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Bob’s Big Promises: The new mayor has some big ideas for San Diego. Can he pull them off?

www.voiceofsandiego.org

JANUARY 2013

Vol. 2 No. 1

Bring on 2013! The storylines to watch as San Diego enters a year of change Voice of San Diego is a member-based news organization. Join our community and get a subscription to this magazine. Learn more at VOSD.org/join-members ▸▸


Help End Homelessness in San Diego County Friday, January 25, 2013 We Need: Surveyors Counters Data Entry **All Training will be provided by the Regional Task Force on the Homeless

Sign up to Volunteer Today! online at

www.CountSD.org or call

858-292-7627, ext. 13

Photograph of homeless San Diegan, courtesy of Bear Guerra (http://in-visible-project.org)


January 2013

Volume 2 Number 1

14  EDUCATION

Behind San Diego Schools’ Remarkable Fiscal Turnaround San Diego Unified School District was on the brink of insolvency. Now it’s prepping for a whole new era. BY WILL CARLESS

10  CITY HALL

Bob’s Three Big Promises The new mayor wants to expand the port, solar power the city and diversify its power structure. Here’s how he’ll do it and some of the challenges he’ll face. BY LIAM DILLON

Inside 2  EDITOR’S NOTE | Sara Libby New Year, New Narratives

3  RAISE YOUR VOICE | Mary Walter-Brown

18  ENVIRONMENT

What’s the Big Stink About La Jolla Cove? Tourists have told some hoteliers they won’t be returning until “that smell” goes away. If only it were so simple. BY LISA HALVERSTADT

Blazing a Trail

4  ON THE STREET

COVER PHOTO BY SAM HODGSON

Public Transit Is Having a Moment | Andrew Keatts Todd Gloria’s Defining Opportunity | Scott Lewis Can San Diego End Homelessness? | Kelly Bennett A Looming Sea Change for San Diego Tap Water | Scott Lewis

26  FACT CHECK | Lisa Halverstadt Rancho Bernardo’s Fire Response Limitations

28  COMMENTARY | Scott Lewis

Newly Elected Scramble to Protect Their Wallets

22  LAND USE

Five Oddities Surrounding the Bahia Resort’s Lease Extension The rushed approval of an unorthodox agreement raises a lot of questions. BY ANDREW KEATTS January 2013  VOSD MONTHLY

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Editor’s Note New Year, New Narratives WHEN IT RAINS, IT POURS. This analogy always spoke to me as a native Oregonian, but let me try tweaking it for my San Diego neighbors: When there’s one ray of sunshine, there’s … um, even more sunshine. The point is that 2012 was a year of sea changes in San Diego. We didn’t just experience the changes ushered in by an election, though that alone was transformative. Everything from city leadership, the financial state of our local education system and even Voice of San Diego itself has been upended. Three of our longtime employees moved on to awesome new opportunities, and we brought on several new staffers – myself included. In addition to the new blood, we’re also going to be headed in some new directions in 2013. Liam Dillon, whose dogged coverage of City Hall has helped define our role in the community, will be experimenting with a new bottom-up approach to covering city officials, city services and the ways in which people interact with their government. Herbert Gans, a sociologist, recently gave his own take to Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab about why such an approach is badly needed in journalism. Here’s how he put it: “Citizen news ought to become a standard category in the news and be visible enough to show the role that citizens play in democracy. … What’s needed are stories about what citizens are doing directly and indirectly in the political process. Or, to put it more broadly: what they, politicians, and political institutions do with, to, and against each other, at all levels of government.” That’s a tall order, but it hits at the very core of Voice’s mission and our obligation to our audience. Kelly Bennett, who filled an entire magazine worth of content on Balboa Park last month, will use her experience covering that city landmark to inform a series of quests related to the city’s culture and how San Diegans live their lives. First on her list: Can San Diego really end homelessness? And our newest reporter, Andy Keatts, is delving into land-use issues, something we’re certain will dominate the public conversation in San Diego in the near future. Meanwhile, we’ll keep experimenting with the ways in which we deliver our content. That means storytelling with graphics, partnering with TV and radio and coming together with events to discuss issues confronting our city face to face. It also includes this magazine. Our mission, though, is the same as it’s ever been: investigate and educate. Some things don’t change.

SARA LIBBY

Managing Editor

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MANAGING EDITOR

Sara Libby

CONTRIBUTING EDITOR

Andrew Donohue STAFF WRITERS

Kelly Bennett, Megan Burks, Will Carless, Liam Dillon, Lisa Halverstadt, Andrew Keatts CREATIVE DIRECTOR

Ashley Lewis

CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER

Scott Lewis

VICE PRESIDENT, ADVANCEMENT & ENGAGEMENT

Mary Walter-Brown WEB EDITOR

Dagny Salas MEMBER MANAGER

Summer Polacek FOUNDERS

Buzz Woolley & Neil Morgan BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Blair Blum, Reid Carr, Bob Page, Gail Stoorza-Gill, Buzz Woolley

January 2013  |  Volume 2 Number 1 Subscriptions and Reprints

VOSD members at the Speaking Up and Loud & Clear levels receive a complimentary subscription to Voice of San Diego Monthly magazine as a thank you for their support. Individual issues and reprints may be purchased on demand for $7.99 at VOSD.org/vosd-mag. Digital editions are also available for $2.99.

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Want to advertise in VOSD Monthly? Call today to become a Community Partner: (619) 325-0525.

Thank you to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for supporting innovative journalism.


News and Updates from Our Member Community

Blazing a Trail AS WE HEAD INTO 2013, Voice of San Diego is stronger and that’s thanks to people like you. This is good not only for this service and the need it is working to fill but for similar efforts nationwide — organizations trying to find their footing as newspapers and other news sources fall victim to an economic correction. I’ve learned a lot about Voice of San Diego’s national significance during my first year with the organization. Although we’re still new to many people in San Diego, we’re viewed as pioneers and veterans in the world of nonprofit journalism. We blazed a trail that dozens of other publishers are now following. Some, like the Texas Tribune and New York City-based ProPublica, are experiencing great success. Others are still struggling to get off the ground. The organizations that succeed are raising money and doing their service in all kinds of ways. For instance, we don’t think journalism is just a news story. It can be a tweet, an event, a conversation, a broadcast, even just a picture. Last year, we found that live events are a powerful community-building and educational tool. Events have become our signature. We’re also going to keep working with our media partners — San Diego Magazine, NBC 7 San Diego, KPBS and KOGO — to bring our stories to life on television and radio. And, of course, we’ll keep fueling lively conversations on social media that anyone is welcome to join. All of this is part of our ongoing effort to build a self-sustaining community of members who will support our public service. It’s no easy task. Take it from me; it’s hard to convince people to voluntarily pay for a service that’s given away for free. But the best part of my job is meeting the people who do willingly donate to Voice of San Diego. I see how proud they are of their contribution and the role they’re playing in preserving accountability journalism. That’s how I know that we can build a community of members who will sustain us and that Voice of San Diego will continue to blaze a trail in our industry for years to come.

MARY WALTER-BROWN

Vice President, Advancement & Engagement

RECENT EVENTS

Approximately 300 people joined VOSD for November’s Meeting of the Minds at the San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park.

Member and sculptor Ruth Hayward shared what she finds most compelling about statues in the park.

UPCOMING EVENTS JAN 3

One Voice at a Time

MATT YGLESIAS | 7:00 P.M.

Our live conversation series continues with Slate economics blogger and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High, Matt Yglesias, at Luce Loft downtown. Members at the Inside Voice ($101) level and above enjoy free admission. Others are asked to make a $5 donation.

JAN 31

Member Coffee

8:00 A.M. @ VOSD OFFICE

SAM HODGSON FOR VOSD

VOSD members are invited to join us for coffee, a light breakfast and lively discussion about the issues shaping our city with CEO Scott Lewis and the VOSD reporting staff. Space is limited. Please RSVP to summer@voiceofsandiego.org.

QUESTIONS? CONCERNS? Write to mary.brown@voiceofsandiego.org

January 2013  VOSD MONTHLY

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IN TRANSIT The Trolley Station at Old Town.

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HAPPENINGS

On the Street Public Transit Is Having a Moment IT’D BEEN A GOOD COUPLE WEEKS for San Diego public transit advocates. In addition to their big win over the San Diego Association of Government’s 40-year transportation plan, two like-minded leaders had ascended to the top of city leadership: Mayor Bob Filner and City Council President Todd Gloria, respectively. “It does all kind of point to the end of the world when things are this good,” said Marco Gonzalez, an attorney at Coast Law Group who was one of the attorneys fighting Sandag’s transportation proposal. Now, he and others who’d like to see transit play a bigger role in the traditionally sprawling San Diego region are hoping this latest series of wins can actually move the needle. “We couldn’t be better poised politically to get a change in this area, with (Filner) and (Gloria) where they are,” he said.

SAM HODGSON FOR VOSD

“We couldn’t be better poised politically to get a change in this area, with (Filner) and (Gloria) where they are.” Sandag, the regional group representing San Diego County’s 18 cities, entered into negotiations with its legal opponents to discuss solutions days after the December court ruling. Now, San Diego’s transit-friendly new political leadership could pave the way for a change in priorities within the region. During the case’s final court hearing, Sandag’s opponents discussed a few potential fixes to the plan, including moving transit funding up in the timeline and specifying measures to mitigate climate disruption. Filner and Gloria could use their positions, along with San Diego’s outsize influence on Sandag, to push for a transit plan in San Diego’s urban core that opponents of the Sandag plan have wanted from the beginning.

They could do so as part of a settlement, as part of the next update to the transportation plan or as some combination. In 2006, the Cleveland National Forest Foundation, one of the groups that challenged the Sandag plan, disputed an update to San Diego’s downtown community plan. That lawsuit eventually resulted in a settlement that produced the “Complete Community Mobility” plan, which aimed to more than double transit trips into downtown during peak hours in 2030. The plan stalled under former Mayor Jerry Sanders’ administration. But Filner could choose to revive the document if he’d like. Jack Shu, a member of the forest foundation’s board of directors, told “KPBS Midday” Thursday that Sandag has the power to redirect tax revenue it receives to pay for transit projects, it just has chosen not to. “We don’t have leadership to change the direction that we’re going,” he said. Filner’s mayoral campaign offered vague outlines of that sort of leadership. As a congressman, he objected to Sandag’s $200 billion plan before it was approved, and in mayoral debates promoted the necessity of a dynamic, multi-modal transportation system. He often echoed environmentalist complaints that Sandag backloaded transit spending. As mayor, he now has an official vote on the matter — and a weighted vote at that. San Diego is the only city with two representatives on Sandag’s 20-member board. Sanders and outgoing Councilman Tony Young are the city’s current representatives. Any action by the Sandag board needs not just a majority of the 20 votes, but also a majority of 100 weighted votes reflecting the population of each jurisdiction. San Diego has 40 percent of the weighted vote. San Diego couldn’t act unilaterally to push for an increased emphasis on public transit. But it would have considerable leverage to shape the next regional plan if it wanted to revive the downtown roadmap. “From our side, we have always looked for January 2013  VOSD MONTHLY

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HAPPENINGS

On the Street

— Andrew Keatts

MAN IN CHARGE

Todd Gloria’s Defining Opportunity

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TODD GLORIA, the new City Council president, has a defining opportunity to make a mark on the city. He’s the City Council member who represents downtown and mid-town and as president he’s the man who sets the agenda. That’s basically the position that mayors of the past had, before the strong-mayor switch in 2006. When you think of all that someone like former Mayor Pete Wilson put through during his term, it’s good to remember he did it from a position more like Gloria’s than Filner’s. More importantly, though, Gloria’s in a much better position to frame the city’s issues than Filner. The new mayor spent the campaign learning about the city’s problems and admittedly recycling long-held views about the city from when he was a council member decades ago. Gloria put it to me perfectly. “The guy with the 80-page plan lost the mayor’s race,” he said. The guy with the 80-page plan of what he’d do when he won the mayor’s race, Carl DeMaio, did lose. The guy who won, Bob Filner, does not have a plan. He strung together a series of promises that were both massive and vague. Things like expanding the port and putting solar panels on all public buildings. They’re years-long projects, not anything you can throw together in a couple months. Filner acknowledges he’s never been a manager of a big organization. He may spend many months grappling

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Number of the Month

< 25%

right-of-center establishment was promoting — primarily the Convention Center expansion — Gloria was on board and a key vote for them. The idea that Gloria will submit to a Filner agenda quietly is not realistic. Neither is the idea that Filner will submit to Gloria’s agenda. But Gloria’s definitely more likely to have one in coming months.

— Scott Lewis

The percent of registered voters that have voted in District 4’s recent City Council races. Now, there will be a special election to replace Tony Young.

with the fact that he’s now the boss of 10,000 city employees, that he made some big promises and that he has a lot to do to put in the people who can help him frame San Diego’s debate. While all this goes on, Gloria and the City Council may be busy framing the debate. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if a rivalry — maybe friendly, maybe tense — arises between Gloria and Filner. Gloria understands the city and its policies much better right now. He’ll be the council member both representing an area with major projects in the pipeline and others it wants. More importantly, Gloria gets to be the guy who decides which of the mayor’s proposals go to the City Council. It is, after all, the council that controls the budget. Yes, Sanders, a Republican, often had his way with the City Council. But this is a different City Council and we don’t know how persuasive Filner can be. No doubt, Gloria is a proud, liberal Democrat, just like Filner. But he earned a “D” grade from the San Diego Imperial Counties Labor Council. And while Filner was blasting many of the projects and plans that the city’s

QUEST

Can San Diego End Homelessness? MORE ATTENTION INEVITABLY GETS PAID to homelessness in San Diego when the nights start getting colder. The city’s perennial winter tent shelter went up at 16th Street and Newton Avenue a few days before Thanksgiving. More than 200 people are now sleeping inside the tent every night. But there’s something different in the air this winter. That shelter, for one. A private company, UnitedHealthcare, wrote a $250,000 check toward operating the shelter this year. The city had already earmarked the money it usually spends on the tent toward building a long-awaited permanent, year-round shelter. That shelter’s due to open downtown next month, with a mix of short-term and longer-term beds. Consider other momentum: The new mayor, Bob Filner, put ending homelessness on his agenda for the city. “We’re going to look at the homeless literally directly in the face when I’m mayor. And say, this should not happen in the richest country in the history of the world. We’re going to look at it and deal with it. Frankly, I want to be the first city in the country that eliminates homelessness in our major cities. I think we can do it,” Filner said. Todd Gloria thinks the problem can

SAM HODGSON FOR VOSD

stronger leadership on transit and transit-oriented communities,” Gonzalez said. “For the first time, we feel like we might have that type of leadership in the mayor’s office.”.


QUOTE OF THE MONTH

“He’s got to learn dynamic thinking!” — Bob Filner, after an argument with a high school student about solar panels

DESAL DREAMS

A Looming Sea Change for San Diego Tap Water

Bob Filner wants San Diego to be the first city in the country to end homelessness, coming to the aid of people like Vietnam veteran Wesley Mock, who is legally blind and uses a wheelchair.

“Frankly, I want to be the first city in the country that eliminates homelessness in our major cities. I think we can do it.” at least be eliminated downtown. “I can now see a day when we have ended homelessness in downtown,” he said. “I am committed to achieving this goal in the next four years.” The push isn’t just Democrat-fueled. Business groups like the Downtown San Diego Partnership have been paying more attention to the number of people who live on San Diego streets. The Housing Commission, an agency that runs homelessness services at the city’s behest, has been issuing vouchers to house dozens of the most at-risk homeless people. But amid the buzz, it can be hard to get your bearings. How many people in the county live on the streets? Is it

really possible to end homelessness in downtown? Will that just make bigger problems elsewhere? What role does the county play? Does the city’s new shelter opening really eradicate the need for a winter tent, as it’s been politically postured? How well do the myriad homeless services nonprofits get along? Homelessness in San Diego — and the increased attention it’s garnering — is an important part of San Diego culture and has a significant impact on quality of life here. It affects the San Diegans who don’t have homes and the businesses and residents who live alongside them. But this new wave of awareness is intriguing. I’m going to be serving as a guide so we together can better understand the scope of homelessness here and to evaluate where we’re going. Let’s explore this facet of San Diego’s culture together. Join me on this quest. What do you want to know about homelessness here? Email me at kelly.bennett@voiceofsandiego.org.

— Kelly Bennett

PEOPLE NEED WATER TO LIVE. We drink it, we clean with it, and it carries away our dead goldfish. A complex network of pumps, canals, and pipelines hundreds of miles long keep our little civilization by the sea alive. Very few people understand that water system. Those who do live with a managed anxiety. They know that, should it fall apart, our entire economy will go down with it. For decades, that fear has provoked San Diegans to look longingly at the sea. We’ve got a lot of ocean — could we drink it? We’re about to find out. San Diego will likely soon agree to buy water from a private company. That company, Poseidon Resources, is going to build a desalination plant at Carlsbad’s Encina Power Station. It has all the permits. It just needs the money. Should we give it to them? Is it a good deal? The San Diego County Water Authority estimates the deal will cost average San Diegans an extra $5 to $7 a month. Poseidon is building the facility itself and will have to deliver the water. If all goes well, it will start pumping water — up to our standards — and we’ll start buying it at a set price. Unfortunately, getting the salt out of salt water is expensive. It takes massive amounts of energy. It’s actually the most expensive source of water on the table. Its saving grace, however, may be the future. You see, importing our water is risky too. Global climate change and thirsty Arizonans are among the threats to our supply. Lynn Reaser and San Diego’s Equinox Center project the cost of importing water over the next 20 years January 2013  VOSD MONTHLY

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HAPPENINGS

On the Street

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will rise 6.7 percent per year. That’s about a 50 percent faster rise than the cost of desalination. So, taking the salt out of seawater may be an investment that pays off over time. But what do we get out of that investment now? The water authority says we get security. If we want a more reliable water future, we have to pay for it. This new source of water would make up about 7 percent of San Diego’s water portfolio. That’s hardly transformative,but it is a lot of water — enough for about 143,000 homes a year. But how does it compare to other options? One of those options, for example, is part of a potential solution to an old problem. The city of San Diego does not currently treat its sewage up to standards. The federal government is likely going to require the city to address this, which could prompt a deal that includes recycling this

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The cost of importing water over the next 20 years is projected to rise 6.7 percent per year. That’s about a 50 percent faster rise than the cost of desalination. wastewater into potable drinking water. Recycling water is called indirect potable reuse, or IPR. And the city is slowly inching toward approving it. Proponents of this effort, however, are worried that if this desalination deal eats up too much of people’s water bills, residents won’t support the extra cost IPR might add. And if

they don’t support IPR, then what will the city do about all the sewage it’s dumping in the ocean without being properly treated? Then there’s conservation. The Equinox Center found that 55 percent of San Diego’s water use goes to landscape watering. Yep, our lawns. “Aggressive conservation plus IPR equals a lot of problems solved,” says Marco Gonzalez, an environmental attorney. The water authority believes both water recycling and desalination are crucial. “We feel very strongly that both are necessary and have a place,” says deputy general manager Sandy Kerl. They may both have a place in our hearts and minds, but the question is whether we have space on our water bills.

— Scott Lewis

PHOTO COURTESY OF POSEIDON

An aerial shot of the planned location for Poseidon’s Carlsbad desalination plant.


Because San Diego’s Future is Bright.

At Hughes Marino we believe that San Diego is one of America’s great cities, and our goal is to see it thrive. That’s why we are proud to support over 70 non-profit organizations in our home town both as clients and donors. Because it takes a lot of little heroes to build a vibrant community, and we want to help them succeed.


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10 VOSD MONTHLYâ&#x20AC;&#x201A; January 2013

This story was first published on December 10, 2012 at voiceofsandiego.org.


STORIES TO WATCH IN 2013

Bob’s Three Big Promises The new mayor wants to expand the port, solar power the city and diversify its power structure. Here’s how he’ll do it and some of the challenges he’ll face. BY LIAM DILLON

SAM HODGSON FOR VOSD

W

HAT IF SAN DIEGO could be the first major city to end homelessness? What if it could develop a new rapid bus program that ran with the frequency of a subway? What if the city and private sector gave all children places to go before and after school? Those hypotheticals were all introduced by San Diego Mayor Bob Filner on the campaign trail — he often articulated his vision for the city by posing questions. Here’s another question: When is Filner using soaring rhetoric and when is he actually promising to do something? His style can make nailing down campaign pledges tough. Filner has made his big-picture plan for the city clear: Turn the people and issues long marginalized in city politics into decision-makers and policy priorities. That includes naming environmental, neighborhood and open-government advocates as key advisers and pushing for alternative energy and port industrial development. Here are three of Filner’s big promises in those areas and some of the hurdles he’ll face in accomplishing them.

January 2013  VOSD MONTHLY

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VOSD Monthly Magazine | January 2013  

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