five from the San Diego Unified School District, more from outlying school districts), squeezed in next to five Community College District Trustees. 
  • Pressing down on them would be San Diego's nine City Councilmembers, plus our Mayor, plus multiple other Councilmembers and Mayors from towns and cities throughout our sprawling county.
  • Oh yes, on the next layer there are our five County Supervisors.  
  • Perched on their heads might be our County Sheriff alongside our County Assessor-Recorder-Clerk.  Oops… almost forgot to leave room for our District Attorney.  
  • Up a level and breathing down each other's necks you'll find our elected State Insurance Commissioner, our Superintendent of Public Education, our State Attorney General, our State Controller, and four members of our Board of Equalization. 
Getting a stiff neck? Patience, please... we're not done with our voting obligations yet.  
  • Squint up to the next level and you'll see our county's seven State Assemblymembers enviously coveting the spots on which our four State Senators sit.  
  • Then focus your binoculars up a layer to the five representatives we county voters send to the US Congress. While you're up there, be sure you notice our two US Senators.  
  • And hey! waving to us from the penultimate level, isn't that the Governor?  
  • Finally, at the tippy-top of this dense hierarchy of elected venerables you'll recognize a facsimile of the US President – his head bobbling in the rarified breeze.
Theoretically, given the sheer number of representatives we elect to take care of us, we should be the most contented citizens of all time.  Seen from a distance, it's an impressive display.  

But the view up close, at ground level, tells a different story.  As I recently observed about city and county government, many elected officials we ceremoniously induct into this prestigious political club fail us.

It's remarkable how many of San Diego's elected officials have perfected the knack for gliding, sliding, and shimmying their way up the political totem pole, despite leaving behind scant evidence of positive change from their days in city and/or county office.

Fortunately, hope springs eternal in the hearts of voters (my optimistic heart included).

So here I'll repeat myself: "…since it won't be long before we are bombarded online, on TV, in our mailboxes, on our front doorknobs by campaign solicitations and promotional endorsements on behalf of a bevy of candidates badly wishing to claim a seat on ( fill in the blank), shouldn't we know a lot more about the job these candidates are knocking themselves out for?"

Next time we'll pluck out the Board of Supervisors from the middle of our behemoth political superstructure and get some answers to questions about County Government, specifically: Who, When, Why, How come, and What's next?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

San Diego's dangling participles

Dangling participle – a piece of a sentence in search of it's true identity.  Here's an example: Sitting in the boss's chair, deadly disease runs rampant among homeless people on the streets of San Diego.

What's wrong with this sentence?  Something's missing.  We can fix it this way: Sitting in the boss's chair, Mayor Kevin Faulconer twiddles his thumbs while deadly disease runs rampant among homeless people….

An equally correct alternative might be: Sitting in the boss's chair, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors lazily ignore their civic responsibilities as deadly disease runs rampant….

Once we get the grammar right, the picture becomes clear.  Locally-elected officials – by choosing to ignore their political duty to protect the health and safety of the San Diego public – permitted a public health disaster to take hold of San Diego's neighborhoods, canyons, and streets.

Instead of taking timely action, they permitted a preventable epidemic to spread far and wide – into Santa Cruz, Arizona's Maricopa County, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City….

There are sins of commission and sins of omission.  We know that pernicious actions by political actors can be punishable offenses.  What about willful complacency and pernicious negligence that result in a deadly outcome?

I've commented on our mayor's reprehensible delinquency in the past. Not much has changed.  Kevin Faulconer, the man who's supposed to be in charge of city affairs, is still incompetent and unequipped for the complex job of running a major city like ours.  He sits at his desk in his 11th floor City Hall office in a state of suspended animation. At press conferences and speechmaking events he play-acts the role of San Diego's highest-executive elected leader.

But could our dangling mayor have gone AWOL in the face of San Diego's homelessness crisis without tacit permission from certain other elected officials?  To what degree are San Diego County Supervisors also guilty of pernicious complacency… bordering on deadly negligence?  Has their complicity over the past decade compounded our city's and region's dual crises over affordable housing and homelessness?

Here's one of our big problems – County government is practically invisible.  Ask your neighbor, ask your co-worker: What's the point of County government?  Who calls the shots? What impact does it have on our daily lives? 

You might see a lot of shrugged shoulders. How many of us really understand what County Supervisors do to earn their comfortable salaries and pensions?  Is the Board of Supervisors just a cozy, self-satisfied nest for has-been politicians? Or maybe a convenient way-station along the campaign trail for political neophytes and marathon also-rans?

Possibly… but County government also happens to be an essential public entity with the power and resources to improve countless lives in San Diego.  It's worth our attention.

And since it won't be long before we are bombarded online, on TV, in our mailboxes, on our front doorknobs by campaign solicitations and promotional endorsements on behalf of a bevy of candidates badly wishing to claim a seat on the County Board of Supervisors, shouldn't we know a lot more about the job these candidates are knocking themselves out for?  

The more we know about County government, the better our decisions might be about who's best qualified for the job of running it.

Stay tuned.   

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Puny leadership: the San Diego conundrum

I was out for a mindful walk the other morning.  Here's how I once described it: you put one foot in front of the other while you notice what's around you.  First you notice... then you let it go.  Notice… let it go… notice…

Walking through the parking lot of my local Vons I noticed a small card table near the store entrance and, behind it, a (paid) signature gatherer.  Sign this for a new soccer stadium? he asked, offering me a pen.  

I smiled no.  I let it go… went inside… bought three pears plus a squeeze bottle of chocolate syrup (good for any emergency)… emerged from the store… noticed a nice-looking man at the card table talking to the signature gatherer.  

In his left hand he hefted a voluminous ballot proposal (weighed more than a sack of potatoes) to Replace-Qualcomm-Stadium-in-Mission-Valley-With-a-SoccerCity.   He was smiling and shaking the signature gatherer's hand while a nice-looking woman snapped a photo.  

Mindful walking puts me in a genial mood.  Don't tell me you've read the entire backup report! I kidded. Well, he said, still smiling… most of it.

I noticed the sign-in sheet on the table.  At the bottom of a short list of signatures it read: Michael Stone.  Could this be the founder of FS Investors, the promoter of the ballot proposal in question? I meditated on that for a moment.  Let it go?... I couldn't...

Oh, I know who you are, I said.   Your map museum is fantastic.  I just love it.   But I sure don't love your ballot initiative. 

Why not? he asked, maintaining a genial face.  Nothing's perfect… it's better than a huge parking lot... do you have a better suggestion for what to put there?  

It's not that I haven't given a lot of thought to Mission Valley.  It's not that I haven't noticed how we transformed a green riverbed into a noxious, exhaust-laden slapdash of strip-malls, dowdy motels, and cookie-cutter condos – a poster child for neo-blight and terminal urban uglification.  

So what's one more nail in its coffin?  Why not let it go?  One of these days it'll be developer Mike Stone or it'll be one of the others (take your pick: Doug Manchester, John Moores, Tom Sudberry, the Fentons, Oliver McMillin...) wearing a big, fat, satiated smile.

Here's the sentiment I conveyed to the genial fellow smiling at me in front of Vons: no matter the pros and cons, no matter my personal preferences, no matter how you look at it ­– the latest rage of using ballot initiatives for the purpose of city planning and large-scale urban, suburban, and rural development is a pernicious and destructive pursuit.  He shrugged. What else can you do in a city like ours? It was a rhetorical question.

I shook hands with my new acquaintance and went back to my mindful walk.  I tried…  I tried… but I couldn't let it go.  

Is he right? that the only thing you can you do in a city like ours (insider code for puny leadership and nasty NIMBY neighborhoods) is to take matters into your own well-connected, wealth-laden hands and finance a ballot initiative that trashes dependable environmental review, deceives the voters, and blithely ignores the public interest?

It could be that the guy is halfway right.  Puny leadership is a standard staple in a city like ours.

About a week ago I commented on how close our hometown elected officials are to us constituents.  And I noticed that these individuals are not equipped to resolve many of the city's complex problems.  Despite neighborhood planning workshops on local projects, despite city council hearings about city-wide problems, despite appointed committees doing technical work, despite nonprofits and volunteer agencies picking up the slack, despite the mayor's scripted platitudes – we're still left trying to penetrate a sea of silence and blank stares.  

After last Monday's marathon homelessness council session we're still dangling.  Who's in charge? Who's responsible? Who's answerable? Who's identifiable?  Who's voice can we count on?  Who will move our city beyond bandaids?  Where does the buck stop?  Does that sainted buck even exist? 

As for the billion dollar question about Mission Valley/ Qualcomm Stadium – shouldn't mindful planning for the future of our city be in the hands of responsible, sturdy professionals in a reconstituted San Diego Planning Department?  Shouldn't the city have a responsible, sturdy, professional Planning Director and City Architect?  Shouldn't the public and our elected officials have access to independent, informed, realistic, and exciting options for our city's future growth and development that could benefit all San Diegans?

I've come to a mindful understanding: the elite group of private profiteers, downtown interests, land developers, hoteliers, and the legal and financial services that serve them don't ever intend to relinquish their controlling iron grip on the city of San Diego.  It seems they feel genuinely entitled to run the show.   

Furthermore, they're perfectly right about San Diego's puny leadership.  But for them it's a golden opportunity that yields lucrative benefits and they're adept at eliminating elected officials who dare to flex their muscles.  For those of us on the public side of the fence, puny leadership is a brick wall, a dead end.

They're also right about the nasty NIMBY.  For them, community voices impede private wealth accumulation.  For the rest of us it's one of the few strengths our neighborhoods possess.  It's a defense that isn't easily snookered by genial, fast-talking faces.  

So I'm sure you know what to do when they try to hand you a pen.  Notice… and let it go.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

San Diego's homelessness calamity: You have just entered the twilight zone

I.  Say what you want about the faraway White House.  But watch what you say about City Hall and the people we elect to local government – they're practically family.

They live in our neighborhoods.  We have coffee with them when they're running for office.  We bump into them at the movies or supermarket.  We could hop a trolley downtown and collar them at work.  We elect them to work for us.

Their job is to pave the streets, limit what gets built on that empty lot around the corner, keep an eye on the police department, get the trash picked up, and make sure there are enough fire stations to keep us safe and good air-quality levels to keep us healthy and enough libraries and parks to help make us happy.  

In sum, they're public servants whose job is to create and enforce policies and laws that improve the daily lives of San Diegans.  Their job is to take care of the city so we, the residents, families, taxpayers, students, and workers can get on with our personal pursuits and quotidian endeavors in safe and sound surroundings.  

Sometimes they do a better job than they do at other times.  But who can deny that – when it comes to issues of homelessness-related health, safety, and welfare – the Mayor and City Council have flat-out failed.

II.  Let's say you're out shopping in your local neighborhood.  Or holding tickets
for the downtown Civic Theater.  Or inching around Sports Arena Boulevard and Rosecrans.  Or stuck in the bottleneck at Torrey Pines Road. You'll see clusters of homeless men and women (and occasionally little children) asleep on the sidewalks, or holding up cardboard signs soliciting funds (god bless), or hauling black plastic bags filled with personal goods, or rummaging through trash bins.  Some are drunk.  Some are arguing or mumbling or shouting at invisible foes.  Some are reading yesterday's newspaper.

And even after you've handed over some spare change or a couple of bucks you might wonder, what else can you do? 
Who could you call if you want to do something more?  You might think, there must be someone in charge who has a plan to alleviate this glaring calamity. 

So you turn to the people we elect to city government, the ones whose job it is to take good care of the city. 

You go to the city website but you find nothing on the home page.  You try the link for InsideSan Diego and end up with a bunch of uplifting stories. You type "homeless" in the search box at the top of the main page and Eureka!  You see a link for homeless services and another link for homeless providers and plenty more links to news releases and police responses and the Mayor's press conferences.  

You keep clicking, searching in vain to find out who is in charge.  You try 2-1-1 San Diego, the city's newest public resource.  You try the homeless shelter directory link.  The truth finally hits you: you have just entered the twilight zone.

III.  Let's say it for the record: there's no one in charge.  Not at our County, not in our City.  There is no regional, local, or comprehensive policy to address the needs, impacts, and future of the homeless people living on our streets, along our riverbeds, and in our canyons.  

For years we've relied on nonprofits like the Salvation Army, Episcopal Community Services, San Diego Rescue Mission, Alpha Project, Neil Good Day Center, YWCA, Feeding San Diego, and North County Solutions to pick up the pieces.

For three decades we've given lip service to the mission of the Regional Task Force on Homelessness to pull the pieces together into a utilitarian approach to ending homelessless. 

Then someone masterminded the San Diego Regional Continuum of Care to take all the pieces and put them into a broad data framework.

And the United Way of San Diego County appointed their first "Commissioner" to place all the pieces in a coherent pattern that would meld housing and supportive services and permanently end chronic homelessness.

These regional efforts have been successful, indeed, in providing temporary subsidized shelter for unmoored politicians waiting for their next election gig to materialize.  But they've utterly failed to facilitate, create, or implement the crucial missing piece: a comprehensive, publicly-accountable policy and plan to address the size and scope of San Diego homelessness.

IV.  Dare we say it? Here at home, Mayor Faulconer has no plan.  Instead, he offers us tentative wishes.  He wishes to add some temporary shelter beds to the city's anemic inventory.  He wishes for a Housing Our Heroes program for 1000 homeless veterans.  He wishes to reunite homeless people with their families.  He wishes that voters would agree to increase the hotel tax (TOT) to pay for an ill-advised Convention Center expansion, street repairs, and homeless services (in that order).  
Then he wishes that his newly appointed communications advisor would fabricate a central intake center to hook up homeless people on the streets with various services (however inadequate, it would be a more benign approach than his previous actions to clear homeless people from downtown streets, round up their meager belongings, and lay jagged rocks under sheltering overpasses to prevent reoccupation).

He goes on wishing, but so far the tooth fairy has failed to alight.

V. But don't despair! There may be light at the end of this tunnel!  As it turns out, the city already has what it takes to do the job!  

                We've got elected officials who owe it to us to take better care of the city.
                We've got a Mayor who wants to look as good as possible to prepare for his rumored-run for governor.
                We've got large wads of cash stashed away (the Mayor and other insiders know where to find it) already legally earmarked for low-income and homeless housing needs.
                And we've got a longstanding, well-funded, fully-staffed public agency that could and should have been in charge of meeting the city's low and moderate income and homeless housing needs  from the very beginning.  

We could almost say we're loaded for bear.

VI. Train  your sights on the San Diego Housing Commission, established almost 30 years ago to preserve and increase the city's stock of affordable housing and be responsible for providing rental assistance and related housing services to low-income households.

Over the decades the agency has strayed from its original mission.  It sold off assets, engaged in property investment and development, favored market-rate ("workforce") over low-income housing, artificially sweetened the pot for some in the nonprofit housing industry, snookered the city council about financial activities and intentions, failed to halt or even keep track of the destruction and non-replacement of affordable housing, and evaded public oversight.

A solid case could be made to dismantle the Housing Commission.

A more positive case should be made to reform and restructure the agency and transform it into the city's one-stop-shop, a designated and responsible public-benefit city department with sufficient resources to create public housing and coordinate services and programs for the widest spectrum of San Diego's lower-income and homeless population.  

We can escape from the labyrinthian twilight zone by putting a renewed Housing Commission in charge.  Run it by your elected representatives.  Let's see what these public servants – the ones who are so close they're practically family – are really made of. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

What would Nancy Drew do?

Calling all sleuths!  There's a murky mystery afoot in the city of San Diego that feels oddly familiar.  In theme… plot… cast of characters… it's nearly a dead ringer for a sordid drama that took center stage in our city a few seasons ago.  

This new case involves an attempt to bump off a local labor leader, someone most San Diegans probably wouldn't recognize if they saw him in a picket line.  

According to a description provided by his associates, the targeted individual is an unshaven, intimidating, middle-aged man with a budding paunch, contentious personality, rough temper, and not-such-great looks.  The perp (aka "dirt bag") is currently in the public square being scourged and pilloried.

His name is Mickey Kasparian.  He's the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 135 and board president of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council. 

This past December two lawsuits were filed against Kasparian, one for sexual harassment that spanned a 15-year period, and the other for gender discrimination.  A third complaint has recently surfaced, this one alleging political retaliation.

The word on the street is that – when confronting a marauding menace – the good citizens of San Diego have the right to settle certain scores with frontier-style justice.  Never mind a person's constitutional right to due process.  Never mind tedious legal procedures.  

Borrowing freely from the Republican playbook (lock her up! lock her up!) some citizens want to see Kasparian lynched.  Other citizens would settle for immediate banishment from his union job.  Others call for excommunication from the ranks of the Democratic Party.   

I've never met the man.  I have no insider information about his behind-the-scenes conduct in the labor union universe, but I do have some questions:

Has Mickey Kasparian been doing a good job as labor leader?  I haven't heard, one way or another.

Does Mickey Kasparian engage in illegal or criminal activity?  He hasn't had his day in court yet so I wouldn't know. 

Is Mickey Kasparian so obnoxious, uncouth, arrogant, and ineffective that union members should vote him out of his top-dog position?  That's up to them, I would think.

Here's what I do know: there are ladders in the backrooms of union halls.  They interconnect with ladders in the backrooms of political parties.  That's where combatants clamber over one another to reach the top.  It's where political ambitions and party politics and personal grudges engage, mano a mano

Another thing I know is that Mr. Kasparian is no novice in the political chess game.  Maybe you've seen him at pro-labor events standing in unity alongside state assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez.   

Maybe you've also seen him step down hard on her toes to block Nathan Fletcher's second attempt to replace Bob Filner as San Diego's mayor.

And maybe you noticed that Kasparian put his money on David Alvarez in that mayoral race.  

But did that prevent him from turning his back on councilmember Alvarez in the recent skirmish over who would become this year's city council president?   

One thing you can say about Kasparian– he's got an unusual way of making friends.  And unmaking them.  Do we detect more clues to what has put him center stage in the current well-orchestrated facsimile of a kangaroo court?

So tell me, what would Nancy Drew do with these clues?

  • First, she'd probably refrain from premature judgment about whether Mickey Kasparian is a scoundrel and/or a rat and encourage our good San Diego citizens to keep our own incisors in check.
  • Second, she might suggest that internecine dogfights within the local Democratic Party and within the local unions threaten to become a self-imposed death sentence.
  • Finally, she'd try to convince the good citizens of San Diego to cancel any and all reruns scripted by activist judge/ jury/ executioners.  She'd advise us to settle for the dry drama of lawful procedure, courtroom hearings, and election ballots to vote the bastards in or out.  And she'd plead with us to resist the addictive and very bad habit of frontier-style justice.  Too many wrongs won't make it right.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Mayor Mayor on the Wall


Blue ties red ties
We'll start with a trick question: Is Mayor Kevin Faulconer the mirror image of President Donald Trump?  No, of course not! you'd probably say.  

Kevin Faulconer is a pleasant, if unremarkable, go-along-to-get-along San Diego city councilman turned mayor: 

"…born and raised in Oxnard California… learned to speak Spanish in grade school…  San Diego State University… member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity… one year as Student Body President of Associated Students. He and his wife Katherine, a small business owner, live in Point Loma with their two children. Before running for office… executive with the public relations firm NCG Porter Novelli and volunteered  on the Mission Bay Park Committee…" (see Wikipedia)

Red ties blue ties
You might say that Kevin Faulconer is a lightweight Republican who goes down nice and easy in a city like San Diego.  He is decorum incarnate – never an unguarded sneer, never an unscripted rant.  

You might even say that he mirrors Melania Trump more than the Donald.  Melania's insouciant aura serves as a glamorous distraction from her husband's crude and reckless nature.  Likewise, Faulconer's low-keyed persona serves as a disarming distraction from the leadership vacuum on the 11th floor of City Hall.

Kevin Faulconer's problem is that he's an embarrassment to his constituents.  For how many years did the Spanos syndicate manipulate and extort this mayor?  How many times did they slap him silly while he kept coming back for more?  

But Faulconer's problems go far deeper than being dumped by the Chargers. We've got a mayor who is incapable of taking clear, decisive stands on big civic issues, whether it's a sports stadium, or Convention Center, or racial profiling by city police officers, or actualizing strong environmental programs.  He walks on eggshells, even over keeping our police force out of the immigration enforcement business.  He shuns the stage at city demonstrations and marches.  Ribbon cutting events, that's where you'll usually find him.  (So who can explain why he ignored public outcry and readily mounted the stage to meet and greet at the super-conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference held in San Diego a couple of years ago?)  

We've got a mayor who, since the day he stepped into office, has neglected the city's festering problems of relentlessly worsening homelessness; rising poverty levels; looming budget cuts; a housing crisis that turns rent and mortgage payments into a monthly scramble… 

We've got a mayor who issues limp declarations of Action! Accountability! A New Day in San Diego! in response to the ballooning backlog of street and road repairs, or spiking pension obligations and chronic threat of municipal bankruptcy, or burst water mains and standstill traffic in already overburdened neighborhoods (laughably slated for increased density and development).

In his latest State of the City address the mayor's to-do list is a hodgepodge of sound-bites.  But where are the concrete remedies?  For him, Action means making the city an Official, Regional Autonomous Vehicle Pilot Location.  For him, Accountability means installing jagged rocks under freeway overpasses to get rid of homeless sleepers.  

For him, A New Day in San Diego! might mean the Camp Hope approach of clearing the homeless off the streets and stowing them in a tarted-up tent city at the Mexican border, out of sight and out of mind.  Will this mayor really give his blessings to our very own Hooverville? 

We've got a mayor who has not delivered the goods.  Pleasant though he may be, he lacks the independence, imagination, backbone, and political moxie to do right by our city.


Once upon a time when I was an active player with the League of Women Voters, the powers-that-be convinced the San Diego public that it was time to become a dynamic metropolis like Los Angeles or Chicago or even New York City.  So voters agreed to replace our purportedly provincial city manager form of government with a strong mayor system.  

Back then the big worry for the LWV was that – in a politically low-energy city like ours – concentrated power in the hands of a strong mayor would decrease public accountability and invite corruption. 

Back then we also worried about how trading in an independent, professional city manager for a political appointee to run city departments, operations, contracts, budgets, and workers would work out.  Turns out we were right to worry. 

Our first "strong mayor" was Jerry Sanders.  He never succeeded in being his own man.  During his two terms in office he dutifully kept the city exactly where it had always been: in the hands of an ossified downtown fraternity of hoteliers, developers, bankers, and assorted business interests.  He persists to this day as a well-compensated mouthpiece for the Chamber of Commerce. 

Our second "strong mayor" was Bob Filner.  He was willing and able to express his independence, imagination, backbone, and political moxie to promote a politically liberal agenda for the city.  But he proved too undisciplined for his own good.  And too threatening to old-guard Republicans.  

As it turns out, he was also too threatening to self-professed progressive Democrats like then-councilman (and current California state assemblymember) Todd Gloria and then-San Diego/Imperial Counties Labor Council secretary-treasurer (and current California state assemblymember) Lorena Gonzalez and her clandestine mayoral ambitions for then-close companion (and current husband) Nathan Fletcher.  In an unprecedented palace coup, the city's first bona fide strong mayor was unceremoniously drummed out of office.

Our third "strong mayor" is Kevin Faulconer.  He's a chip off the old Sanders block.  We are back to waiting for the basic benefits promised to us when we gave up the old city manager government and brought in the strong mayor system – things like transparency, accountability, government efficiency, and dynamic governance. 

We were promised we'd know where the buck stops… we'd know who is in charge.  Do you know who's responsible for what goes on in our city?  Do you know who's in charge?  Do you ever think to pick up your phone to call your mayor?


We'll wrap up with the trick question: Is Kevin Faulconer the mirror image of Donald Trump?  Of course not! you'd probably still say. There's a world of difference between a public relations puppet and a dangerous, unstable, bullying megalomaniac. 

But look again at the uncanny similarities.  You'll see that neither is doing right by our citizens.  You'll see that, so far, neither deserves the public trust.

Here's the big difference: our mayor is within reach, right at our fingertips.  We elected a "strong mayor" to be in charge, to be accountable, and to be responsible for what goes on in our city.   

We voters need to check our own mirrors, if only to remind ourselves that we elected our mayor to do right by our city.  And it's our job to hold his feet to the fire and not let him forget that HE is where the buck stops.