One of the first things Lorena Gonzalez said when she reached the podium at Monday's City Council meeting was that this time, she and her brother agreed. Gonzalez heads up the local labor council, and her brother, Marco Gonzalez, is a force in the local environmental movement. And what they agreed on this week was their choice for a new member of the Port of San Diego's Board of Commissioners. Their pick was labor-friendly environmental-justice activist Diane Takvorian.
But they lost. On a 5-3 vote after two other nominees were eliminated, the City Council chose land-use attorney Lee Burdick. Well, actually, the Gonzalez with two X chromosomes didn't lose at all.
Initially, the nominees to replace departing Port Commissioner Laurie Black were Takvorian, Bill Evans and Marshall Merrifield, an affable conservative who lost a bid last year for City Council; the heavy favorites were Takvorian and Evans, whose family owns The Lodge at Torrey Pines, Catamaran Resort Hotel and Bahia Resort Hotel. Given that Evans' hotels are non-union, Takvorian was an easy choice for organized labor.
But City Council President Ben Hueso informed Lorena Gonzalez that he wasn't going to support Takvorian. All Hueso has said publicly about his reason is that he wanted a candidate who's perceived as politically middle-of-the-road. Gonzalez says Hueso didn't give her any other reason in spite of her attempts to get one out of him. Takvorian could only speculate that Hueso was pressured by someone amid his run for state Assembly; she couldn't think of any animosity stemming from Hueso's time as manager of redevelopment in Barrio Logan, where Takvorian has focused her activism. But more than one observer dismissed the Assembly connection.
In any case, a list of alternatives to Takvorian was floated, but Gonzalez balked at it and thought of Burdick, with whom she'd met recently on other business. So, that's who Hueso chose, and Councilmembers Carl DeMaio (strangely) and Tony Young hopped aboard Hueso's wagon.
At Monday's vote, after Merrifield was eliminated, Councilmember Sherri Lightner joined Councilmembers Donna Frye and Todd Gloria in supporting Takvorian, but when Evans was eliminated, Councilmembers Kevin Faulconer and Marti Emerald backed Burdick, giving her the five votes needed.
The council chambers were packed with Barrio Logan residents and union members supporting Takvorian, and judging from comments overheard, Emerald, a liberal former TV consumer advocate, lost some future voters. Her nomination of Evans is perhaps the most confounding aspect of this matter, and Takvorian seemed taken aback that Emerald wouldn't go with her after Evans was knocked out.
As the dust settled, Hueso and Burdick emerged as winners, with Faulconer, Young, DeMaio and Emerald perhaps now able to curry favor with Hueso. Hueso must have reasoned that he doesn't need the low-income residents of Barrio Logan, Logan Heights and Sherman Heights to win his Assembly seat. Burdick, who dipped her toe in the elective-office waters when she momentarily ran for city attorney last year, now has a public platform. Meanwhile, Labor got its handpicked consolation prize in Burdick, who on Monday corrected a Union-Tribune editorial's assertion that she's an opponent of project labor agreements. Now, with Burdick joining Steve Cushman and Scott Peters, labor believes it has a labor-friendly triad of San Diego representatives on the seven-member Port Commission.The losers are the folks who wanted a different kind of voice on the port board, which is filled with businessmen.
Takvorian is the executive director of Environmental Health Coalition, a champion of low-income neighborhoods, fighting against lead poisoning, childhood asthma (caused in part by trucks rumbling to and from the port) and air-fouling chrome-plating businesses. No, she wouldn't have single-handedly redirected the port's path, but it would have been a foot in the door; she could, perhaps, have won small victories here and there.
Labor has come a long way in San Diego, but environmentalists are still on the outside looking in. As was noted by environmentalist Bruce Reznik at Monday's meeting, the Port Commission has to protect jobs on a working waterfront, but it's also entrusted to protect the public's tidelands.
We hope Burdick, whose day job is partly to advocate for businesses seeking favor in the public sector, heard and understood Reznik's comment.