Boxing Match for City Attorney at OB Town Council Zoom Meeting

by on September 3, 2020 · 3 comments

in Election, Ocean Beach

It got a little testy at the August 26 online Zoom meeting of the Ocean Beach Town Council when the two candidates for City Attorney spared. City attorney Mara Elliott and candidate Cory Briggs took verbal swings at each other over issues that concern people at the coast, such as short-term rentals and sidewalk vending.

(We must rely on Steven Mihailovich’s report on the meeting in the Point Loma-OB Monthly, a publication of the San Diego Union-Tribune, and on Dave Schawb’s article in the Peninsula Beacon, a member of the San Diego Community News Group – as the OB Rag does not have a reporter who can sit for three hours and write a report for minimum wage. – If you know of one, let us know.)

Both candidates gave introductory – and closing – remarks and answered questions from “audience” members.

Mara Elliott:

“My job is to protect San Diego and we’ve been responding to the pandemic left and right to protect families from eviction. We’ve been working with businesses to try and cut red tape so they could reopen safely and survive this crisis. We’ve responded to domestic violence by increasing the number of prosecutors we have.”

“I have committed my career to public service and I’m passionate about protecting taxpayers. He (Briggs) makes a living out of suing the City. He’s sued the City more than 80 times, usually based on some kind of technicality. But the purpose, of course, is to fund himself.”

Cory Briggs:

“I am the taxpayer advocate in the race. I’m running for three reasons: I want to end politics in the office. I want the City Attorney’s legal work to make not headlines for the City Attorney, but a difference in your (public’s) life. The City Attorney’s office should be working on issues important to you (taxpayers), not the City Attorney’s political career. I want the office to be fully transparent. I want to restore confidence in the quality of lawyering coming out of the office.”

“You need a lawyer who actually knows how to be a lawyer. I’m the only candidate who’s made a payroll, the only candidate who’s advised small-businesses. I don’t take money or endorsements from lobbyists. I’m beholden only to taxpayers and voters, and I only take donations from regular San Diegans.”

Short-Term Vacation Rentals

On the issue of short-term rentals, the candidates were asked how they could be shut down in residential zones, since they’re illegal in those zones. In her response, Elliott criticized a piecemeal enforcement and verbally showcased her office’s recent prosecution of a “party” short-term rental in Bankers Hill. She argued that further regulations are required to clearly define STVRs so enforcement can be implemented broadly.

“Bring a civil action that can take up to two years on each of the 14,000 to 16,000 STVRs (in the city)?” she said. “That’s no way to handle this problem. … We must have regulations because it gives us the ability to enforce immediately so that people don’t have to wait for that.”

“We need to have reasonable regulations on the books, and the code says that if the use is not listed, it’s not permitted, not allowed,” she said. “I’m looking for leadership from the mayor and council to create (new) regulations that will give us the ability to enforce them immediately. We need real solutions. We need real leadership.”

Briggs had a different view, of course. He noted that the city regularly collects taxes from established venues. He promised that, if elected, he would go after the “big fish.” “I would go after the biggest fish first, send them a cease-and-desist order, and if they don’t respond within 30 days, we would begin legal proceedings to have them shut down,” he said. “We can make a big dent in the problem quickly.”

He said, “We know what STVRs are. We know how they differ from somebody renting out a room to a college student or a friend. … We know exactly who it is. It’s a question of whether you have a spine, not whether you need a new regulation on the books.”

“We don’t need a mayor to make a decision to do the enforcement,” Briggs said. “Short-term rentals are not permitted under our code and they are illegal. What we need is a City Attorney with the spine to do the enforcement.” Ironically, it was Elliott who in 2016 declared short-term vacation rentals as illegal – not permissible in residential zones. The obvious lack of enforcement came from Mayor Faulconer, she and other critics of STVRs have maintained.

Sidewalk Vendors

The candidates were asked to give their views on a city ordinance to regulate sidewalk vending, such as residents have seen at OB’s Vets plaza and between Mission Beach and PB on the Boardwalk. The 2018 passage of the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act (SB 946) by the state prohibits municipalities from banning street vendors.

Briggs claimed that existing public health rules on food handling and unobstructed public access to beaches in compliance with laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act could be enforced while awaiting a comprehensive city ordinance.

“There’s been a law on the books the last three years now that requires the City to adopt a new set of rules if you want to regulate multiple sidewalk vendors,” said Briggs. “However, provisions in the law allow the City to enforce rules that are already on the books. For example, the City is allowed to enforce health regulations for vendors or anybody else selling food. We can also enforce the Americans With Disabilities Act, which prevents people from blocking the sidewalk.”

Noting recent gym closures based on COVID-19 safety measures, Briggs said: “There’s nothing to stop her office from enforcing the same rules down on the beach. … This isn’t the sort of thing where we all need to get together and have a therapy session and talk it out. Enforce the rules that are on the books right now.”

Elliott responded, “The (vending) laws on the books don’t work because they’re trying to piecemeal a framework. We need to solidify the legal requirements, respectful of all the interests involved. We care about the pushcart immigrants and how they’re making a living. There has to be a balance. Our communities need to figure out what is the next step.”

Elliott said the process for drafting a thorough city ordinance with community input, which could include limited street vending permits, was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. She said stopgap measures until a law is enacted are beyond the city attorney’s legal authority and must come from the mayor and City Council.

“The piecemeal approach, which is exactly what we’re using with STVRs, is a total and complete failure,” Elliott said. “Are we really going to insert ourselves so we can headline-grab? That’s not a lack of spine. That’s a brain. … We follow the law. We don’t take our clients on this long, convoluted road that’s not going to solve the problem.”

Police Commission on Ballot

Steven Mihailovich reported that “tempers flared during a question about the candidates’ views on a city ballot measure in November that would replace the current Community Review Board on Police Practices with a commission empowered to conduct investigations and subpoena witnesses and documents in cases of civilian deaths by police.”

Briggs accused Elliott of bringing forward a competing proposal to the City Council to put on the ballot instead. Elliott “bristled at the claim” and explained she was suggesting changes to strengthen the current Community Review Board. She told Briggs, “You’re either not telling the truth or you don’t get it.”

Briggs supported the ballot measure, and although Elliott abstained from commenting about it because her office writes the pro and con arguments for the official ballot, she strongly promoted civilian oversight of the police in general.

The discussion also got heated over other issues. Elliott stated, “As the first woman to lead this office and a Latina and mom, I’ll tell you, every woman politician hears this — ‘We don’t trust her. We don’t have confidence in her.’ That is just one of the oldest playbooks, and I’m tired of the misogyny that has come about through this campaign.”

Briggs countered, “I don’t care about any aspect of you as a candidate except your performance as the city attorney. The public’s entitled to know what you do well, and you’ll tell them. The public’s entitled to know what you did poorly, and I will tell them. This has nothing to do with misogyny.”

Both candidates supported bolstering successful programs to end homelessness as alternatives to criminal prosecution of wrongdoing resulting from living on the streets. Both candidates also backed strong legal actions against polluters.

In closing, Elliott said, “The City Attorney is a really important job. We’re the checks and balances for what happens at the City. This is not an experimental position. I bring to it over 25 years of experience being a public sector lawyer. This is what I do. This is where my heart is. Cory Briggs is the antithesis of that. He has made a career out of suing government entities.”

Briggs concluded, “I am the taxpayers advocate in this campaign. I haven’t spent my career in government, and I’m proud of it. I’m also proud of having successfully held government accountable with the taxpayers and the voters.”

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar Ted Bohannon September 4, 2020 at 2:04 pm

Electing Cory Briggs as City Attorney is like buying a fox to protect your hen house.

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sealintheSelkirks sealintheSelkirks September 4, 2020 at 7:52 pm

Unfortunately Ted, there are a lot of chickens that are lacking critical thinking skills in the San Diego henhouse…

sealintheSelkirks

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Avatar Geoff Page September 8, 2020 at 1:49 pm

Perhaps you did not have time to provide some actual information in your comment, which is just a throwaway opinion from nowhere as it is. Got any specifics, Ted?

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