February 17, 2011

What did the November Election Mean?

Poway politics is all about land use. Our city council makes no decisions about gay marriage, abortion, "death panels", gun control or "obamacare". They do make decisions about who gets variances, where apartments and affordable housing will be located, just how big of a Wal-Mart can be fit into our "downtown" and who gets to have an auto repair shop right next to their backyard.

Poway council positions are nonpartisan. But if they were, traditional parties like Democrat or Republican or even "Tea Party" wouldn't really fit. Poway political divisions are geographic: North v South and zonal: "large lot" v "small lot".

Poway really isn't the "city in the country", despite that being our motto. Poway is a suburb in the San Diego metropolitan area. We are not "country" in the sense that people living on rural acreage have farms or agriculture related entities as their primary business. Some do, but most do not. Most commute to a job in another city and they also shop and play somewhere besides Poway.

The "city" part of Poway is not the traditional urban area either. What city has such long blocks or sidewalks that abruptly end at entrances to retail establishments? The multifamily housing that is being built in Poway's urban area doesn't quite fit with the shallow commercial corridor that was designed from behind the steering wheel of a car. The "highest and best possible use" of the urban areas is to increase the revenue stream of Poway, not to enhance the quality of life of the people who live there. Quality of life is for north Poway.

Poway politics did not start out as North v South (or "big lot" people v. "small lot" people). Originally, it was us v the county. We incorporated to get control of our own destiny, especially to keep developers from foisting something crappy down our throats and near to our backyards. The first couple of years, we were all in the game together, at least, in my opinion.
Then three things happened. The first was that Poway formed a redevelopment agency in 1983. The second thing is that Don Higginson and Linda Brannon were elected to council in 1986, defeating incumbents Linda Oravec and Mary Shepardson. Higginsons and Brannon's election meant that the door was open for developers and that the entire Poway city council was from north Poway.

The third thing that happened was that North Poway got Prop FF passed. Prop FF was a very trickily worded proposition that primarily prevents any density increases, commercial or industrial development or any affordable apartments from being built in north Poway. We were no longer "in this together". South Poway has struggled to get a fair shake ever since. Most of the decisions about land use in south Poway are made by people who live in north Poway and do not have to deal with the consequences of their decisions.

People in south Poway do not feel well represented. The November 2010 election results clearly demonstrate that the results in both the council and mayoral elections correlate with both the north/south divisions and big lot/small lot divisions. Click on the map to make it larger.

In the race for mayor, incumbent Don Higginson won with 54%. Nick Stavros, the challenger got 46% of the vote. Those results are the closest results ever for a mayoral re-election in Poway. Last time Higginson won by a landslide. Not so this time. Stavros, like Higginson, is a north Powegian. But he tapped into the angst and dissatisfaction that is more predominate in south Poway. When I graphed the results on a precinct map, I found that the results were very zonal and correlate to the land use. Precincts that are predominately zoned for large lots went for Higginson in a strong way, especially in the northern part of the city. On the other hand, Stavros' support was strongest in small lot/ south Poway, particularly in the areas near to Poway Rd.,Community and Midland Rds. The only part of South Poway that Higginson did particularly well in was part of Rancho Arbolitos.

The same pattern shows up in the council race. Click on the map to make it larger.

Incumbents John Mullin and Carl Kruse both did far better in north Poway than in south Poway. Challengers Dave Grosch and Pete Babich were just the opposite. Their strength was in south Poway. The precincts that were most unhappy with the incumbents were the precincts near to the Arbolitos Sports Field and the precincts near to Poway, Community and Midland Rd.

John Mullin did the best of all the candidates. He did particularly well in the big lot areas of north Poway. He came through and got their water rates reduced. Advantage to the big lots. He is their guy.

Carl Kruse also voted to restructure the water rates, but Carl didn't even bother campaigning. I would also like to point out that Carl Kruse has never once even responded to my emails about the unfair sewer rates.

Pete Babich and Dave Grosch's results are similar, although Grosch's numbers are stronger. Grosch's election is an upset. It is only the second election in Poway history where an incumbent lost. This time, an incumbent north Powegian lost and was replaced by a south Powegian.

So what does it all mean?
Does Poway need term limits? District elections?
Is the south now ascending?

My best guess is that south Poway will still be under-represented for a long time. This election was unique because the death of Mickey Cafagna and the recall of Betty Rexford got rid of some oldies from the council and opened the door to some newbies. Well, at least one newbie. Mullin has been around for awhile, but Grosch is a new face. Term limits and/or district elections would be a useful way of shaking things up every once in a while and possibly getting someone in who listens to the folks in south Poway, as well as to the folks in north Poway. The real problem with electing the same people over and over again is that they become tone deaf to all but their base, and they quit even pretending to care about the rest of us.

Term limits will be discussed at the council this Tuesday. If you support or oppose term limits, please send an email to the council and share your thoughts with them. There is a chance that the new guy just might listen.

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