By JEFF CLEMETSON | Mission Times Courier
San Diego City Council District 7 candidate Noli Zosa says the two main assets he would bring to the council are his business sense and grassroots community work experience. Zosa, a partner in the local Dirty Birds restaurant chain, has lived in District 7 neighborhoods of Linda Vista or Mission Valley for over 30 years. In that time, he has served on various local community groups like the Linda Vista Town Council, the District 7 Recreation Council, the Mobility Board, and as chair of the Linda Vista Planning Group. He said he first got the bug for community service as a student director of a legal resource center in Linda Vista helping low-income residents with housing and legal issues while attending law school at his alma mater University of San Diego.
“That’s really where I discovered my passion for serving the public,” he said, adding that he still does some community service through USD — most recently helping spearhead a program that will allow students to use their campus cards at local businesses and the Linda Vista Farmers Market.
A public/private philosophy
When it comes to solving city problems such as homelessness, Zosa said he will look to the private sector to partner with the city in a similar fashion.
“I’m all about out-of-the-box solutions. Government can’t solve all the problems and sometimes it hurts,” he said, adding he would push to develop some types of public/private partnerships like the kind Peter Seidler and others from the business community created when they helped start programs like the Bridge Shelters. “We need to step up with the business community to fund these because we’re all invested in this problem.”
Zosa also sees public/private partnerships as a solution to San Diego’s uncompetitive salaries and looming pension costs and suggested one way to increase revenue without raising taxes is to allow more businesses to operate in Balboa Park.
“Let’s figure out ways to increase revenues to the city where we can afford to pay the pensions of our hard-working city employees, firefighters and police officers and keep that talent in the city,” he said.
Public/private partnerships are not just good for funding solutions to major issues like homelessness or the pension crisis, they are also what Zosa would propose for neighborhood issues, too. One idea he has for this would be to give businesses access to an “Adopt-a-Neighborhood” program similar to the Adopt-a-Highway program for state freeways. Ideas like this were born of Zosa’s experience on the Linda Vista Planning Group.
“As chairman of Linda Vista Planning Group, whenever a business or development comes into my community, I say, ‘How are you going to be partners in this community?’ If you really want development and businesses to thrive and the local residents to support you, please invest in our community,” he said, adding that although it was not quid pro quo, he felt compelled to ask Linda Vista’s marijuana businesses what their benefit to the community is and encouraged investment in places like the local library and the Boys & Girls Club.
“There is a disconnect between developers and communities, and that’s why you have a lot of NIMBYs,” he said.
In addition to viewing the disconnect between developers and communities as the cause of resistance to development in the city, Zosa also sees the disconnect between what voters expect from government and what government delivers as the cause of distrust in solutions to issues like the convention center and the climate action plan.
Zosa said that voter rejection of Measure C to raise hotel taxes for the convention center and social programs failed because “unfortunately, the voters of San Diego do not trust government to spend their dollars when they say, ‘This money is going to homeless.’ That was the argument against Measure C, that you can’t trust the money to go where it’s supposed to.”
He pointed to the money from the Transnet tax being diverted from road repair to the trolley system as an example of why voters mistrust government.
In the absence of support for a public initiative to fund the convention center expansion, Zosa again sees the business community as the likely solution. “We might need to privatize part of the convention center to get it done,” he said. “The city will lose if it is not expanded.”
Another area Zosa sees local government building mistrust is the regional climate action plan.
Although he believes climate change is happening and is man-made, Zosa said the city plan to move to renewables will increase cost on low-income families, at least in short term. But it is the issue of cars versus bikes that has him most fired up.
“I see a misappropriation of funds going to bike lanes that cost $5.6 million per mile, which is very expensive and has very, very low ridership,” he said, adding that the $279 million appropriated for bike lanes in the city would be better spent fixing roads, or adding more solar panels on city buildings.
A tough race
Zosa said he decided to jump into the race for City Council to bring a voice to the city that may go missing come November.
“We need someone who has been in the private sector,” he said. “There’s not too many people who are locally elected, especially on City Council, that have experience in the private sector and there’s going to be even less with Scott Sherman, Barbara Bry, Mark Kersey all going away. You look the current City Council candidates, they don’t have that business experience, which is critical. We need a balance of voices for good governance.”
In addition to a lack of business candidates, the City Council race after the primary will all but assure a Democratic majority. Zosa said he doesn’t want to see one party rule over the city, Democrats with super majority, and “labor union bosses making all the decisions.”
“If we have just a Democratic mayor and a Democratic super majority City Council, you might as well just put everything on consent, because there’s not going to be any debate,” he added. “That’s not going to be good for the city of San Diego.”
If the March primary results are any guide, Zosa is looking at a tough uphill battle. His challenger in the November runoff, Deputy City Attorney Raul Campillo, received 36.4% of the vote to Zosa’s 30.6%. A roughly 6-point margin doesn’t seem all that surmountable until you look at the results for the other two candidates in the primary — both Democrats. Wendy Wheatcroft received 19.4% of the vote and Monty McIntyre garnered 13.5%. Added up, it gives the Democrats a 40.9-point advantage going into November.
Zosa maintains he is still in the race for a few reasons — voters outside of Linda Vista still don’t know him, the March primary had very low turnout in District 7 and because of the presidential primary between main candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, the turnout was heavily Democratic.
“For people who lean to the right side, there wasn’t much reason to turn out in this election and that’s something that’s going to turn around in November,” Zosa said, adding that his main strategy to win is to mobilize fellow conservatives to the polls and to get his message and his resume of experience out to voters.
“I’m ready from day one to jump into city government,” he said.
— Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.