Posted by: cantmisssd | December 22, 2010

Overwhelming conservatism

The fundamental quandary of San Diego rears its head again in an Aaryn Belfer column in this week’s CityBeat. It’s possible that this is a shrewdly crafted bit of trompe l’oeil prose, designed to spark support for exactly its counterpoint, and if so- well done. But more likely, it’s an exposition on defeatism dressed up as self-reliance that’s a classic conservative rhetorical gimmick. In the form of a long complaint about people complaining.

It begins by confusing dialog around public policy and the fundamental course of city budgeting with complaining. The premise is that people who attempt to insert fairness into government policy- particularly government policy which invites public input- is foolish, because life isn’t fair. Things happen that aren’t right (cover provided by a litany of liberal laments about Prop 13, marriage equality, immigration reform, and education funding), providing evidence that such things are inevitable and, implicitly, that these things somehow sprung into being without… uh oh… the complex wrangling of competing input from different interest groups. The reality of these and other issues like them is that bad things happened because certain people complained, organized, and took action more effectively than others, and that the inequality they’ve imposed are perpetuated specifically by the outlook that people should stop complaining.

But at an even more fundamental level, it’s horribly depressing to contemplate the argument that because life often is not fair (for inescapable, essentially random reasons), government should mirror and even amplify this condition of life rather than attempt to mitigate the same. Even more than that, people are obnoxious whiners if they attempt to improve their lot in life. This passionate argument for mush-minded malaise and the supremacy of an unstoppable elite is the quintessential argument for conservatism: Do not question your lot, do not challenge the establishment, do not participate or lobby for change. Bad things will be visited on you because it’s just the way it works for you in this world.

This is the sort of ‘people power’ that’s been peddled by the right in recent years in San Diego, mobilizing people to take limited control of a small piece of their civic lives while trading away much larger pieces. Playing public vs private, district vs district, insider vs outsider, all towards the end of radicalizing the distribution of power and locking in the concentrated control at the top. Leave the big stuff to the big boys and get increasingly angry over fighting for the crumbs.

That it comes in the context of exasperated liberalism just proves the deeper point- San Diego has deeply internalized conservatism, and for the most part is only able to layer progressivism on top. That leaves a narrow range for anything to ever improve, and it’s a great challenge before the left.

Posted by: cantmisssd | December 21, 2010

Quick question

As I jet off to visit the east coast megalopolis- Why shouldn’t San Diego be aspiring to dramatically more? Is lack of ambition part of the civic DNA? Is density anathema to San Diego’s raison d’etre? Flip the question- why is so much of San Diego’s design predicated on being inside buildings or cars?

Given incredible inherent benefits of San Diego, why are grand aspirations left to the people who can pay for them instead of people who could benefit from them?

Posted by: cantmisssd | December 14, 2010

Event Calendar

Just a bit of housekeeping- I’ve added an “Event Calendar” link to your right, where I’ll be keeping track of art, music, community and political events that I find interesting and that I’ll be trying to attend. It’s admittedly crude and definitely both incomplete and subjective, but hopefully goes a little ways towards the notion of marrying political involvement, community investment, and general fun. I’ll highlight particularly good stuff from time to time, but the calendar will always be available.

Posted by: cantmisssd | December 13, 2010

People talking

Ended up in a fascinating twitter discussion last week about the nature of the budget debate around town. It helped focus a number of my thoughts on what is and isn’t happening and why.

I said a bit recently about Carl DeMaio’s proposed cuts to the city’s arts grant program, and that’s really my only piece on it at this point. The debate continues to rage all over the place though, with nearly anyone with a finger in the San Diego arts community weighing in and KPBS piling on to the continuing VoSD coverage. As a number of folks have pointed out in and around the discussion, it’s a whole lot of chatter about a minor piece of a sweeping budget proposal that doesn’t inherently carry any weight or influence on the eventual budget. Which highlights the fascinating angle involved- why *does* this matter so much to people when really, it doesn’t matter all that much?

The easy answer is, like I said last week, people love to kvetch about this topic. But it also highlights one of the first lessons of political school- nobody ever stops forming their opinions, and a vacuum gets filled. The Prop D campaign, for all the many angles involved, boiled down to the Yes side pitching a pragmatic solution and the No side responding with an ideological objection. The ideological objection resonated, was much easier for the general public to internalize and extrapolate, and now provides the framework for a broad messaging effort against the notion of a government that can be trusted to work.

So there was an involved reaction from a Mayor spox essentially saying that reacting four months before the budget is due to a proposal that has no inherent weight, and Carl DeMaio doesn’t really matter all that much. Fair enough. But clearly, these conversations are happening with or without the participation of all the relevant players. And in that space, those who do participate have increasing influence and relevance when it comes to the substance of budget wrangling.

One of the interesting aspects of online networking and debate is that it’s easier to watch these discussions develop and evolve over time. Where once these conversations would happen informally and in person, they now increasingly happen on Twitter, in comment sections, on Facebook, wherever. And these tools have the capacity to drive issues both in direction and visibility because of the building record that in-person conversation lacks. Which allows for influence to be largely relative- the people who show up become the contenders for influence, regardless of their objective merits for such influence.

I understand that there’s a long history in San Diego of not being political about politics. And I’m certainly conscious that there are long-standing power structures and organized bases of influence that don’t wave flags in public, online arenas. But the notion of major business just kinda happening outside of significant public input and oversight is slowly fading, and there’s mounting momentum for constructing a new, pseudo-outsider base of political power. It’s easy- and often proper- to skim over this chatter. Most of it isn’t more than chatter for its own sake. But in the absence of real engagement and meaningful avenues for education and participation, chatter for its own sake has a way of turning into prevailing wisdom.

There’s an existential conversation happening in San Diego about what government will be and how the city is functioning. And in these discussions, many supposed city leaders are startlingly absent. If the city’s political leaders, advocacy organizations, or political parties want to lead, they have to first participate. And not to wield influence by being reactionary and trying to refute what came before, but by being a better leader. Setting a better example. Demonstrating that the people who are half-assing it are, in fact, not serious. Without making the comparison available to the public, the distinction can’t be made.

Posted by: cantmisssd | December 6, 2010

Updating Balboa Park

After spending far too long outside the public discourse, Balboa Park is back ahead of big plans for the 100th Anniversary celebration of the California-Panama Exposition in 2015. Scott Lewis has an excellent rundown of what’s been cooking and what challenges remain in efforts to revamp the heart of the park. The crux of plan, backed by a number of local philanthropists, is to reclaim Plaza de Panama from cars and turn it into pedestrian space. The current notion involves re-routing traffic through the Alcazar Garden parking lot and building a parking garage south of the organ pavilion.

The crux of this plan was nailed several weeks ago at dsoderblog: Reclaiming the plaza is good, doubling down on cars is bad. As a secondary point, (potentially) finding private funding in the form of a conservancy to support badly needed park improvements is good, but establishing the precedent that the city is not responsible for maintaining public space is dangerous.

As I noted at dsoderblog, the new plan for Balboa Park belies San Diego’s consistent resistance to non-car transportation. The necessity (such as it is) to maintain and even expand parking at Balboa Park comes from the lack of other options to reach the centerpiece of San Diego. Public transportation isn’t a realistic connector between the park (and by extension the zoo) to most of San Diego, especially including major tourist areas. Which means that virtually everyone has to drive to Balboa Park. While laudable in its goal of reclaiming space from cars, the Jacobs plan as it currently stands wouldn’t address this challenge at all. Rather, it would cement (pun intended) the car-based disposition of the park for decades.

Whether developing public transportation that actually connects to Balboa Park or simply decentralizing the parking even further, there’s no reason that the park needs to be so reliant on having parking in the heart of its attractions. The Hillcrest to downtown streetcar could help with this if it connects to the trolley. Moving the new parking capacity to Inspiration Point, south of the 5, or even into Bankers Hill as an instrument of helping revitalize that strip could all help maintain accessibility without tearing up the park for different roads and more parking.

It’s great that there’s finally momentum to make Balboa Park more inviting for visitors. But if we can’t get beyond parking as a top priority, the pieces are just getting shuffled without bringing major changes. And while private funds to drive redevelopment is encouraging, it belies the difficulties of privatization- public input may be invited, but there’s not necessarily a meaningful mechanism for public oversight of what essentially becomes a private project. Such accountability as there is must be filtered through so many layers of public/private bureaucracy as to be effectively moot. There’s no reason to doubt the good intentions of these Balboa Park supporters, but there’s no reason to take their eventual product on blind faith either.

This momentum provides an opportunity for deep and lasting changes that can do more than essentially move a parking lot. It’s crucial to fight to make sure it does.

Posted by: cantmisssd | December 3, 2010

What the Walmart fight means

In an often raucous hearing yesterday, the City Council voted 503 to override a mayoral veto and institute new requirements for giant big-box superstores in the city. Requirements that any store more than 90,000 square feet not have an adverse impact on the neighborhood around it are relatively benign, but WalMart fought against it tooth and nail, including tv ads- presumably because they know, as many of the rest of us do, that it’s impossible for a store that size NOT to have an adverse impact on its community.

The story of the superstore impact has been told time and time again. In every case, small businesses go under, wages decrease, unemployment increases. More people end up receiving public aid, fewer people can afford health care. Land value drops, and it’s harder for new businesses to move in or local residents to start new businesses. It’s a disaster every single time, and the most telling evidence in support of that is that WalMart doesn’t even try to present evidence to dispute it. It’s a victory to have even this small restraint on giant corporations trying to pillage our struggling neighborhood economies, but it also speaks to the same larger themes that persist in San Diego.

Jay Porter does a good job introducing the point that WalMart and others like it have explicitly designed a profit structure reliant on driving down the quality of every good and service in our lives. There’s really no dispute about that, even among many of those who backed the idea of a WalMart superstore in San Diego. Which is how it continues to succeed- it pops up wherever and whenever people are struggling, and hopes that individual desperation will trump the larger picture. It’s an effective model, and understandably so. In this case it ran directly down the social faultlines that run through San Diego and the heart of city hall.

There’s a not-accidental poetry that this WalMart issue is timed with debate over the CCDC cap, redevelopment proposals for the Convention Center, and closing the city’s budget gap. The overlaying issues is how development focus will be spread throughout the city equitably, and how to change the discussion about government towards how to government as well as possible.

Are the initial sketches of the Convention Center expansion rather questionable financially? Um… yes. But just as important, even if that investment broke even, would it be the best use of those resources? Given the desperation expressed by so many in District 4’s struggling neighborhoods, one certainly can’t say ‘yes’ out of hand.

Was there anything fundamentally wrong with the process of lifting the CCDC cap? Maybe, maybe not. But is that the best target for redevelopment even if everything is done within the rules? Driving down Commercial Street a few blocks beyond CCDC would suggest perhaps not.

Because of the limitations of time and resources, often long-term plans and projects are judged based on whether or not they can be justified relative to themselves. That is, can the supporters convince enough people that the project will at least be not a big enough problem to fight about. The debate that often doesn’t happen in a meaningful way, particularly by the time these plans reach top levels and go public, is whether the resources in question are being optimized.

It’s easy to say that investing forever in downtown creates a business magnet that generates tax revenue in a cycle that feeds on itself into infinity. But is that a more meaningful boost to the city’s bottom line or the general population outside of downtown than serious investment in less-sexy projects to break struggling communities out of the cycle of poverty?

Detroit is wrestling with some of the same challenges we see in District 4, ground zero for the big-box fight yesterday. With chain grocery stores uninterested in operating within the city, the local government has been exploring innovative ways to support the locally-owned small grocers. It “is trying to provide additional assistance, such as by helping grocers find financing, secure the zoning they need, and organize focus groups to help fine-tune their product mix.” And in the process, there’s been a re-investment in community connections and pride of ownership that, if replicated, could help significantly to change the face of struggling neighborhoods.

That model is harder though, and hasn’t exactly been a priority in San Diego planning. But since food is such an important piece of everyone’s life, the article reminds that grocers have an opportunity to be not just a community anchor of necessity, but to be a reflection of the community’s character by embracing specialty foods and adapting to the shopping needs and habits of the local residents. Big chain supermarkets don’t have that ability, and WalMart sure as hell doesn’t have that ability. But meaningful engagement to build up locally-owned businesses with connections to the community, businesses that reinforce neighborhood pride, support the unique aspects of the community, and build character can help fill that gap with a long-term foundation instead of box-box superstores that only further erode things.

It’s easy for big money downtown developers to get the ear of lawmakers, and difficult to organize people- especially people who are busy struggling to get by. But it’s vital to talk more about what’s best and less about what we can put up with.

Posted by: cantmisssd | December 2, 2010

Arts funding as proxy

Between Carl DeMaio and Kelly Bennett, it looks like we’ve established that people love to kvetch about public funding for the arts. And, apparently, I’m no different.

DeMaio’s plan is to fire four people to save $330,000, and cut about $1.5 million in grants to non-profits. And as usual, the deficit zombies have descended en masse to make things up about the nature of city services and budgeting. The same, tired arguments are all there- art is an optional toy for rich people, police coverage is more important, government is too big anyways, someone has to suffer in tough times. We get these arguments every time out of the gate, and all of them are silly and beside the point.

First, to quickly run down the defense of the arts. These aren’t just throwaway vanity projects. These are people with long-standing jobs and careers who are losing their jobs. And these aren’t just rich people going to elaborate stage shows. They are implicit or explicit after-school programs that keep kids engaged in creative and intellectual projects. They’re job-training programs that teach critical thinking and creativity in addition to trades from carpentry to fashion production to management. They make public spaces more inviting, attracting traffic that becomes customers. And to crib from John Keating, we all need to engage in the work to keep society functioning. But poetry, beauty, romance, love; these are what we stay alive for. But in this case, all of this is beside the point.

These cuts will make no significant impact on the budget shortfall before the city. Not only that, it will do nothing to address the systemic budget failures that created this shortfall and will continue to create shortfalls. Instead, it’s a political tool being wielded by DeMaio for a broader purpose. Debate over whether and how to cut the city arts budget is really a debate over how to address the notion of government. Instead of talking about all ways to close the budget gap, this shifts the debate to simply what the government should not be and what options there are for killing it. It’s often a subtle distinction, but one that makes a huge difference. The debate implicitly accepts the notion that the fundamental budget problem is an overextension of government. Which is hardly a settled case.

I’ve recently been told that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to advocate a progressive vision of government in a bad economy. The supposition is that progressivism requires disposable income and focuses on the development of comparative luxuries. This, frankly, is ridiculous. Progressive government is about operating within the full scope of real and measurable impact, and about not dressing up post-modern corporate colonialism in the false principles of fiscal discipline. So the question for arts funding is not “do we need it more or less than police?” The question to be asked is whether that money can have a larger, more effective impact either in another part of the public budget or by being invested in the private sector.

But despite the insistence of free market automotons, there is no invisible hand to ensure that private investment and management delivers anything close to the greatest good for the greatest number (I know! Commie!), or the most cost effective solutions, or programs that benefit the broader economy. It doesn’t work in the macro sense with the arts just like it didn’t work with Blackwater, it didn’t work with Enron, it didn’t work for anyone whose retirement plan was being managed on Wall Street in 2007, and it didn’t work when BP and Halliburton went drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Because privatization cripples oversight capability, and effectively destroys any hope for transparency. So when (not if) money gets wasted, it goes into the pockets of corrupt CEOs.

When the basis for reform debate is about how to cut and reduce instead of how to maximize returns and provide every effective service, we’re only talking about how soon we can drown government in the bathtub. We aren’t talking about positive results. We aren’t talking about making lives better. We aren’t even talking about how to strengthen the private sector. The anti-government wormhole can’t possibly help anything.

Posted by: cantmisssd | November 30, 2010

Just remember, Carl DeMaio wants you to fail

Since I’m already talking city council this week, it’s as good a time as any to tackle the elephant in the room- Carl DeMaio.

If Donna Frye has exemplified non-partisan pragmatism, DeMaio is the polar opposite. He has proven to be fundamentally driven by an anti-government, pro-corporatist ideology straight out of the Norquist drown-government-in-a-bathtub instruction book. And it works, partly because there’s no coherent counterpoint being offered, and partly because it’s so good at proving itself. The formula is extremely simple, and Republicans in recent years have lathered, rinsed, and repeated across the country: Run for office on a platform that government can’t fix problems, win office, refuse to fix anything, be right. As an added bonus, in San Diego as most places, it’s much easier to obstruct than to govern- particularly if that’s your only goal.

And DeMaio’s goal is essentially that simple. Having founded two multi-million dollar companies by age 30 and then selling them, DeMaio is now desperate to pull up the ladder behind him. Without a doubt he’s earned his money (don’t ask him how much though, he doesn’t like that), but it means that if his personal fortune hasn’t already set him up for life, he’s plugged deep enough into the GOP welfare machine to ensure he’ll be fine. So it’s patently absurd when he claims shared sacrifice on principle by passing up his city pension. Even if he puts a principled dress on it, his sacrifice simply isn’t commensurate with the average city employee any more than Jay Leno giving up one car is the same as me giving up one car. I only have one.

The foundation of his budget reform plan is that public employees are overcompensated and city services should be privatized. Overcompensated relative to private employees, privatize city services because it’s cheaper. Private sector compensation and billing have dropped dramatically in recent years because private enterprise ran amok, destroyed the economy, and has been forced into layoffs, pay reductions and price cuts to stay afloat.

In other words, DeMaio’s plan is that since the private sector has performed so poorly, it’s now our government’s responsibility to mirror its failures and give it more control. And as a result, services should be lower quality, compensation across the city should drop further, and to prepare for retirement people should utilize the market that just destroyed the retirement plans of millions of Americans.

Even shorter, that the failure of the private market justifies doubling down to cement that failure and trap as many as possible in that failure. His goal is failure; To reward failure and encourage deeper failure.

Why? Because when more people make less money and lead lower-quality lives, they’re easier to control and it’s more profitable to the rich. The middle class is where the next round of millionaires will come from, so it’s important to cut them off early if your goal is to protect the castle. The fewer “haves” there are, the more they each get to actually have, and that’s DeMaio’s actual constituency.

Despite dressing up his objections in carefully crafted reform language, DeMaio is the obvious heir to the Target: San Diego legacy, complete with the deep institutional connections of a GOP lifer. His wise budget perspectives have previously served Arnold Schwarzenegger and George W. Bush, both of whom presided over historic economic downturns immediately following DeMaio’s advice. He was even a key influence on Bush’s Management Agenda to make government more “citizen-centered, market-based, and results-oriented.” That plan helped guide the Bush Administration’s actions on governmental and economic policy. Which worked out… not so great. And caused many of the failures that DeMaio and others now point to as supposed proof that you probably aren’t suffering enough if someone else is suffering more.

Besides, his pious waxing about transparency isn’t actually backed up by action unless it suits him. The media and citizens who have made the request are still hoping today will be the day that his office finally releases the cost of producing his fiscal reform plan- weeks after the plan itself was released. City funds to produce and disseminate a report from which he’ll run for mayor. Not illegal, but not a story he wants. Big talk about transparency, but it takes weeks to drag basic fiscal information from his office.

The thing is, as an artform, DeMaio is much better at politics than anyone he’s yet come up against- or worked with. He can sit at the council and orchestrate obstruction until doomsday, and time his proposal on a particular issue however and whenever it suits him. Because nobody else is in a position to effectively press the issue (whatever given issue might come up). He’s not even all that good at it, he just hasn’t been meaningfully challenged so far.

So DeMaio is persuasive. Heck, even if he wasn’t, you might agree with his pro-corporate, pseudo-libertarian, low-wages, anti-worker philosophy. But let’s be clear about his goals: Reduce the general standard of living as much as possible, make as many people as possible poor and malleable, structure a system that maximizes profit for a narrow group of elites, reap the benefits of serving those elites (hopefully by becoming one).

There’s no question that tough economic times force tough decisions, and someone is going to have to hurt in the process. If that were all that was going on here, it would be unpleasant but it would be necessary and fine in its way. But this isn’t just about how to balance a troubled budget. It’s a fight over what government is and isn’t, what services should and should not exist, and whether San Diego is willing to remain focused on its long-term systemic well-being in the midst of temporary crisis. DeMaio is hoping no.

How to get there? Drive an economic collapse from the private sector, demand that it’s the government’s fault and the private sector is the solution, use the immediacy of crisis to steamroll opposition. It’s Karl Rove’s attack-from-your-weakness 101, and it’s well-executed. It just also happens to be a house of cards, and the play for DeMaio and those like him is to be sufficiently insulated by the time it all comes crashing down. Agree or don’t, but let’s all at least be clear about what we’re talking about.

Posted by: cantmisssd | November 29, 2010

Government in inaction

As a bridge between today’s post and tomorrow’s, this article is fascinating. It’s a brilliant illustration of a half-assed concession from the self-fulfilling prophesy department in San Diego that they’re just throwing up their hands about crime in the name of demagoguing and passing responsibility.

First, Councilmember Kevin Faulconer talks about the regulatory failures surrounding marijuana dispensaries, apparently effectively throwing his hands up about the issue while community members NIMBY around to various degrees. Then the SDPD Community Relations Officer, echoing Faulconer, declares that since marijuana is still being illegally smuggled and sold in the U.S., the dispensaries are necessarily operating illegally. Or, of course, there’s still a huge black market for drugs because there isn’t sufficient legal access. But whatever, a remote hint of logic isn’t necessary in a case like this.

Second, debate moved to the possibility of adding a bike lane on India Street between Laurel and Washington. The officer declares that people will speed recklessly and illegally no matter what through the corridor, so a bike lane is dangerous. A reassuring message from law enforcement- they’re just writing off certain crimes with the potential to injure or kill people as unavoidable obstacles that need to be accommodated. Nevermind the option to add stop signs or lights or raised crosswalks or a number of other options- pedestrians and bike riders will just have to learn to live with drivers engaging in illegal, life-threatening behavior because “They got tired of sitting at the airport waiting for their relatives. Now they’re just like, ‘Get me the hell out of this area,’ so they’re racing up Laurel Street, they’re making the turn and they’re racing to get on this freeway.”

Really, this is just the intersection of lack of will and lack of capability. Public servants refuse or are unable to provide services in their job description, thus demonstrating that public services cannot work. Community relations indeed.

[Update] I would add, of course, that if the logic of the first were applied to the second, it would be assumed that everyone driving was doing something illegal and nobody would be allowed to drive. Instead, non-addictive marijuana that only carries a “bad element” because the community around it has been criminalized sparks hysterical outcry while the police tell us that if we try to walk or bike down the street in our community, it’s just assumed that people will be driving so recklessly it may kill us, and that’s just the way it is. Priorities.

Posted by: cantmisssd | November 29, 2010

The accidental Donna Frye disaster

As one of the closing pieces of election post-mortem season, Andrew Donohue over the long weekend has a telling exit interview with departing councilmember and accidental political icon Donna Frye. As I’ve noted elsewhere, it might be the most revealing illustration of the failed San Diego left in recent memory.

Donna Frye has built an excellent body of work in her time on the city council, and it will stand on its own without grand declarations of legacy. But if her departure prompts reflection on her personal achievements, it must also lead to a discussion of what’s gone on around and because of her, even if she was never more than incidentally involved.

In a story that’s been told over and over for years, Frye is pressed in the interview to reveal future plans or delve into personal reflection, and she mostly refuses. She rejects the notion of examining or declaring legacy, and as usual begs off being a standard bearer for the left. Asked about the lack of viable Democratic candidates, Frye flatly replies “I just don’t think about it much quite honestly.” And on being thrust to the top by Dems without other options, “I just think, ‘Isn’t there someone else?'”

Just that quickly, she reflects what has made her so individually effective and why Democrats overall have struggled so mightily around her. Frye has never made any bones about who she is and how she sees her role: She’s in it to advocate open and clean government from a non-partisan perspective. She has a few issues that matter- providing city services, protecting the environment- and she’ll battle nobly for inches on those issues. She’s never pretended to be the face of the Democratic Party. She’s never been interested in partisan battling or even principled debate over differing fundamental outlooks on the nature of government. She’s a populist and a technocrat, but she’s not getting sucked into the existential struggles over how we’re going to build 21st century San Diego. And in the process, she accidentally set the standard for San Diego Democrats.

This is the great collapse of Democrats in the last decade and the great challenge upcoming. How, collectively, do San Diego Democrats break out of the ‘open meetings and closed potholes’ mentality? Republicans aren’t wasting their time on that stuff, partly because unresponsive government proves the point of the modern GOP, and partly because there are much bigger fish to fry. While Dems focus on winning voters back a block at a time without ideology, Republicans are continuing to articulate a fully-formed and ideologically-based worldview that transcends and ultimately buries those smaller-scale issues. If the Carl DeMaios of San Diego successfully argue that government is fundamentally broken and unable to responsibly administer funds and services, that takes precedence over trash pickup when voters go to the polls. Call it partisan, call it ideological, call it whatever you want- the battle is happening and only one side is currently fighting.

San Diegans have tried for years to make Donna Frye the face of the Democratic revival, and they half succeeded. They modeled the rebuilt party after her, but without her investment. She never wanted it, never claimed to. And since Donna Frye has been focused on the mechanics of government and only incidentally been a Democrat when it comes to the politics around governing, the party in her image is likewise only incidentally ideological and thus mostly devoid of effective advocates, messages, and ideas to compete with the right. Because the party is built to model Donna Frye.

As she leaves the council, it’s time to reflect on what’s come of her near-decade at city hall. Donna Frye as a councilmember has been a Godsend for San Diego, and she will be missed sorely. Her work on environmental issues has been herculean, and her strides to open the process of government have been incredible. But frankly, she will be all the more sorely missed because of the city council heirs she accidentally inspired. Donna Frye as an idea, co-opted through no fault of her own by desperate Democrats, has mostly been a disaster as Democrats followed her anti-partisanship down the wormhole.

In the years when Donna Frye was the only Democrat who could muster viability in the city, the party morphed into a functional imitation of her style. The result? Donna Frye could never get over the hump citywide, Obama voters elected two city councilmembers and the left has lost almost everything else. The populist, precinct-by-precinct, door-to-door, individual-responsiveness model is vital work that’s integral to rebuilding a functional Democratic Party and a workable coalition on the left. But it requires serious advocates for why a different vision of government and community deserves a place at the table.

That was never Donna Frye, and it wasn’t fair to ever expect it of her. So far, it isn’t anyone else either. There’s an opportunity for that to change, but only if someone is willing to take the lumps and do the work. Until then, this is a one party town.

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