Encinitas' Congressman Darrell Issa has apparently relented under the non-stop pressure and finally agreed to meet with his constituents, holding town hall meetings with the public yesterday and meeting with a few elected representatives, including me, from cities within his district about 10 days ago. Issa is the Republican U.S Representative for our local 49th congressional district, which spans parts of northern San Diego County and southern Orange County. (Here's a San Diego Union-Tribune article about Issa's meeting yesterday with the public.)
Over a month ago, I drafted a letter to Rep. Issa on behalf of 13 elected officials in his district, requesting a meeting to discuss concerns raised by our local residents that our congressman is uniquely positioned to addressed. After at least a half-dozen outreach efforts with him and his staff, he scheduled the meeting with less than a day's notice, at his Vista office on March 3 at 10 a.m. As a result of this last-minute invite, only four of the 13 could make it. I was one of those four.
Our hastily convened meeting at Congressman Darrell Issa's Vista office included (l. to r.) Oceanside Deputy Mayor Chuck Lowery, me, Issa, Solana Beach Councilmember Jewel Edson, and Encinitas Council Member Tasha Boerner Horvath.
During our 90-minute sometimes heated but always civil discussion, we focused on four main topics:
Congressman Issa is very skilled at turning a conversation toward his preferred topics and drowning the listener in the minutia of the topic at hand. He repeatedly said things like “have you read the budget authorization document on xxx? Because I have,” which was aimed at establishing his dominance and insider knowledge about the way Washington works. Make no mistake -- he is a seasoned and skilled politician who knows how to direct a conversation.
- Healthcare. We urged him to support legislation that allows Americans to afford healthcare. Our cities have thousands of residents who depend on the Affordable Care Act, and we are opposed to any plan that results in residents becoming financially vulnerable and sicker. (At our meeting the G.O.P. replacement plan had not been unveiled yet.) Our citizens should not have to choose between groceries and a doctor's visit. This choice was a reality for too many under the old system and we don’t want to return to that. We made it clear that funding for women’s healthcare and, in particular, Planned Parenthood should continue. In Encinitas, one of our largest employers, Scripps Hospital, receives about 60 percent of its revenue from federal government reimbursements. Cuts will reduce the number of insured people, therefore reducing the number of people accessing needed healthcare, which will result in healthcare job losses in our city. Issa's response: In one breath he seemed to support expanding Medicaid for lower-income people and then he referred to his own healthcare proposal, which is silent on subsidies for lower-income levels. He had a clear, pointed antipathy toward Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that 97 percent of the services provided by this organization are for critical women's healthcare services, like getting birth control, testing for STDs and diagnosing breast cancer.
- Immigration issues. Our cities are home to many mixed-status families and we requested that he prioritize immigration efforts aimed at criminal cases and work to prevent allowing ICE to rip families apart by deporting otherwise law-abiding citizens, especially without due process protections. Issa's response: He invited anyone with an immigration problem to contact his office for help.
- Environment. We asked him to oppose any moves that would reduce the effectiveness of the Environmental Protection Agency. We don’t want the federal government to pass the buck to local governments regarding environmental protections. Clean air and water, and a sustainable future, are top priorities for everyone. Issa's response: He appeared to express generalized support for environmental protections but also suggested that there is no discernible difference between Obama and Trump in this category, which is clearly absurd. He asked us for examples of environmental degradations since Trump took office, but we all know that changes are incremental until there's a crisis like the water fiasco in Flint, Michigan.
- Local Infrastructure. We requested federal support for rail corridor projects, including undergrounding our railroad tracks, and improving the intersection between I-5 and the 78 freeway. Additionally, we are opposed to federal efforts to remove the tax exemption on municipal bonds. Issa's response: He made no concrete commitments when it comes to infrastructure, but said he supports improvements and made the point that a local funding match would almost certainly be required.
Because Darrell Issa is our current congressional representative and has been in Congress for 16 years, we need to closely follow how he uses his political influence. His party now controls both houses of Congress and the White House, which allows him to directly affect policy.
From what I have observed so far, Issa has supported everything proposed by President Trump – his supposed maverick streak is no longer in evidence.
But having won last November's election by a scant 1,621 votes in Orange County (he lost in San Diego County), Issa understands his vulnerability in the 2018 contest and is currently going out of his way to attempt to re-position himself as a moderate.
He has actually modified his position on certain issues because of intense constituent pressure. For example, he recently joined the "Climate Solutions Caucus," a group of mostly coastal members of Congress from both parties who represent states affected by sea-level rise. Joining this caucus now, after repeatedly voting against congressional bills related to clean water, conservation, clean energy, drilling, endangered species, national monuments, and protecting forests, smacks of political opportunism. Nonetheless, it puts him in direct conversation with other leaders who have an environmental commitment, and this is a positive step. Check out the League of Conservation Voters scorecord on Issa's environmental voting record, which gives him a 4 percent lifetime score and a 3 percent from 2016. This scorecard is the standard-bearer on the environmental record for all members of Congress. Here is a Union-Tribune article about him joining the Climate Caucus.
Words are one thing, but votes are what matter. All our ongoing efforts to hold him accountable are critical. We will continue to be vigilant in watching his actual votes. If you have any comments you’d like to offer our congressman, his Vista office number is 760-599-5000 and his D.C. number is 202-225-3906. He repeatedly says that he wants your opinion, so don’t be shy.
Community Choice Energy
Our city’s environmental goals depend upon reducing the amount of carbon produced in Encinitas, both from the private and public sectors. For most cities, the fastest way to reduce the amount of carbon produced is to switch the type of energy they use from fossil fuels to renewables. On Friday, I attended a one-day forum on Community Choice Energy (CCE), which would allow residents to buy power generated exclusively from renewable sources, like wind or solar.
Running our own power company is not something the City of Encinitas would do alone. Even if we teamed up with other cities, it would still be a major undertaking. It's like figuring out how to structure and run a waste water district, fire department, or a school district.
This chart from the CCE forum shows that most of the carbon reduction in the City of San Mateo came from using renewable energy sources like solar and wind power from the CCE and not from things like composting, or using mass transit instead of cars.
Progress is incremental. The subcommitee of Councilmember Tasha Boerner Horvath and me, together with Environmental Commissioners Jim Wang and Leah Bissonette, are in the early stages of organizing with other potentially interested cities (namely Del Mar, Solana Beach, Carlsbad and Oceanside) to see what the economics for consumers and the city would be. Nearly all the speakers reported that consumers and cities save money when the power system involves competition. The take-away for me was that consumers don’t get the best price when a monopoly controls the power (the system we currently have). And giving residents options results in more renewables being used by both the utility and the alternate energy providers.
Some California cities and counties have been using community choice energy for years, but it’s still a new idea for the cities in San Diego County. County supervisors recently voted not to pursue it at all, which means we unfortunately won’t be seeing leadership at the county level. Our supervisor, Kristin Gaspar, wouldn't even support a feasibility study on the idea, according to this Union-Tribune article. This is a disappointment because it would be preferable to evaluate this concept as an entire region, similar to the transportation planning we do through the county agency of SANDAG.
In other counties, the cost savings and green benefits associated with community choice energy have generated bipartisan support. Like all changes to the status quo, there are fits and starts. I believe that continued passionate advocacy from a broad base will eventually turn the tide on this in our county.
It was a pleasure to hear from climate action champion Nicole Capretz at the Community Choice Energy Forum (above) along with other engaged participants (below).
News from this week’s City Council meeting
In closing, I'd like to say something about our communication. An open, ongoing conversation with Encinitas residents is crucial for me, so it's personally frustrating that I’m sometimes unable to respond to every email I receive. I do read each of them and so appreciate all the well-considered feedback, but the sheer volume makes personal responses to every one practically impossible. I hope you understand, and I encourage you to stay in contact with me regarding local issues that are important to you!
- Hopefully the fourth time we hear our Municipal Tree Ordinance, we’ll pass it! This ordinance has been in the works since 2013 and (fingers crossed) it appears to be very near the finish line. There’s no disagreement among City Council members, it’s simply the word-smithing and refining process that happens during an extended committee and public process. The goal of the ordinance is to provide city staff and contractors guidance and clarity on how to handle street trees and plants to make sure they are adequately protected. The ordinance provides for hiring a city arborist to “speak for the trees,” as our former Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer was fond of quoting from Dr. Seuss. Here’s a San Diego Union-Tribune article with more details about what’s in the ordinance.
- Councilmember Tasha Boerner Horvath proposed doing a policy paper on economic development, and after City Council discussion we appointed Tasha and Councilmember Joe Mosca to a subcommittee to pursue that goal. We use a subcommittee process when councilmembers want to be more involved in working with staff and the public to craft a particular policy. She's passionate about this topic and I know the city will reap the benefits of that passion. Here's an article from the Coast News on it.
- The solution to repairing the bluff at Beacon’s Beach was put on hold again. At the Council meeting, we were prepared to move forward with the contract for a stabilization project, but we received a last-minute letter from the Coastal Commission asking us to evaluate a different solution. Sigh… So we’re still in process, but not there yet. A Coast News article about it is here.
- With a record 55 applicants for city commissions, we unanimously appointed 17 residents to city commissions. Here's an Encinitas Advocate story about the people selected. Having a plethora of extremely qualified folks is a good problem, but it’s still painful to turn people away. I’m excited about the committed citizens we appointed and I look forward to their contributions.
If you want to meet with me regarding a specific topic, please schedule an appointment through Brandi Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next week we don't have a City Council meeting, but I'll be sending you my Sunday newsletter about housing issues in Encinitas.
Thank you for your continued interest,
"We must especially beware of the small group of selfish men who would clip the wings of the American eagle in order to feather their own nests."
– Franklin D. Roosevelt