Does the surprise move by San Diego Democrats to endorse a “No” vote on Measure A signal a sea change for the party that has long stood up to developers?
Or does it say that certain members of the San Diego County Democratic Central Committee can be moved into the pro-developer column by financial incentives provided by the San Diego BIA (Building Industry Association) and aggressive developers?
A majority “Yes” vote on Measure A March 3 would mandate that major developments in San Diego County unincorporated areas zoned “rural” or “semi-rural” would have to be approved by a vote of the public.
Francine Busby runs Congressman Mike Levin’s Oceanside office. She spoke out against Measure A in the central committee hearing.
On December 17 the San Diego Democratic Central Committee voted to endorse a “No” vote on A, putting them in agreement with the local Republican party. All official Democratic mailers and door hangers now say the party officially wants Democrats to vote No on A.
There are 120 members of the Democratic Central Committee. On the day of the December 17 central committee vote, some 70 voting members showed up according to some in attendance.
“The party has been captured by special interests,” said one well-connected Democrat who did not want to be named.
“Our committee was not as politically savvy as we could have been,” says J.P. Theberge, a “smart growth advocate” and volunteer with the Yes on Measure A campaign. “The BIA had paid people who lobbied to get a No vote,” says Theberge. “I guess we should have done the same thing and hired lobbyists ourselves, but we didn’t have the money at the time. I’m not really involved in the local political scene. I’m an advocate against sprawl.”
Most elected Democrats are Yes on A including Mayors Cathryn Blakespear (Encinitas), Paul McNamara (Escondido) and councilmembers Esther Sanchez (Oceanside), Corinna Contreras (Vista), Kristine Alessio (La Mesa) and Georgette Gomez (San Diego). Both Democratic candidates for the County’s District 3 supervisorial race, Olga Diaz and Terra Lawson-Remer, support A.
But money seems to be getting Democrats to fall in line with the development industry. On Thursday, February 20 the BIA is holding a breakfast/fundraiser at the Del Mar Hilton featuring San Diego Democratic Chair Will Rodriguez-Kennedy. Tickets are $75. In August the BIA held a “Beers with Nathan Fletcher” fundraiser.
“When Nathan voted No [on A] it was a stab to the heart,” says Cody Petterson, president of the San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action and a member of the San Diego Democratic Central Committee about how Supervisor Fletcher’s anti-A stance was the most painful. Petterson says what is happening to Democrats in San Diego is a reflection of what is going on statewide.
“It used to be a fight between the two parties,” says Petterson. “As the state and the city of San Diego keeps getting bluer, you increasingly see districts where Republicans have no chance of winning. What you see is the struggle now happens within the Democratic party.” He says the developers and the chambers of C=commerce are increasingly getting involved in Democratic politics.
“Everyone wants developer money. People want to take developer money and any plausible story [politicians] can use to get that money, they will use it.”
Theberge says developers have found new friends with members of the Democratic central committee. Financial reports show that the No on A campaign paid Chula Vista-based Grassroots Resources $43,000. Grassroots was founded by Jesus Cardenas who had a lot of friends, employees or former employees who voted December 17.
Insiders note that Cardenas’ sister Andrea was a voting member of the central committee as were former Cardenas employees Marco Briones and Becca Taylor. He says that committee member Dallin Young of the Association of Cannabis Professionals is a Cardenas associate and a member of the central committee.
“Grassroots Resources and entities associated with them including Southbay Young Democrats have received over $230,000 from the developer lobby,” says Theberge. “Southbay Young Democrats have been running fear-mongering negative ads across social media into voting no on Measure A.”
One of the central committee’s No on A endorsers was North County Democratic stalwart Francine Busby who was the Democrat candidate in the 50th congressional race four times between 2004 and 2010. She now runs Congressman Mike Levin’s Oceanside office. As Levin’s district director, Busby spoke out against the Measure A in the central committee hearing.
But if district director Busby was against A, wouldn’t that imply Levin was against it? Levin himself has no position on Measure A because he does not live in San Diego County, according to spokesman Parke Shelton.
Not acceptable, says Levin’s Republican opponent Brian Maryott. “It’s a clear example of Mike Levin being out of touch with his own staff,” says Maryott spokesman Patrick Snow. Snow says his boss has taken a position on Measure A (“No”) even though Maryott, like Levin, lives in Orange County. “Voters in San Diego County are his constituents, so therefore he should have an interest in their well-being. He is running away from an issue. He is trying to remain neutral in an attempt to not alienate voters. We need people to tell voters how they feel. It is startling to me Mike Levin would try to distance himself from the positions of his district director.”
Francine Busby declined a request to comment on her efforts to promote No. on A.
“It was obvious to me on the night of the vote the fix was in,” says a different central committee member who did not want to be named. “I am deeply concerned the party is becoming susceptible to any organization or lobbying group who is able to able to buy our endorsements. That is a fundamental breakdown of our values. The climate and environment are the only differentiating factors between the Democrats and Republicans, and the Democrats should be very careful not to take the environment for granted.”
A recent Union-Tribune/Survey USA poll showed a 3-to-1 support of Measure A. “It shows that we have broad support across party lines and across every demographic,” says Theberge. “But it doesn’t mean we’re a shoo-in. In fact, there are lots of undecideds, and they are susceptible to negative messages as the sprawl developer lobby knows. That’s why they are spending $1.5 million on negative ads.”