By Chris Jennewein
The ballot for the Nov. 3 general election in San Diego County is short, with ballot measures outnumbering races in many districts, but it may be one of the most consequential in decades.
Key races include the Presidency, Congress and Mayor of San Diego, while ballot measures will determine the future of the gig economy, chip away at Proposition 13, and make affirmative action state policy.
The simple act of voting is also consequential amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and concerns over the security and timeliness of voting by mail. All California voters should have received mail ballots during the week of Oct. 5. They can be completed and mailed, or dropped at a library.
The San Diego County Registrar of Voters urges mailing your ballot by Oct. 27 to be in the first election night count, but the last date for a postmark is Nov. 3. Polling places will be open that day, but there will be fewer.
Here is what you need to know to understand the candidates and propositions on the ballot for the general election in San Diego County.
It’s hard to believe there are many undecided voters in what may be the most contentious presidential election since the height of the Vietnam War in 1968.
The USC Daybreak Poll, one of the few to predict Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, has shown a consistently strong national lead by former Vice President Joe Biden. With polls of California voters showing Biden at over 60%, the Golden State’s 55 electoral votes will almost certainly go to the Democratic ticket.
This election has special significance to California because Sen. Kamala Harris is the Democratic vice presidential nominee. The Oakland-born Harris was formerly state Attorney General and District Attorney in San Francisco. The daughter of immigrants — her father from Jamaica and her mother from India — Harris is the first Black woman nominated by a major party for vice president as well as the first person of Asian descent.
Democrats have an opportunity in this election to sweep the San Diego County congressional offices, as happened in the long-time Republican bastion of Orange County in 2018.
Incumbent Democratic Reps. Scott Peters in the 52nd District and Rep. Juan Vargas in the 51st District, both former San Diego City Council members who have now served multiple terms in Congress, face only token Republican opposition.
Rep. Mike Levin, who has focused on veterans and environmental issues since taking over the 49th District from retiring Darrell Issa, faces Republican opposition from Brian Maryott, the former mayor of San Juan Capistrano. Maryott accuses Levin of being too liberal, but polls show the incumbent with a comfortable lead in the district that spans coastal areas of north San Diego and south Orange counties.
Issa is back in this election, but in a different district, offering Republican opposition to Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar in the 50th District after Rep. Duncan Hunter’s resignation over campaign finance fraud. Campa-Najjar, who worked in the Obama administration, came close to beating Hunter in 2018, and polls show him slightly ahead of Issa. Campa-Najjar grew up in the district, while Issa lives outside it in Vista. Issa achieved notoriety in Congress because of his attacks on the Obama administration via the House Oversight Committee and his enthusiastic support for Trump.
The 53rd District has long been a Democratic stronghold, and will remain so as both candidates are Democrats. Georgette Gómez, the president of the San Diego City Council, faces Obama administration policy advisor Sara Jacobs, who ran for Congress in the 49th District in 2018. Gomez, an environmental advocate who earned respect as chair of the Metropolitan Transit System board, would be the first LGBTQ Latina elected to Congress. She has the support of much of the local Democratic establishment. Jacobs has focused on family issues and the role of America in the world after Trump. She counts the San Diego Union-Tribune and a number of influential Democrats in Congress among her endorsements.
Only one state Senate seat is open, and it’s held by arguably the most powerful California politician after the Governor — San Diego’s own Toni Atkins, the Senate President Pro Tem — who is seeking a second four-year-term. Atkins has only token Republican opposition.
Incumbents are seeking re-election in six of the seven Assembly seats on the ballot and appear to have only token opposition.
The incumbents include former Santee Mayor Randy Voepel in the 71st District, Assembly Minority Leader Marie Waldron in the 75th District, former Encinitas Mayor and environmental advocate Tasha Boerner Horvath in the 76th District, Republican-turned-Democrat Brian Maienschein in the 77th District, Shirley Weber in the 79th District, and Lorena Gonzalez in the 80th District.
Both Weber and Gonzalez have authored major state legislation in the past year. Weber championed new rules limiting police use of force and Gonzalez sponsored controversial Assembly Bill 5 limiting gig employment.
The one race that doesn’t include an incumbent is the 78th District, where San Diego City Councilmember Chris Ward faces healthcare professional Sarah Davis. Ward, who has a degree in public policy for Harvard University, authored San Diego’s equal pay ordinance and has worked to address downtown homelessness. Both candidates are Democrats.
Superior Court Judge
Deputy Atty. Gen. Tim Nader faces Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Starita in the runoff for Office 30. Nader is a former mayor of Chula Vista and Starita is a retired Marine colonel who served as a judge advocate. The San Diego County Bar Association ranks Nader as “well qualified” and Starita as “exceptionally qualified.”
There are dozens of school board races across San Diego County from Borrego Springs to Del Mar. The two that affect the largest number of students are for the San Diego County Board of Education and the San Diego Unified School District.
On the county board, which oversees services provided for 42 school districts, 124 charter schools, and five community college districts, incumbents Mark Powell and Guadalupe Gonzalez are up for re-election against token opposition and Paulette Donnellon is running unopposed.
In San Diego Unified‘s District A, health-care educator Sabrina Bazzo faces university professor Crystal Trull. Brazzo is endorsed by John Lee Evans, who represented the district for three terms, as well as two teachers unions. The other districts have incumbents facing challengers. Richard Barrera won 97% of the vote in the March primary in District D and appears headed for re-election, but it was closer for incumbent Sharon Whitehurst-Payne, whose margin in District E was 55% to 45% for education leader Lawana Richmond.
San Diego County Board of Supervisors
In District 2, which includes much of East County south of Route 78, two Republicans are vying to succeed legendary Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who is termed out after 28 years. Former state Sen. Joel Anderson is seeking a political comeback after losing a Board of Equalization race in the 2018 Democratic wave. His opponent is Steve Vaus, the well-know musician who is currently Mayor of Poway and who has Jacob’s endorsement. Vaus earned high marks for his community leadership as national attention focused on Poway following the synagogue shooting in 2019. Anderson is endorsed by the San Diego County Republican Party, but Vaus has high-profile Republican endorsements from San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Sheriff Bill Gore.
Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, who is seeking a second term in District 3, has gained notoriety appearing with President Trump in support of his hardline immigration polices, but unlike another Republican supervisor, Jim Desmond, has not sought to downplay the danger of coronavirus. Gaspar is a former mayor of Encinitas who runs a physical therapy business with her husband. She is being challenged by Terra Lawson-Remer, a Yale-educated attorney, economist and UC San Diego professor whose career includes projects for the United Nations, World Bank and Amnesty International. She led the “Flip the 49th” effort to oust Rep. Darrell Issa in 2018. Lawson-Remer is endorsed by virtually all of the Democratic establishment, from Gov. Gavin Newsom and Rep. Mike Levin to state Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.
State Sen. Ben Hueso, who is termed out, was a late entrant in the race to succeed Supervisor Greg Cox in District 1 in south county, but led in the March primary. He is a former member of the state Assembly and the San Diego City Council. He faces Southwestern Community College board member Nora Vargas. Both candidates are Democrats.
San Diego Mayor
Assemblymember Todd Gloria, a former City Councilmember and Interim Mayor, seemed like a shoo-in after his big lead in the March primary, but Councilmember Barbara Bry‘s campaign has gained traction after her slim victory over Councilmember Scott Sherman following the counting of mail ballots. Both candidates are Democrats, but Bry has tacked to the right, picking up Sherman’s Republican supporters. Gloria’s campaign has emphasized the development of new housing, promising “a robust housing production goal,” and assistance for the homeless, while Bry has emphasized preserving existing neighborhoods and limiting vacation rentals.
In the final months, the race has turned ugly, with threats of violence against Gloria because he was one of 41 “yes” votes in the Assembly on Senate Bill 145, which clarified state laws regarding penalties for sex offenders, and attack ads accusing Bry of being a Trump supporter. Controversy has swirled over the city’s purchase of the 101 Ash Street building while Gloria was still on the council. A local TV station’s investigation implicated Gloria, but the report turned out to be based on a fabricated document, and the station retracted its report.
Gloria has widespread official support, with endorsements ranging from the local Democratic Party and Gov. Gavin Newsom to the police union and Chamber of Commerce. Bry has Father Joe Carroll, outspoken former Councilmember Donna Frye and Geneviéve Jones-Wright, a former progressive candidate for District Attorney.
San Diego City Attorney
Incumbent Mara Elliott is being challenged by public advocacy lawyer Cory Briggs, who accuses the incumbent of incompetence and has proposed eliminating the office to save money. Briggs has made a name for himself with a series of high-profile lawsuits against public agencies. Elliott, a former deputy city attorney, emphasizes her efforts to combat domestic violence and sex trafficking, but has been accused of lack of oversight in the purchases of 101 Ash Street and new streetlights with video cameras for police surveillance. Elliott has widespread official support, from the local Democratic Party to the police union and the Chamber of Commerce, while Briggs is running as an outsider, promising a “taxpayers-first approach” to the office.
San Diego City Council
In District 1, where Barbara Bry is termed out and running for Mayor, community volunteer Joe LaCava faces Will Moore. LaCava, a civil engineer, is known as an advocate for neighborhood preservation, opposing higher-density housing and favoring controls on vacation rentals. Moore, an small-business attorney, wants more aggressive housing development, noting that “production has not kept up with our local birth rate in over 20 years.” He has support across the political spectrum, from the Democratic mayors of Encinitas, Imperial Beach and National City, to YIMBY Democrats of San Diego County and the Chamber of Commerce. The district covers the city’s northwestern neighborhoods.
In District 3, where Chris Ward is termed out and running for the state Assembly, nonprofit leader Stephen Whitburn led Toni Duran, district representative for state Sen. Toni Atkins, in the March primary. Both candidates are Democrats, but Whitburn has the party’s endorsement. The district encompasses some of the most urban parts of San Diego, including downtown, Bankers Hill, Hillcrest, Mission Hills, North Park and University Heights.
In District 5, which stretches along Interstate 15 from Scripps Ranch to the San Pasqual Valley, the candidates vying for termed-out Mark Kersey’s seat are Deputy City Attorney Marni von Wilpert, who led by three points in the March primary, and attorney and small business owner Joe Leventhal. The county Democratic Party is backing von Wilpert, while Levanthal, who served on the city’s ethics commission, has the endorsement of Mayor Kevin Faulconer the Chamber of Commerce.
In District 7, Scott Sherman is termed out and lost in the mayoral primary. Deputy City Attorney Raul Campillo, who led in the primary, faces restaurant owner Noli Zosa. Zosa, who owns the Dirty Birds chain, is endorsed by Father Joe Carroll, Sheriff Bill Gore, Supervisor Diane Jacob, Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the Chamber of Commerce. Campillo is endorsed by the county Democratic Party and a number of labor unions.
Finally, in District 9, where City Council President Georgette Gómez is giving up the seat to run for Congress, primary leader Kelvin Barrios has suspended his campaign over admitted financial mistakes in past political positions, leaving community college trustee Sean Elo-Rivera. However, Barrios says that if he still receives a majority of the vote, he may decide to accept the result and serve.
Retired Marine colonel and former state Assemblyman Rocky Chavez is seeking a political comeback in the crowded race for Mayor in this coastal city. There are 12 names on the ballot, including City Councilmembers Jack Feller, Christopher Rodriguez and Esther Sanchez. Rodriguez earned notoriety in May when he urged the city to let all businesses reopen during the height of the pandemic.
State and Local Ballot Measures
Because of the interest in the presidential election, and the likelihood of a very high voter turnout, there is an unusually long list of state ballot measures. Many received disingenuous titles — notably Proposition 22 — written by the Attorney General Xavier Becerra in an attempt to steer time-constrained voters in a partisan direction.
This proposition authorizes the state to issue $5.5 billion in bonds for medical research using stem cells. It’s the renewal of an initiative that dates to President George W. Bush’s rejection of stem cell research over abortion concerns. The measure seeks to ensure California’s preeminence in the medical and biotech fields.
Liberal politicians and public employee unions have long chafed at how the landmark Proposition 13 in 1978 halted regular increases in property taxes. This new proposition is an end-run, allowing commercial and industrial property to be reassessed regularly in order to increase taxes. The proposition applies to property valued at $3 million or more in an effort to protect small businesses. However, most small businesses rent space in more expensive shopping centers and industrial buildings, whose owners will pass on the increases under typical triple-net leases. Proponents say the state needs more money for education and government services, while opponents say small businesses already reeling from the pandemic will bear the brunt and residential property will be the next target.
Back in 1996, a controversial California ballot measure prohibited the use of affirmative action in hiring and contracts by local and state government and public universities. Prop. 16 would reverse that to promote diversity in race, sex, ethnicity and national origin in the state’s public sector.
This proposition restores the right to vote to lawbreakers who have completed prison sentences and are on parole — an estimated 50,000 people in California — as many other states have done.
Should 17-year-olds who will turn 18 by the date of a general election be allowed to vote in the primary? Many states allow this, and the California Legislature voted by a two-thirds margin to place this proposition on the ballot for voters to decide.
This proposition backed by the real estate industry would allow homeowners aged 56 and older to keep their low property tax base when buying a retirement home anywhere in California, but in return the children of those homeowners would have to pay full taxes on an inherited home that does not become a primary residence. A similar proposition was defeated by voters in 2018, and the new one adds benefits for wildfire victims as a sweetener.
This measure would authorize felony sentences for serial burglary, shoplifting, carjacking and forgery that are now treated as misdemeanors. It also sets new requirements for DNA sampling and parole. Prop. 20 is backed by law enforcement unions, conservative prosecutors and legislators, and some retailers
This rent-control measure is a repeat of one that failed in 2018. It would allow local governments to enact rent control on properties over 15 years old. The measure is underwritten by the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which has backed several state and local ballot measures to slow housing development and stop gentrification. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has called for California to build significantly more housing, is strongly opposed to this proposition, saying it “runs the all-too-real risk of discouraging availability of affordable housing in our state.”
Will the future of work in America be traditional shift employment governed by rigid labor rules and union membership, or can the growing gig economy give people flexibility to work when, where and how they want? How California votes on Prop. 22 will set a precedent for the entire country. After Assembly Bill 5 upended independent contracting in occupations as diverse as music, language translation, trucking and journalism, gig-economy giants Uber, Lyft and DoorDash threatened to pull out of the state and mounted a ballot challenge. Their measure only affects their own app-based model, but if voters agree, then it’s unlikely the Legislature will continue to penalize small businesses based on independent contracting. Opponents, which include labor unions seeking to increase membership, argue workers are being exploited in the gig economy. But proponents of Prop. 22 point to hundreds of thousands of independent contractors who are now being forced to find work as employees during the pandemic.
Union money is behind many of this election’s propositions, and this may be the most egregious example. The Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West has long and unsuccessfully sought to organize the two largest companies that provide dialysis services in California. This proposition, and one back in 2018, are attempts to get even by raising the companies’ costs, both in providing dialysis services and in having to fight the ballot measures. Prop. 23 is not about helping dialysis patients.
This proposition is largely an effort by one man, San Francisco real estate developer Alastair Mactaggart, whose threat of financing a ballot measure in 2018 convinced the state Legislature to pass a complicated and controversial Internet privacy law, the California Consumer Privacy Act. Prop. 24 is intended to give that law more teeth, but opponents say it will just make the rules even more complicated and confusing for businesses using the Internet without increasing privacy. Among the opponents are the American Civil Liberties Union, which says it’s too soon to make changes to a law that has been in effect less than six months. The Electronic Freedom Foundation, an influential digital rights organization, calls the proposition “a mixed bag of partial steps backwards and forwards” and has withheld support.
This is a referendum on a 2018 law that would eliminate the cash bail system — and the bail bond industry — in California and allow judges to hold or release people charged with a crime based on a risk assessment. Voting “no” will overturn the law and leave the bail bond process unchanged. At issue is whether the current money system is inherently unfair to those who are poor and whether it can be replaced with judicial procedures and profiling algorithms to determine who is safe to release before trial.
San Diego Measure A
The measure authorizes the city to issue $900 million in bonds to finance construction of an estimated 7,500 new housing units primarily for the homeless. Paying off the bonds would raise property taxes by $21 annually on a median priced home in the initial years. The measure has wide support, from Father Joe’s Villages to the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, but former City Councilman Carl DeMaio has been a vocal opponent.
San Diego Measure B
The measure was first suggested by City Councilmember Monica Montgomery in 2018, but took on urgency in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter protests. It establishes an independent Commission on Police Practices to review complaints and investigate police misconduct. The City Council voted unanimously to put it on the ballot.
San Diego Measure E
This measure would remove the 30-foot height limit in the Midway District, an area known for strip clubs and dilapidated warehouses. The district was included in a nearly 50-year-old ballot measure to preserve ocean views in coastal communities west of Interstate 5. Now the limits prevent replacement of the aging Sports Arena and development of new housing. No views are threatened, but opponents are concerned about setting a precedent.
Oceanside Measure L
This measure would rezone 17.6 acres of land in the northeast side of the city near Bonsall to permit a 585-home development. The area is currently zoned for agriculture, though seven large homes on 2.5-acre lots would also be permitted. If the North River Farms project goes through, then Oceanside will be able to meet its affordable housing mandate.
School Bond Issues
School bond issues are complicated, so it’s not surprising that voters can be confused. The San Diego County Taxpayers Association studies bond issues before each election and makes recommendations. Of the four school bond issues on the Nov. 3 ballot, the association urges voters to approve all except one — the Oceanside School District’s $160 Million General Obligation Bond.
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