There was a time not so long ago when regulating short-term vacation rentals was one of the city of San Diego’s hot-button political topics. In a world grappling with a deadly pandemic, global recession and a sudden reckoning with systemic racism, that feels like a long time ago.
But Councilwoman Jen Campbell this week announced a brokered compromise on the thorny political issue, struck between UNITE HERE Local 30, the regional hotel workers union, and the company that runs two of the largest short-term rental platforms in town, HomeAway and Vrbo.
Announcing a deal is the easy part. Elected leaders have touted proposals before, only to see them die from lack of support from other electeds, or from the operators with the financial wherewithal to referend them. So, it’s anything but assured that Campbell’s plan will put the issue to bed. But it could.
The biggest political surprise came not from the proposal itself, but from the prominent person in City Hall who had no idea it was happening: Councilwoman Barbara Bry. She ran for mayor in part because of her strident position on cracking down on vacation rentals.
Bry said she learned about the deal when Campbell’s press release went out. Bry, like Campbell, represents a coastal district where the issue is most acutely felt, and they’ve been allied on coastal issues before, like a vote last year to lift a height limit on new development in Bay Park, when they both tried to pass a scaled-back proposal.
Moriah Gaynor, Bry’s Council spokeswoman, said they hadn’t been alerted to the compromise before the Wednesday press conference. During the event, Gaynor emailed to say the office still hadn’t received a copy of the MOU outlining the deal.
Probably unrelated: Campbell endorsed Bry’s mayoral opponent, Assemblyman Todd Gloria, two weeks ago.
What’s in the plan: The plan would require vacation operators to get a permit, the fees for which would be used to enforce violations of a new “Good Neighbor” policy meant to address bad behavior from renters.
Permits for whole-home rentals – the most controversial issue among vacation rental opponents – would be limited to 3,750 – or 0.7 percent of the city’s housing stock. That’s about a quarter of the estimated vacation rentals in the city today, according to the city auditor. Residents or LLCs would be eligible for just one permit, to limit businesses that operate multiple homes as rentals. In the past, that idea has raised concerns about the city’s ability to enforce permit restrictions.
Mission Beach would also be treated differently, because it has had vacation rentals for decades. They’d have their own class of rentals, and up to 30 percent of homes there could get a permit.
There’d be no limitation on permits for people who want to rent their entire home out for fewer than 30 days a year, and the same would go for true home sharing, in which homeowners rent rooms in their home while they’re still present.
The big political gain from this plan is the buy-in from some platforms, but especially UNITE HERE Local 30, whose opposition has helped kill deals in the past.
“This has been almost my entire career with the union working on this project,” said Brigette Browning, president of the union. “I want to really congratulate Dr. Jen for taking bold leadership. I think it would have been very easy for her to just use the line ‘let’s enforce the code,’ and have this Wild West attitude, where they were proliferating without any rules for the game. It’s not perfect. I don’t think any agreement ever is. But I do think it’s a good start.”
That “enforce the code” reference is to City Attorney Mara Elliott. Three years ago, she determined the city’s municipal code already prohibited vacation rentals. Despite that interpretation, the city has said it has no way to police the rentals, so they’ve sat in a sort of limbo – declared illegal by the city’s legal authority, but untouched by the city enforcement staff that answers to the mayor.
But arguing that the city simply needs to enforce its existing rule, a line Browning called “easy,” has also been Bry’s position.
Community groups that have long opposed vacation rentals are unimpressed by Campbell’s deal.
In an announcement Wednesday night, Save San Diego Neighborhoods, the most organized vacation rental opponent group, said Campbell threw her constituents “under the short term rental bus.”
Citing her campaign promise to “enforce the existing Municipal Code” the group said her proposal would do nothing but legalize the practice they seek to end.
The make it go away team: City Councilman Mark Kersey isn’t eager to take up the conversation. “A mid-December Council meeting on this proposal sounds great. Any time after the 10th,” he wrote on Twitter.
That’s when he gets out of office.
Never Trumpers Get San Diego Branch
Since he left the Republican Party and became an independent, San Diego City Councilman Mark Kersey has hinted that he is not a fan of President Donald Trump. But he hadn’t really gone after the president. That is, until now.
Kersey this week publicly identified as an ardent supporter of the Lincoln Project, a movement of top conservative political strategists who united over their distaste of the president and determination to drive him out of office. They include George Conway, the lawyer who is married to Kellyanne Conway, a top aide to Trump, Steve Schmidt, a campaign consultant who worked with the late Sen. John McCain and President George W. Bush and Mike Madrid, a Republican consultant who has long tangled with Tony Krvaric, the chairman of the Republican Party of San Diego.
After Kersey’s announcement, the Lincoln Project issued a press release putting it in the context of a broader plan.
“The Lincoln Project California Leadership Team is the first in a multi-state rollout of current and former Republican leaders who will be spearheading volunteer recruitment and fundraising activities that will be directed at key battleground states in November,” read the statement. Former City Councilman Jim Madaffer is a part of it.
The Never Trumpers: Republicans dismissed the group at first as a Twitter blip and then as a potentially fraudulent way for these former Republican Party professionals to get some cash from emphatic liberal donors.
But now it has raised significant money (the group claimed to raise $17 million in May) and observers are eager to see the next financial report. It has been spending money and its vicious ads against Trump has provoked the president to respond.
The backlash: There aren’t many local elected Republicans or consultants or aides who are huge fans of Trump. Many probably don’t care that Kersey’s now joined a movement against Trump and they may even envy him.
But that doesn’t mean he didn’t step on some feelings. The Lincoln Project has not only attacked the president but also U.S. senators in vulnerable re-election campaigns. That’s a step too far, for some.
Many local conservative consultants and campaign professionals have particular affection for Sen. Cory Gardner from Colorado. Gardner’s in a tough re-election campaign against former Gov. John Hickenlooper. It’s considered one of Republicans’ most vulnerable senate seats. But Gardner is one of the Republicans’ best candidates.
Not only is he affable and moderate, but his longtime aide and friend is the San Diego native Chris Hansen, who managed Gardner’s campaigns for Congress and the Senate. Hansen used to work in San Diego for former City Councilman Carl DeMaio and former Assemblywoman Shirley Horton. Several Republicans in San Diego are close friends with Hansen.
So Kersey was de facto coming after someone they really liked.
Stephen Puetz, the former chief of staff to Mayor Kevin Faulconer and a Republican consultant, is a fan of Gardner. He replied to Kersey’s announcements with frustration about the effort against the senator.
“Tearing down Senate Republicans while claiming to be Republicans is BULLSHIT,” Puetz wrote “They clearly think America will be better off with Trump out AND Democrats in charge of both chambers.”
Kersey ended up deleting his responses. But he made the point that self-identifying moderates like Gardner never stood up to Trump and didn’t support his impeachment and removal. Kersey pointed out Trump would have no problem attacking Gardner or other vulnerable senators.
The implication of the Lincoln Project’s movement is that supporting Trump at key moments, or not outright opposing him, is something they want to make regrettable. Puetz is right: They don’t want to just oust Trump. They want to cleanse him out of respectable politics like a toxin.
If Democrats get to be in charge for a while as they go through this, so be it.
The Always Trumper: Trump did not get involved in the primary election to succeed disgraced Rep. Duncan Hunter in San Diego’s 5oth Congressional District. But he decided to weigh in now in support of Darrell Issa over Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar. “Darrell has always had my full support and complete and total Endorsement,” he wrote.
Cory Briggs: No Opinion on Whether the Job He Wants Should Exist
Cory Briggs, the contentious litigator, who has “about 15” lawsuits pending right now against the city of San Diego, is also running for city attorney where he would have to recuse himself, obviously, from dealing with those suits.
He came on Voice of San Diego at Home and the podcast this week. We asked him about whether he supports the proposed ballot measure that would largely strip the city attorney’s office of most of its duties and power.
For background: The city attorney acts as the legal adviser for all city operations and also handles the city’s litigation and major legal negotiations (remember what a big role she had in the deal with San Diego State). The office also prosecutes all misdemeanor crimes in the city of San Diego. The DA handles all felonies in the whole region and all misdemeanors outside of the city.
The Council measure that voters may consider in November would strip the city attorney of all powers except to prosecute misdemeanors in the city.
Briggs just would not say if he wants that to pass or not.
Briggs: I’m going to do whatever the voters say. The voters don’t want to have an elected city attorney on the, and representation said, that’s fine. I will be in there to help wrap it up and fulfill their will. Uh, if they decide that they want to have somebody in there who’s independent, uh, I will fulfill that will too, but I’m going to follow the will of the voters, just like I do all the other times.
Scott Lewis: But surely you have a view about whether it should be an elected position or not.
Briggs: Oh, look if Mara Elliott were my attorney, I’d want a new attorney too. So I understand exactly why the City Council is doing it. I mean, Republicans and Democrats, she certainly united, she’s bridged the partisan divide in that respect. I think the voters will decide whether they want to have a say over who is the legal adviser or not. I defer to them.
Lewis: Just to be clear, you don’t have any perspective on whether it should be an elected post or not?
Briggs: I can see the arguments that go both ways.
(One day later … )
Briggs sent out a press release Thursday with a new campaign announcement. He proposed “consolidating municipal criminal prosecutions with the District Attorney’s Office in order to protect city taxpayers.”
It was an idea that the district attorney proposed 15 years ago when Mike Aguirre was city attorney.
“If voters agree to eliminate the City Attorney’s civil jurisdiction and Briggs is elected, he will introduce a charter amendment for the City Council to present to voters in 2022 to end the City Attorney’s criminal jurisdiction and transfer it to the District Attorney’s Office, thereby streamlining government operations and rendering the City Attorney’s Office unnecessary,” read his statement.
Los Angeles Defunds the Police
A story out of Los Angeles City Hall this week could have been about San Diego, up until the part that was news.
The parts that were the same: maintaining police spending had been a budget priority “once seen as untouchable by city leaders.” In April, the mayor had proposed increasing the city’s police budget, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic’s assault on city revenues. Increasing police staffing levels had been, in and of itself, a broadly shared City Hall priority for nearly a decade.
Here’s the big difference: The City Council voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to cut LAPD’s budget by $150 million, with the mayor’s support. San Diego leaders resisted calls last month to cut SDPD’s budget, amid protests over police brutality and racial bias.
SDPD’s budget, though, is suddenly an open question going forward. Councilwoman Monica Montgomery has pledged, amid outrage for her budget vote among constituents, to analyze the department’s budget so she can outline future cuts.
Activist demands to cut $100 million from SDPD’s budget might have seemed radical to some, but it would have returned the city’s police spending roughly to its 2018 level. SDPD’s budget has steadily increased for the last decade, increasing 45 percent from where it was 10 years ago.
But it’s worth putting L.A.’s decision in context, too – and activists there were anything but happy, calling the $150 million cut “pocket change.”
LAPD’s budget is roughly $3 billion. That means its Council’s decision to cut $150 million represented a 5 percent reduction to its police spending.
An equivalent cut out of SDPD’s $574 million budget would be about $29 million.
That’s an interesting number in itself, in the context of last month’s budget dispute. One source of anger for the defund movement was that Faulconer had proposed an SDPD spending increase, even though the city’s budget was shrinking from the pandemic. The size of that increase? $29 million.
This week in Facebook drama: Rev. Shane Harris often gets into it with other criminal justice reform advocates. This is quite an exchange between him and prominent activists. Former mayoral candidate Tasha Williamson came in hot: “Shane Harris better find some RESPECT! He consistently has been disrespectful to women,” she wrote, before pledging to protest him.
Let COVID-19 Go, Gaspar says: Supervisor Kristin Gaspar wants the county to stop trying to slow the virus with business closings. “We need to protect the most vulnerable in our population, but we also cannot continue to ‘toggle’ our economy. These do not and cannot continue to be mutually exclusive. We can no more turn our economy on and off, than we can turn this virus on and off. We need to figure out a way to live with both.”
I think we’re all open for suggestions on that.
Happy Fourth of July. The Declaration of Independence is pretty great and if we’re not going to party much today, maybe it’s a good time to reread it and remember why it was special and think about how we can more effectively pursue what it imagined for us. What would a new founding document or speech — like the Gettysburg Address, which referenced it— put forward for us now? Who would write it? It was, after all, just a letter. Maybe we need a letter for our time. Politics is good. It’s the peaceful way of resolving power-sharing challenges. But it’s only going to work if it’s equally accessible. It clearly is not. If you have any feedback for the Politics Report, send it to [email protected] or [email protected]