By Emily Hoeven
“It’s hard for any legislator to admit that a policy they championed, and put a lot of money behind, is going to make things worse.”
That comment, from San Diego City Councilmember Raul Campillo, came during a Saturday panel on child care at Politifest, an annual series of debates and discussions hosted by the nonprofit newsroom Voice of San Diego.
It also highlighted how policies crafted — or not crafted — by state lawmakers in Sacramento ripple across California, impacting communities in different ways. Although the event was geared toward San Diego residents, it was impossible to miss the imprint of the state’s approach to key issues — ranging from child care to labor to homelessness — in local conditions, actions and responses.
I attended Politifest with CalMatters Editor-in-Chief Dave Lesher, where we broke down the seven statewide propositions on the Nov. 8 ballot for an in-person and online audience. (You can watch our presentation here, and don’t forget to check out CalMatters’ Voter Guide for more information!)
I also went to a bunch of different panels to see how state policies were shaping — and shaping up in — San Diego. Here are some key takeaways:
- Child care and early childhood education. Campillo’s comment was a response to Laura Kohn, senior director for care and education at Mission Driven Finance, asserting that California’s multibillion-dollar push for universal transitional kindergarten is “breaking the child care sector.” Among the problems cited by Kohn and Kim McDougall, vice president of social services for the YMCA of San Diego County: Transitional kindergarten often isn’t a full-day program, meaning “it’s not a true child care solution” for working parents. TK, which must be held on a school campus, will likely offer a “junior kindergarten” curriculum, rather than a “nurturing, play-based version of child care” that many parents want. And its promise of better wages and benefits will poach providers from the already understaffed child care industry, forcing many small businesses to close and leaving the most vulnerable workers behind. “It’s been — not gorgeous, in how it’s been developed and built and pushed down,” McDougall said. “It needs to honor the existing delivery system for early care rather than being pushed through (local education agencies).” Kohn said the Legislature needs to “come and fix” its plan, “otherwise parents are screwed.” Still, there are bright spots: Miren Algorri, a family care provider in Chula Vista and a member of California’s first child care providers union, noted the union recently struck a deal with the state for supplemental pay, a $100 million health care fund, $40 million for provider training and education and $240,000 to study the feasibility of offering retirement benefits.
- The politics of organized labor. Some of the event’s most interesting comments came from Brigitte Browning, president of Unite-HERE Local and executive secretary-treasurer of the San Diego Labor Council. Browning said that as San Diego has transitioned from a Republican to Democratic stronghold, it has actually become “harder” for organized labor to achieve its goals. Now “there are shades of Democrats, and the funding often goes to the moderate candidate,” Browning said, citing the high-dollar race for a seat representing San Diego in the state Assembly that saw business-friendly Democrat David Alvarez win over the labor-backed Georgette Gómez. (Another factor: California’s top-two primary system, which Browning said “benefits the moderate candidate more than the left candidate.”) Browning also charged that some Republicans change their party affiliation to Democrat because they know they can’t win otherwise in California, but remain GOP-ers at heart — an apparent allusion to Rick Caruso, the billionaire businessman who re-registered as a Democrat before launching his bid for Los Angeles mayor. The shades-of-blue dynamic in San Diego is similar to that in the state Legislature, where divides within the Democratic Party often determine the outcome of controversial legislation.
- And last but not least, homelessness. Nathan Fletcher, chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, said that CARE Court — Gov. Gavin Newsom’s controversial plan to make it easier for counties to compel people with serious mental health issues into treatment and housing — is “a useful tool” but won’t “unilaterally alleviate all the poverty and suffering in the world.” Fletcher also said the county’s ability to implement CARE Court could be constrained by “a critical shortage of behavioral health workers.” That was echoed by San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, who said “the Great Resignation is real in the homelessness services sector,” and although the city is “pushing hard and fast” to address homelessness, “we need the workforce to do it.” Gloria also said that the state has “unfinished business when it comes to conservatorship reform” — a statement that earned him some boos from the audience — and that he plans to work with Democratic state Sen. Susan Eggman of Stockton to reintroduce bills in her mental health package that failed to advance. And, in a nod to the politicization surrounding homelessness — and former NBA player and San Diego hype man Bill Walton calling on him to resign for how he’s handled the issue — Gloria said, “I need your help, not your criticism. I need you to pick up an oar and start rowing with me, not tweeting at me.”