Board meetings are often low-key affairs, but this time it was lights, camera and action when Lori Saldaña, one of the two prominent Democrats running in the 52nd Congressional District, pitched her candidacy May 2 at the board’s monthly meeting.
With the June 5 California primary election just weeks away, board members and a handful of audience members got an idea of just how high campaign stakes have become when, at one point, four video-recording devices — including two from the campaign of rival Democrat Scott Peters — were trained at Saldaña in the small meeting room at the Ocean Beach Recreation Center.
The OBPB, like all community planning boards, is made up of elected officeholders and operates under the Brown Act, or California’s open meetings law, which specifically allows anyone to video-record a meeting.
Saldaña apparently recognized the pair from the Peters campaign and acknowledged them at the beginning of her remarks. Later in her talk, she addressed the Peters team directly, and had a brief exchange with one staffer who disagreed with the way Saldaña portrayed Peters’ vote against the living wage ordinance in 2005 when Peters was a member of the San Diego City Council.
In addition to staffers from the Peters campaign, there were two others with video-recording devices in the audience: a man with a tripod and camcorder who said he was a student at UCSD, and a Saldaña staffer, who said he needed the footage in case he had to refute something from the Peters campaign.
Despite the high-tech trappings of the environment, Saldaña described her campaign in retail and grassroots terms. She said she would draw on her experiences as a college educator and three-term member of the California Assembly to fight in Congress for the middle and lower classes.
“I’ve been doing my best to get out and walk and talk in the community,” Sandaña said. “It’s real important to look someone in the eye and say, ‘Here’s what I’ve done and here’s what I want to continue to do for you.’ ”
She listed her authorship of AB 1103, which mandates energy benchmarking and energy disclosure for nonresidential buildings; and co-authorship of AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, as two of her biggest legistlative acheivements.
“We now have more clean tech jobs in California as a result,” she said.
Saldaña also cited her committee assignments in the Assembly, serving on the Veteran’s Affairs Committee and chairing the Housing and Community Development Committee as she drew a contrast to Brian Bilbray, the Republican incumbent in the 50th District who now resides in the 52nd District because of redistricting.
“I have a very good sense of what it takes to be in a leadership position,” she said. “Even in 14 years, Brian Bilbray has never had a leadership position or chaired a committee.”
Saldaña said she decided to run for the U.S. House of Representatives partly because of the effects of cuts to education she noticed after returning to teaching two years ago, when she was termed out of the Assembly.
“I decided to leave the classroom because I couldn’t do my job as an information technology instructor when these cutbacks started to happen,” she said.
In addition to education, Saldaña said she would fight to protect Social Security and Medicare, and warned of cuts to those programs if Bilbray or Peters were to be elected. She said the tax burden had shifted from corporations to wage earners and said she would fight to close tax loopholes.
“Especially in California, corporations are paying less than what they have historically,” she said. “It’s very important that we balance the budget not on the backs of seniors (and) not on the backs of working class people … but we make sure everyone is paying their fair share.”
She said she meets middle-class constituents on the campaign trail who have suffered a “generational loss of wealth” because of the collapse of the housing market in recent years, and she vowed to hold accountable “the people who took their savings away. Those are the people on Wall Street who engaged in predatory lending.”
Saldaña said it is important to bring a middle-class background to diversify Congress, which she said has too many millionaires among its ranks.
“With 40 percent millionaires in Congress, it’s easy to see why they have tax codes that favor millionaires,” she said.
OBPB board member Ronson Shamoun said he wondered if Saldaña was bashing the rich.
“I got the inference that that’s a bad thing,” he said.
Saladaña said it is a matter of legislative perspective.
“What I’m concerned about is people forget what it took to acquire that wealth and sometimes pass policies, especially the tax code, that favor the wealthy,” Saldaña said. “I feel very good about being connected with the 99 percent. I’m one of them. I grew up in a middle-class family in Clairemont. My father was a 20-year Marine Corp vet.”
The exchange with the Peters campaign staffer resulted from a question from board member Giovanni Ingolia, who asked Saldaña about her view on labor unions.
Saldaña said she became a union carpenter when she graduated from college and was unable to find a teaching job, and said carpenters today are making about the same amount she made 30 years ago.
Addressing the pair from the Peters campaign, Saldaña said, “Why are wages stagnating? … You guys still videotaping this? Scott Peters voted against the living wage.”
The reply drew immediate response.
“That’s false. That’s totally wrong,” replied a Peters staffer.
Contacted after the meeting, Maryann Pintar, communications director for the Peters campaign, conceded Peters did, in fact, vote against the ordinance because of budgetary concerns when it was approved by the City Council in April 2005.
But later in his term, he was persuaded by labor groups to take on an effort to expand and strengthen it, Pintar said. His efforts were a big reason Peters has gained the endorsement of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, she said.
The Peters campaign has taken to record Saldaña’s public appearances to document her “many, many false and misleading statements” having to do with Peters’ positions on Social Security, Medicare and funding for veterans, Pintar said.
“Our intent is to have a record of her comments so any false statements can be corrected. We’ve never posted her videos,” Pintar said.
Saldaña likewise sends people to record Peters’ campaign speaking events, Pintar said.
“It’s part of what goes on in a federal campaign,” she said.
But Saldaña said she didn’t send anyone to record Peters when he addressed the OBPB in April.
“He (Peters) is very nervous about me,” said Saldaña after the meeting, adding she ranks second in polling behind Bilbray but ahead of Peters.
In California’s new open primary system, the top two vote-getters in next month’s congressional primary will advance to the November election, regardless of party affiliation.
OTHER OBPB NOTES
• Pete Ruscitti is the newest board member. Ruscitti, who lives on Del Monte Avenue, was appointed to represent District 6. Ruscitti described himself as a native New Yorker who came to San Diego as a naval recruit and has lived here ever since. He works as a transportation planner for a company which contracts with several local and regional government agencies. A total of two vacancies still exist in districts 3 and 7 and are available by board appointment to any Ocean Beach citizen, property owner or business owner over 18. More information is available at www.oceanbeachpb.com.
• The board voted 9-0-1 to approve the upgrade of an existing liquor license to allow the addition of spirits to be sold at Newport Quickstop, 4921 Newport Ave. The store is owned by board member Ronson Shamoun, who recused himself from the vote.
• The inaugural flush at the public restrooms under construction south of Dog Beach is still on schedule for Memorial Day, reported Michael Patton, aide to District 2 City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer. The city holds weekly meetings with the contractor and no delays are on the horizon, Patton said, for the project officially known as the Brighton Street Comfort Station.