Month: January 2018

Episode 3: The rent is killing us! Explaining Housing4All and our plan to address the housing crisis

Episode 3: The rent is killing us! Explaining Housing4All and our plan to address the housing crisis

(Click the play button below to listen to Episode 3 – 15:03 minutes)

Click to view in iTunes

Summary of Episode 3

San Diego is a beautiful place to live. The weather is great, the people are friendly, and there is plenty of year-round outdoor fun to be had.  Add to that one of the top life sciences regions in the world, fun and economically impactful craft beer and hospitality sectors, and world class higher education, and San Diego is a highly desirable city to call home.  One problem. We have a finite amount of land, too much climate-crippling sprawl, and a growing population of residents. The result? Really, really expensive housing.

In this podcast episode, we explore the basic mechanics of how our high cost of living is driven by the housing market, and  specific policy steps identified in our Housing4All plan that we can take to change this.  San Diego will always have a weather advantage over most of the country. We can’t rest on that advantage because if more people in the middle class cannot afford to live here, there will be no one to build new homes, no one to work in our local industries, and no one to teach our children or care for our seniors.  A top-heavy economic structure hurts our long-term economic competitiveness.

You’ll hear in this podcast how I believe that specific steps, like overhauling County zoning, streamlining building processes and investing in youth construction workforce and paid internships can bring down the cost of entry level homes.  My campaign was also the first of any candidacy in the region to call for a long-term, local source of affordable housing funding because we recognize that the market simply cannot solve all our housing needs on its own – no matter what the textbooks might suggest.

As a construction and land use attorney, I have spent much of my career focused on helping get things built in the public and private sectors – so I understand the challenges and our Housing4All plan reflects my background and perspective. Thanks for listening!

Running for ALL San Diegans: Labor leaders do not owe me anything

Running for ALL San Diegans: Labor leaders do not owe me anything

I received a note Friday night that the Labor Council – an umbrella organization made up of the leadership of over 100 affiliated unions in San Diego and Imperial Counties – decided to only invite one candidate in the race for County Supervisor to be considered for endorsement.  I’d like to go to every organization that represents San Diegans, regardless of party affiliation or ideology.  My policy positions and actions are shaped by my values and by listening to voters, so their representatives should have audience – if those leaders want one.  In the case of the leadership of the San Diego/Imperial Counties Labor Council, it appears they did not want to hear me out or learn what I stand for.

Here’s the thing, though, that is completely their right to elect not to invite me in. They don’t owe me a thing. Let me explain.

It is my job to try to work with everyone, to be fair, and to be open-minded.  It is the Labor Council’s job to represent their members as they see fit and to take or reject anything I say as they choose. I am a supporter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) San Diego chapter, for example. This is a group of primarily African American members of the United Domestic Workers Association, the labor union that represents in-home healthcare workers.  My campaign manager and I went to their most recent general meeting on the 18th of this month. We went even though the leadership already decided to publicly support another candidate.  We went because the issues in-home healthcare workers face are not less important because they endorsed someone else.  We went because my values drive my actions.

The plumbers and hotel workers and caregivers and sheet metal workers and federal government employees and many others who are members of those unions deserve candidates who will fight for a better region for every San Diegan. That is what I’m doing.  They will all benefit if we implement the tenets of our StrongStarts4All plan with things like affordable quality child care and after school support. They will all benefit from our campaign’s attention to making housing more affordable with an approach that recognizes, as our Housing4All plan does, we must have market and subsidized solutions.

I am grateful for the opportunity to fight for every San Diegan. I would prefer the chance to have an earnest dialogue with every constituent, but I do recognize that no group owes me the right to that dialogue.  We will just keep working hard and fighting for what we believe in.  Thanks for reading!

Building a strong campaign: Perspiration and persistence

The numbers are in. My campaign connected with over 16,000 individual likely voters between June and December last year. This included nearly 300 1-on-1 in person meetings and 174 community meetings.  To put those numbers in perspective, that’s nearly 7 community meetings per week. For anyone who has attended a planning group or town council or neighborhood meeting, you can appreciate how much time, effort, and time away from family that is.

My team knocked on doors and attended community meetings and made phone calls.  As a candidate, I personally knocked on the doors of thousands of San Diegans.  I went to community picnics, houses of worship, children’s play groups, craft breweries, schools, union general membership meetings, business networking events and any other place people would have me.

Every action I took was based on one fundamental belief: I believe candidates should earn your votes with hard work, substance behind the positions we take, and the courage of real leadership.

Running for office is hard work, especially in today’s climate.  Sandwiched around all of our critical voter outreach work was a daily push to raise the funds necessary to actually run a political campaign for a major office.  That means sitting down and calling friends, colleagues, family and others in our community and asking them to help me be a champion for the 263,000 children under the age of five in San Diego County and the 240,000 seniors who cannot pay their basic necessities of life. I am not a career politician and I still remember making my first political donation. My wife and I really didn’t understand how important the donations were to the campaign process but we knew that there was no guarantee our preferred candidate would win. Now that I am calling and meeting with hundreds of people to have the same conversation, I have to be persistent and keep asking to get the support we need to reach our voter target on June 5th. The money helps us raise name identification, contact voters, and be sure we do all of it while paying campaign staff a legally permissible and livable wage.

With the election just under six months away, we have a ton of work to do and welcome everyone to join our volunteer outreach efforts. Join us in believing that elections aren’t pre-ordained by insiders with political connections. Join us in believing that hard work, passion, and relevant professional experience matter in who we elect. We are fighting for every San Diegan and look forward to continuing to work hard moving forward. Thanks for reading!

Episode 2: Give me the basics – what does the County actually do?

Episode 2: Give me the basics – what does the County actually do?

(Click play button below to listen to Episode 2 – 17:07 minutes)

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Summary of Episode 2

The first question most people ask me when I tell them I am running for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors is “what does the County do?”  Now that I’ve given a little background about myself and my reasons for running in Episode 1 this episode is a basic conversation about what the County government does.

The County has many roles in our region.  One major role is in the social safety net and the region’s health. This includes:

  • Public Health (e.g. Hepatitis A, Flu Outbreak),
  • Mental Health (e.g. homeless support, youth support, psychiatric care),
  • Community Health (e.g. disease prevention, public safety), and
  • Social Health (e.g. early childhood development, senior care & support, etc.).

One of the largest parts of the County’s budget is in Health & Human Services – almost $2 Billion.  To put this number in perspective, in 2015 the City of San Diego’s entire budget was $2.6 Billion.

The County is organized kind of like a company. It is led by a Chief Executive, called a Chief Administrative Officer (her name is Helen Robbins-Meier), five business groups that function like divisions of a company, and a five member Board of Directors, called the Board of Supervisors.

The Board of Supervisors sets the direction for the County’s $5.8 Billion budget to impact everything from homelessness to land use (where you can and can’t build), mental health and social services, child and senior welfare, and a range of public safety and criminal justice issues.  It is a very big job that is well-served to have leaders with technical knowledge and experience in the key areas of the government.

The purpose of this episode is to give listeners a quick overview to understand what areas the County operates in and how it does the people’s business.  I will talk more about specific substantive areas in later episodes. Thanks for listening!

The Dirty Little Secret about Campaigns: Many cheat their employees

The Dirty Little Secret about Campaigns: Many cheat their employees

I decided to run for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors to fight for children. All children. Actually, all young people from babies to young adulthood.  I also care deeply about senior citizens, in large part because I saw how hard it was for my own 84-year-old mother as she aged.  I am an attorney by training, so I believe in the rule of law, and I have to say I was more than a bit appalled when I learned that many campaigns cheat the people who work for them.

I realized early on that to mount a serious campaign for a race with almost 100,000 people voting I needed professional help and I needed fundraising support.  I retained a consultant and then, owing to some quirks in California law, hired two staff to help with fundraising.  During the interview process, something jumped out at me – basically no one was used to being paid what the law in this state required!  I have heard progressive friends and advocates talk about wage theft but I never imagined what I’d find.  Almost everyone I spoke to said they were used to being “hired” as a 1099 independent contractor – a way to get around paying payroll tax, paid sick leave, and other essential costs. Worse, the few who did get hired as employees were essentially working for far less than minimum wage as misclassified employees rather than hourly ones with overtime and such.

I wondered, given how many people in my race for the Board of Supervisors have run multiple races before, how they paid their campaign staff in current and prior elections.  As a private sector lawyer with business clients in the past who got sued all the time for this kind of stuff, I wondered how widespread this was over the last several election cycles.  Unfortunately, I am not a journalist and I have never seen a local journalist dig into this issue, so we may never know how widespread it is in San Diego.

I do know this, for everyone working on my campaign, if you do work that properly qualified as salaried work, you get paid at least what the law requires ($41,600 in California in 2017).  I found out about a training the local Democratic Party was doing so I asked if they offered any guidance about proper payment of campaign employees.  It turns out they don’t offer this, so I hired an election lawyer to make sure we were on the up and up.

I should add, though, that some campaigns hire consultants who employ their own staff to work on campaigns. This is a perfectly acceptable alternative. It’s probably not okay for a company or trade group to pay its employee and then “loan them out” on company time as a volunteer – but I have heard of all sorts of questionable arrangements that never get actually questioned because campaigns are, by their nature, relatively short-lived.

As far as we can tell, there is NO EXEMPTION for campaign workers!  We are all bound by the same laws that companies and non-profits are.  If you want to pay your employee minimum wage, they’d better be getting overtime.  If you call them salaried, they’d better be making at least the amount above.  Otherwise, like the many past campaigns my interviewees mentioned, you are breaking the law and cheating your workers.

The essential role of women in San Diego’s future

The essential role of women in San Diego’s future


Our campaign understands that San Diego communities – indeed our region as a whole – will be best served by having all of the voices in our community at the table. Better, at a table we create together, rather than having to ask for a seat at someone else’s table.  This is especially true in the context of the voices of women in our region’s policy debates. Not just elected officials, but women of all backgrounds.  Men and women alike have a crucial role to play in the equality of voices in our decision making.

We believe men have a supporting role to play in helping shape a new reality and this announcement is about recognizing that we have equal power, intellect, heart, and dedication and must all have equal voice. And it is about embracing a shift that is long overdue.

This is a press release my campaign sent out today and we are thrilled at the support we have built from diverse women across the 4th Supervisor’s District. Visit to view the current supporters and to join us!

A lonely island of poverty

A lonely island of poverty

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. NPS/Nathan King

This weekend, there are celebrations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy all over the country and, locally, across San Diego.  I went to the Jackie Robinson YMCA’s 33rd Annual Awards Breakfast and was grateful to be reminded of the men and women of principle who have helped shape San Diego and our region’s diverse landscape.

When I reflect on what we were taught in school growing up about Dr. King’s speech and its significance, it is not surprising that we have such a narrowed view of what Dr. King’s speech was actually about.

Read Full Text

While the speech was about the desire for racial harmony, it was about much more than that.  I read the full text of Dr. King’s speech a few years ago and was struck by the following passage.

Thinking about that lonely island of poverty in today’s terms, it is useful to realize that nearly one quarter of California’s African American population lives in poverty today. For African American children, the number is closer to 1-in-3.  As we have come to understand the effects of poverty on childhood brain development, and the role of brain development on lifetime success, it becomes clearer that taking on poverty and creating opportunity is about creating greater equity in our communities. It is not a luxury or an extravagance. Every day I wake up thinking about what additional work we can do as a community to ensure every San Diego child has a right to a strong start and support so that they can reach their full potential.  That strong start is where we make huge gains across our community.

The true test of our ability to realize Dr. King’s dream – the desire for equality that ran through his words – lies in our ability to make sure children of all backgrounds are not trapped in a poverty they didn’t choose. Here in San Diego, we will only achieve the lofty goals Dr. King laid out by pushing to ensure the tools of success are available to every family – to every child in every neighborhood from birth – so that we break the cycles of poverty and help each other get off that lonely island.

Episode 1: [Introduction] From foster care to attorney – luck, love, and the law

Episode 1: [Introduction] From foster care to attorney – luck, love, and the law

(Click Play Button Below to Listen to Episode 1 – 16:24 minutes)

Click to view in iTunes

Episode Summary

The miracle of modern medicine means that a child born 10 weeks premature today in America has an incredibly strong chance of survival. In 1975, when I was born 10 weeks premature (at 2 pounds, 8 ounces), the chances were not so high.  It didn’t help that I was born to a mother with a disability and mental illness, who grew up poor in the segregated south, and lost her own mother at age four.

What saved me was the love of an incredible couple named Tom and Phyllis Passons, my foster parents (who later adopted me), the support of the San Diego County child welfare system, hard work and a bit of luck.  In this first episode of my podcast series I open up a little about what life was like having over 100 foster siblings.  I talk about how I ended up getting a Master’s Degree in Public Health – public health and human services is almost 40% of the County of San Diego budget – and then found my way to a legal career in a subject, land use, that is a major part of the County’s responsibilities.

From being inspired by my biological mother’s own bouts with homelessness on San Diego’s streets to being deeply committed to fighting for every child to have a strong start in life, this first episode helps explain who I am. It also explains why I’d leave the law and seek to improve the lives of millions of San Diego County residents.

Progressive and business friendly are not contradictions

My passion to run for the County Board of Supervisors is driven by my values: everyone should have opportunity, our environment deserves our protection, our economy must work for everyone, our youth and our seniors deserve our support for all they will give and have given to our community.  Not one of these values is in opposition to my belief in the role of the private sector to grow the economy.  Neither are these values contradicted by my having spent most of my professional life representing companies and public entities in the private sector. The truth is we need to care about our community and the economy that makes it go. Let me explain.

I worked in public health program evaluation after graduate school because I wanted to help make sure the supports we have in society were well-run and achieving their ends to help people. Almost immediately, the entrepreneur in me kicked in and I started looking at a business opportunity related to software applications. My progressive desire to help people did not stand in contrast to my private sector interest.  I left public health after a few years, attended law school and became a construction and land use attorney. My job ranged from reviewing and drafting purchase and sale agreements, litigating construction and injury cases, to helping property owners understand what they could do with their property.

Throughout my legal career I found ways to support my community and especially our young people. I served as a volunteer leader on issues ranging from neighborhood quality of life like graffiti and litter removal to more regional issues like addressing homelessness and supporting our regional workforce growth. The point is that I have always cared about helping people thrive and so have many of my legal clients. In fact, a group called Business for Good San Diego has emerged and is an example of an entire community of private, for-profit businesses whose owners are dedicated to things like ensuring quality health care and support for their employees.  You can find the same ethos in Ponce’s in Kensington, Bean Bar in East Village, Blind Lady Ale House in Normal Heights and a host of other businesses across the 4th Supervisor’s District. Now that I am running for office, I intend to bring the same compassion and concern for the people in our neighborhoods and the same understanding of the role of our business community to moving our San Diego region forward. These experiences are complementary, not contradictory, and they will strengthen my ability to listen to diverse voices and shape policy that serves everyone.