What Just Happened?

Or, some reflections on what the local election results mean for the climate movement 

By Masada Disenhouse, SD350 Executive Director

So… now that we’ll have a new president who lists climate change as a top priority (though we may yet need to fight for our votes to count), let’s focus on what happened in local elections, and what the results mean for us as climate activists. 

Overall, significantly more progressive and pro-climate-action electeds will be taking their seats at the city and county level in the next month, giving us many opportunities to get some of the policies we need enacted. Definitely something to celebrate! Here’s why it matters and what changes and opportunities we expect to see: 

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors flipped Democratic 

  • Who won: 
  • Why it’s important: The County Supervisors oversee the needs of 3.3 Million county residents (and directly govern nearly 500,000 people who live in the unincorporated county—including yours truly). They control a budget of $6.5 Billion. They also manage courts, jails, public health and public lands, and have a strong say in regional transportation and housing.
  • What could change: 
    • Environmentalists can finally stop suing (third time’s the charm?)—and the County can stop spending money defending its terrible climate action plans (over $1M in taxpayer dollars to date). We can all get down (finally!) to developing an effective, accountable Climate Action Plan that gets us to 100% renewable energy. 
    • Environmental justice and air pollution control initiatives via the new Air Pollution Control District can help the health department take a more active role on climate. 
    • End new sprawl developments and prioritize infill and affordable housing. 
    • Switch from opposing to supporting transit and prioritizing communities of concern at SANDAG and MTS.
  • Of interest: 
    • In 2010 San Diegans voted to enact term limits for the County Supervisors. Those term limits put us on a path to the changes we’ve seen, with progressive candidates replacing conservatives who held their seats for (literally) decades. 
    • We have room to grow: LA County just elected its first all female Board of Supervisors

The San Diego City Council went from 6 Democrats to 8 Democrats

  • Who won: 
    • Todd Gloria will be the next Mayor of San Diego. San Diego’s groundbreaking Climate Action Plan was developed under Todd’s iMayor leadership (and Todd spoke at our People’s Climate March in 2014). 
    • Council: In District 1, Joe LaCava won. Joe is a cofounder of our partner Democrats for Environmental Action. In District 3, Stephen Whitburn won. In District 5, Marni von Wilpert won. In District 7, Raul Campillo won. In District 9, Sean Elo-Rivera won. Sean is ED of our partner Youth Will. 
  • What could change:
    • All five incoming councilmembers are democrats (three of the races were between two Democrats) and almost all of them consider climate change a top priority. Combined with a Democratic Mayor, we’ll have a lot better chance of getting stronger climate policies.
    • This all means that the City’s representatives on key regional boards like SANDAG and MTS are more likely to share our priorities. With the County Supervisors and new representatives from other cities that shifted progressive, this adds up to a massive power shift on the SANDAG Board. We should see big changes on transportation, as the next Regional Transportation Plan is underway. This is something we’ve been fighting for since our organization started in 2011. 
    • It won’t all be smooth sailing though. There are many other critical issues, a funding crisis (because of COVID), and some of the CMs were elected with help from labor or other interests which don’t always support the climate policies we do. Mayor Gloria just chose someone from the Chamber of Commerce to be his Chief of Staff. We’ll keep working to push for equity and workers as well as reducing GHGs, and building a coalition.
  • Of interest: 
    • SD350 met with the five new councilmembers as part of nonpartisan visits with all the candidates over the summer, and will be scheduling follow-up meetings to build relationships with the CMs and their staff shortly. 
    • We’ll get a feel for how progressive the new CMs are by seeing who they choose as Council President – their very first vote when they get sworn in on December 10th. SD350 is supporting Monica Montgomery Steppe to be the next Council President (add your name!), and urging the CMs to vote for her. Which CM chairs the environment committee will also be important to us. 

Other Races and Propositions

  • Who won
    • Congress: Sara Jacobs won in the 53rd district. She and most of the other candidates supported a Green New Deal and climate action at the candidates forum we hosted with partners back in February. The work we did on the Green New Deal, including sit-ins at the prior congressmember Davis’, led to this result. Darrell Issa won in the 50th district. He received a climate change denier award in 2013, and ran in the 50th district after losing the seat he held for decades in the 49th district to Mike Levin in 2018.
    • It’s looking like SD350 member and ally Jack Shu won a council seat in La Mesa and ally Marcus Bush won a council seat in National City (these haven’t been called yet). 
  • Of interest: 
    • Pia did a full write up on how our proposition recommendations fared (hint: it’s not pretty). Californians were not nearly as progressive in voting on the props as they were in voting for candidates. Why? Complex, nuanced, disputed props. Huge amounts spent to misinform (Prop 22 was the most expensive ever, >$220 million)—and wealth inequality leading to anti-tax sentiments at all costs. 
    • The 2010 initiative that changed California to a “top two primary system” has significantly increased single party general elections (mostly Dem-on-Dem west of the 125). 
    • You’re not alone. It is seriously time to retire the electoral college

Bottom line: We’ll have more opportunities to advance climate solutions in San Diego County in 2021 and we’ll need your help more than ever. So roll up your sleeves. Let’s get to work!