Dr. Jen Campbell’s Candidacy in District 2: Is She the Cure?

by on November 2, 2018 · 3 comments

in Ocean Beach

originally posted 8/27/18

By Brett Warnke

Dr. Jen Campbell is not tall, loud, or filled with that busy anxiety of most politicians. But Campbell has a thoughtful quality.  And a talk with her about the city’s problems is much like discussing the ailments of a weary organ.  What seems to rile her most, like any good physician, is the untreated and blase patient.  In this case, the city’s leadership, perpetually reacting to San Diego’s crises rather than responding actively to new realities and opportunities.

Dr. Campbell believes her opponent, current Republican District 2 Councilmember Lorie Zapf, serving on the council since 2010 and hoping for a third-term, is part of San Diego’s historical problem of initiative.

“It’s an old story of San Diego,” Campbell said.  “It’s a city that just doesn’t plan ahead.  Especially on infrastructure.  We’re a city that has constantly gone from crisis to crisis.  Zapf is part of this problem.”

Dr. Campbell eked out a slim victory in June against environmental attorney Bryan Pease in June–earning 6,871 to Pease’s 6,375 votes.  Even as a border city in the Trump era, 60% of voters in San Diego County couldn’t be bothered to vote in the June primaries.  But a surge in turnout could propel Campbell to victory over Zapf in District 2 and bring the City Council to a 6:3 veto-proof majority against Republican Mayor Faulconer, a former PR representative for big business and developers.  If Republican Chris Cate is defeated in District 6, the Democratic margin could rise to 7:2.

Councilwoman Zapf has come under criticism from local activists since her election.  In 2014, Shirley Owen, a Zapf staffer, called activists at a swearing in ceremony “fucking idiots with their hands up…I just wanted to shoot them.”  Owen was later suspended without pay.  Zapf also began her run for council in 2010, in the wake of the recession, arguing that San Diego’s “number one problem is our deficit.”.”  Zapf supported privatizing public jobs and argued that “the life was being sucked out of the community” because of overly generous pensions that caused a cut in services and increase in fees around the city.

“Zapf is just ineffective,” Campbell said. “She missed 400 votes in 2 years.  She’s been there how long?  8 years!  She’s just not interested in the details.  Her constituents contact her–they tell me this–she’s just not there.  However, I get things done, I don’t sit around and do nothing.  Zapf brags about how many streets have been paved. Baloney.”

Campbell served on the executive boards of the Clairemont Town Council and San Diego Human Dignity Foundation.  A Bay Ho resident of Clairemont, Campbell spent part of her life as a doctor in Pittsburgh where she attended medical school and practiced.  Campbell was raised in Colorado, in an activist Democratic family where her mother, a Colorado pol and Kennedy delegate in 1960, brought her young daughter to political meetings.

“I learned Robert’s Rules of Order before I could drive,” Campbell said.  “It was my mother who taught me how to knock on doors, how to run for office.”

Reading her polemics against Mayor Faulconer it is obvious the simple parts of the campaign–the slogans and one-liners– are her bread and butter.  Her cousin David Axelrod helped at a December fundraiser, but her political instincts are for the quick and memorable line.  In one 2014 letter she wrote, “Remember everything you need to know you learned while learning to drive.  If you want to go backward, you put it in “R.”  If you want to go forward, you put it in “D.”   And she has campaigned with the slogan she is,“The doctor on call to fix City Hall.”

Campbell’s father was a union machinist and her early memories of that golden age of liberal politics were the anti-Catholic wails on the political right.  In the conservative quarters of the West, before Muslim refugees or transgender bathroom politics heated the fever swamps of the Right, John Kennedy’s run inspired Baptists to denounce the candidacy of a Catholic.

Dr Jen’s family. from her campaign website https://drjen2018.com/

Campbell, a grandmother with 9 grandchildren who lives with her partner Suzanne,  remembers those raw feelings of exclusion, as if the country had litmus tests for candidates, and has criticized her current opponent for anti-gay statements in the past.  Specifically, Campbell cites an email from 2006 in which Lorie Zapf wrote to an anti-gay activist that homosexuality was “a sin.”

“I absolutely want to keep homosexuals out of public office and not be allowed to influence our schools, textbooks, altering marriage, children and on and on,” Zaph wrote.

She later apologized and said her comments were focused on gay activists.

But Campbell says it is the details of policy that animate her candidacy.  With a coastal district, Campbell argues for more renewable energy sources and public transit and supports immediate moves towards community choice energy.  She supports the legalization of marijuana and gives the city council credit for regulating the marijuana industry, a move that San Diego was praised for in the New York Times.

Campbell has called for San Diego to continue diversifying its economy which, once largely relied on tourism, undergoes continued demographic changes.  In regards to a new 20-year plan to double housing in the industrial Midway District, one that would break up blocks into smaller streets with bike lanes, Campbell took the opportunity to attack Zapf for worrying about traffic mitigation far too late in the process.

“We’ve seen our streets crumble, our beaches suffer, and much-needed infrastructure improvements only discussed when it’s politically convenient,” Campbell said.  “There’s no excuse for roads like this.  But roads are the broken things we can see.  There’s also invisible infrastructure needs, too:  undeveloped storm water drainage systems.”

Campbell’s criticism is more systemic than just Zapf’s tenure, it is a broader disgust in the business-as-usual functioning that has helped contribute to intensifying problems in San Diego:  homelessness, coastlines threatened by the impacts of climate change, soaring housing costs, and a continued middle class squeeze.

“The city sneaks behind San Diego’s population, makes decisions, and then all of a sudden people see these changes and realize, ‘Oh my God, we didn’t have a say in it.’

Campbell criticized Mayor Faulconer for not having a request for proposals.

“Why should voters be forced with a false choice for the Qualcomm site?  Soccer City developers got in Faulconer’s ear.  I’m supporting the SDSU West proposal on the November ballot for the stadium site, but it should have been handled differently,” she said.  “The views of citizens should be represented by their representatives.”

Campbell has been a longtime foe of Mayor Faulconer’s pro-business administration.  Campaigning for David Alvarez’s failed candidacy in 2014, she denounced Faulconer as a puppet of city mandarins like Doug Manchester, a gay rights foe, Trump supporter and local right wing media baron who notoriously brought a Playboy Playmate to a children’s charity event.  And Campbell has criticized the Republicans’ subtle reminders of Alvarez’s Latino heritage.

Campbell cites Zapf’s flip-flop on the La Playa Kellog Beach plan, a three-story nine-condominium beachfront high-rise, as another example of the councilwoman’s poor judgement.

“Four years ago when Zapf ran the big builders were trying to put in high rises along Mission Bay.  She must have thought people in Clairemont were asleep.  But people stood up and said no.  She had to flip.  That’s why the citizens don’t trust her.”

But it was San Diego’s $12.5 million colossal blunder in the Hepatitis A outbreak that brought Dr. Campbell into the race for City Council District 2.  After 20 deaths and 578 infections (308 of whom had conditions that should have been vaccinated long before the outbreak), she started her run.  Only after the deaths and the humiliation on the national stage did the city council authorize spending $5.6 million to erect sanitary tent shelters and later another $2.5 million to keep them open, as opposed to the creation of permanent housing.  For Campbell, the outbreak revealed the worsening scourge of homelessness and the deepening inequality of income and access to health care in San Diego.

“For years, grand juries told the city you need public bathrooms,” Campbell said.  “The city ignored it.  When the crisis began, an emergency should have been called much earlier.  434 cases is outrageous.  Third-world countries aren’t that bad.”

Campbell, in addition to supporting a housing first policy like Utah and Houston, also supports the recent compromise on vacation rentals potentially opening up 9,000 home places that are currently rentals.

She criticizes the city’s attorney who had the power to enforce the zoning laws but didn’t.

“The Faulconer Administration didn’t care,” Campbell said of short-term vacation rentals.  “It’s their job to enforce the law and the last 3-4 years our zoning laws simply have not been enforced.  Our housing availability is down to zilch when we’re discussing middle class people.  Developers need incentives to build for all income levels, instead of avoiding requirements by paying a minimal ‘in lieu of’ fee.

She argued that San Diego needs to maintain affordability agreements for the at-risk residents and streamline the permitting process that hinders the creation of granny flats, micro units, and infill development.

In terms of the wider homelessness issues, Campbell recently met with the head of  San Diego’s Regional Task Force on the Homeless head, Gordon Walker, and sited five criteria for reducing homelessness in the city as Houston and Utah have done.  Collaboration, outreach, retrofitting public properties for new homes, mental and social services, and observation and monitoring.  These changes, Campbell claims, would only cost a third as much as leaving the homeless on the street and save taxpayers money.

The outcome of Campbell’s race will be about turnout as well as credit. Will voters give Lorie Zapf credit for seconding the vacation rentals motion, or will voters change and embrace a politics of initiative? We’ll find out come November 6.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Patty August 27, 2018 at 7:49 pm

Nice interview, Brett!


Brett Warnkr August 27, 2018 at 8:08 pm

Thanks, Patty.


Vern August 31, 2018 at 8:17 am

Jen Campbell would do well to address the flight paths along with the increasing plane noise and resulting air pollution.
And with the “new” terminal, the possibility of relaxing and/or removing the existing curfew is looming.

OB & PL = Noise Ghetto


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