Who Runs San Diego? Some Taxpayers Are More Equal Than Others at the County Taxpayers Association

By Linda Perine

This week’s article is a little more complex than some of our previous looks at Who Runs San Diego?.  When David (Cory Briggs) slays Goliath (Hoteliers Financing District) – that’s a good story!  When some (Sea World and certain electeds) tell us it’s OK to imprison and mistreat our sweet Shamu,  LOTS of folk get mad.  When our CD2/lifeguard good guy (Ed Harris) takes on tenants (Belmont Park) that seem a little moochy,  you can pump your fist.

My job this week, yes, I am the aforementioned “Nerd”, is to go behind the curtain of these and other deals involving our beaches, bays, parks, taxing authority and other civic assets to take a look at an organization that pretends to work for all taxpayers, but in reality represents its well- connected, conservative  donors.

By now it should be crystal clear that the regular folk of San Diego need someone tough and savvy to look out for us:  To stand up to the bigwigs, to call their bluff;  to fight for the greater good and get us the better part of the bargain.  We need a champion to make sure the taxpayer, not Papa Doug or the downtown elite, the affluent and the connected, get to skim the cream off the top.  After all – those bays and parks and waterfronts and beaches and taxing authority belong to us.

The Negotiator 

Negotiator3333We need a hero, an advocate, a defender, a goomba, an enforcer.  Get me Lucca Brasi. 

We need a Negotiator!!!

But wait, you say, don’t we already have someone who looks out for the San Diego taxpayers??

Isn’t that what the San Diego County Taxpayer’s Association (SDCTA) is supposed to do?

That’s what they claim on their webpage: “Founded in 1945, the San Diego County Taxpayers Association (SDCTA) is a watchdog organization that looks out for your tax dollars.”

Not so much.

When it comes to looking out for the everyday citizen, SDCTA is more of a pretender than a watchdog.

The Pretender

Time and time again, over the last few years, SDCTA has lined up on the side of the conservative moneyed interests that populate their Board of Directors and donor base.  It is those interests, and not the interests of the worker, the parent, the real San Diego taxpayers, that inform the SDCTA policy papers and breakfast meetings and press releases.

Here are just a few examples:

Convention Center Expansion –  Bill Evans and Mike McDowell and the downtown hoteliers convinced the city that it was a great deal for the city to borrow $575 million dollars to expand the convention center.  The deal was full of pitfalls and landmines, but even its best case scenario had the city taking all the liability, yet making less than 1/10 the return the hoteliers made.  SDCTA said “the Expansion Project would result in a significant return on investment” for the city.  In what world is taking on that kind of liability for that pittance of a return a good idea?  Hint: it is good to be a hotelier.

Tourism Marketing District – has already been found invalid by one court.  SDCTA fought hard against  attempts to assure that you and I wouldn’t get stuck with the bill if the TMD were declared illegal on appeal:  an outcome that seems more and more likely in light of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal decision finding the Convention Center Financing District violates the CA Constitution and the City Charter.  SDCTA has been a major supporter of this illegal appropriation of the city’s tax authority for years.

Increase in the Minimum Wage – SDCTA issued a policy paper stating that raising the minimum wage would hurt business despite strong support from employers,  the Department of Labor, a widespread movement in cities and states, and multiple studies showing it positive economic impacts.  If you are one of the 200,000 taxpayers in San Diego who would have benefited from an increase in the minimum wage, you apparently are not the kind of taxpayer SDCTA is looking out for.

Shielding Corporations from property assessments on sale of property – now this is pretty wonky, but when you sell your house if the value has gone up the person who buys it has to pay higher taxes on the higher assessed value.  Not so if you are a corporation and transfer the ownership of the corporation holding the property.  This gives an unfair benefit to corporations, that means you and I pay higher taxes.  Guess which side SDCTA took?  Not yours.

Forcing the Entire City to Vote on Your Community Plan – one of the great things about San Diego is that each community gets to exercise control over what happens in their community.  What people in Hillcrest love, people in Mira Mesa might not like so much. So our City of Villages approach is based on letting folks decide what happens in their neighborhoods.  SDCTA thinks the entire city should vote on what is allowed in your neighborhood.

Phony Pension Reform – most folks in San Diego voted for Proposition B.  Unfortunately, the benefits claimed made by supporters were widely exaggerated. The projected savings have not materialized.  But the real problem is that the way the proposition was introduced and promoted violated the law.  The case is on appeal, but the likely outcome is that a year or so from now Prop B will be declared invalid and all the work and effort and money we have spent will be wasted because its  <a href=”http://twitdoc.com/view.asp?id=84008&sid=1STK&ext=PDF&lcl=sharpcopier-sandiego-gov-20130212-191755.pdf&usr=dillonliam&doc=125228613&key=key-1bjzyullelb27axdg3td”>supporters did not tell the truth. SDCTA helped write Prop B and knew, or should have known, that it is illegal and invalid.   A lot of our tax dollars are being wasted to help the Carl DeMaio and Chris Cate campaigns.

Banning Project Labor Agreements – according to Donna Frye, will cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars.  Back in 2012, at the urging of SDCTA, folks voted for Prop A.  Now we are faced with losing state funding for construction projects and low interest loans for sewer and water projects.  Who benefits from PLA’s – workers and regular taxpayers.  Who wants to ban them – construction companies who don’t want to pay a living wage.  It should not be a surprise which side SDCTA supported.

Weakening Asian/Pacific Islander Representation in D6 – in 2011 many citizens worked very hard to create a strong community of interest for API citizens in District 6.  SDCTA presented a map that diluted the API representation in order to help the Republican party win more seats on the city council.  Fortunately, the Redistricting Commission gave little credence to the SDCTA map submission.

This is just a partial list of policies and positions that show for SDCTA some taxpayers are more equal than other taxpayers.  SDCTA has never been a fierce negotiator for the everyday taxpayer.

Despite a record of promoting clearly illegal projects like the TMD and Prop B, of representing the interests of its construction/big business donor base, instead of the average taxpayer,  SDCTA still asserts “Public opinion polls consistently rate the SDCTA as the most “influential” and “trusted” public policy institution in San Diego…Despite the challenges, the SDCTA continues to effectively protect our region’s individual and business taxpayers.”

That is simply not true.

The Board of Directors </ais populated by representatives of the conservative hierarchy of the city.  SDCTA is always going to be support policies that help the big businesses, influence peddlers, builders and developers who form the financial backbone of the organization.  As Carl Luna points out  “the SDCTA’s claim to be non-partisan strikes me as something of a cop out.  If the organization truly has faith in its convictions shouldn’t it acknowledge whom it aligns with and supports?  Claiming to be non-partisan is an attempt by the SDCTA to give itself an imprimatur of superiority”.

Well, “it’s a brilliant marketing ploy, to be sure”, but if you still believe that the SDCTA represents the average taxpayer, Cher has this gentle admonition for you.

The Protégé

One of the major facilitators of these flawed SDCTA policies and positions is Chris Cate, the former vice-president of SDCTA. (He is still listed as contact for policy matters on the website.)  Just a few months ago he moved from his long residence in Carlsbad to Council District 6 to run for city council.  He has resigned his position at SDCTA to campaign full time.

Not surprisingly, Chris has the  support of the Lincoln Club and Chamber, the large builders and developers whose interests he has been advancing at the SDCTA for years. Undoubtedly he will continue to promote those interests if elected. For November election, however, references to the Lincoln Club and the SDCTA have been scrubbed off his campaign materials.

Chris Cate SDCTAA Rare and Fortuitous State of Affairs

Most of the time the people who run San Diego operate in the shadows: on boards and commissions, through lobbyists, on media editorial boards, in corporate board rooms and private meetings with the mayor.  They work through SDCTA, the Chamber, the Lincoln Club and their ilk to promote the interests of the well-heeled and well connected to the detriment and expense of the regular taxpayer like you and me.

It is rare that we get a really clear cut look at exactly how a political candidate will vote and exactly who he/she will look out for before we elect them.  In the case of Chris Cate in the District 6 election it could not be any clearer.

In the several years he worked at SDCTA he promoted illegal policies and projects like the TMD and Proposition B.  He worked against Proposition Z which funded school renovations and technology upgrades.  He opposed self-determination for neighborhoods and worked to weaken API representation in the district he now seeks to represent.  His position on Proposition A could cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid and low interest loans.

Chris helped big business lobby against paying a living wage and wants corporations to shirk their fair payment of property taxes.

The real taxpayers of the City of San Diego and District Six need a champion, a negotiator someone to fight for us.  Not someone who, for the majority of his professional life, has pretended to help the little guy/gal while working full time to make the already rich, richer at our expense.

Linda Perine is the President of the Democratic Woman’s Club. She was chair of the LGBT Redistricting task Force in 2011 and served as Mayor Filner’s Director of Community Outreach.


This article first appeared in the San Diego Free Press October 10, 2014.

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