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La Jolla’s Barbara Bry presses recall against former council colleague, seeks to organize neighborhood groups

Barbara Bry speaks to supporters of her San Diego mayoral campaign on Election Night, Nov. 3.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The former mayoral candidate says she will remain active in politics, public policy and business.

Barbara Bry does not plan to fade away.

The La Jolla resident and former San Diego City Council member and mayoral candidate recently jolted the local political world when she announced she was backing a recall of Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell, who was recently elected council president by her colleagues.

Bry said she isn’t leading the recall effort, which was informally launched months ago by the organization Save San Diego Neighborhoods. But at least for the moment, she has become the face of the movement, giving television interviews and writing an opinion column about why she believes Campbell should be removed from office.

This dovetails with Bry’s broader hope to bring together neighborhood groups from across San Diego that feel their voices aren’t being heard at City Hall and their communities are being shortchanged on municipal services and burdened by overdevelopment.

“This is an opportunity to create a new group that I would call San Diego Neighborhoods United,” she said in an interview.

Bry said this is in the conceptual stage and right now she is focusing on a business book she’s working on with her husband, entrepreneur Neil Senturia. Before her one term on the council, Bry was involved in launching various business ventures, such as ProFlowers.

Bry said she and Senturia, who writes a business column for The San Diego Union-Tribune, plan to start a podcast to talk about entrepreneurship and innovation.

After she lost the Nov. 3 mayoral election to Todd Gloria, Bry said she would continue to address local matters and work with neighborhood groups.

Barbara Bry has long held the view that when one door closes, another opens.

She recently suggested she would carry forward one of the main themes from her mayoral campaign: that decision-making at City Hall is corrupted by a secretive process and pressure by special interests.

“I’m going to be speaking out about what goes on behind closed doors that the public does not see,” she said.

Save San Diego Neighborhoods started the recall effort not long after Campbell brokered an agreement earlier this year to draft an ordinance that would regulate short-term vacation rentals, which remains a hugely disputed issue, particularly in beach communities. The organization rejected the proposal, contending it would still allow too many STVRs, especially in Mission Beach.

Campbell also proposed, along with Councilman Chris Cate, a ballot measure to lift the 30-foot height limit in the Midway District surrounding the sports arena. Measure E was approved handily citywide but was opposed by voters in Campbell’s District 2.

The recall talk had been relatively low-key and contained to Campbell’s district, which includes Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach, Point Loma, Midway District, Mission Beach, Clairemont and Linda Vista. Bry had represented District 1 to the immediate north.

Then came Campbell’s election as council president Dec. 10.

Hundreds of people phoned in to the council meeting to support Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe for the powerful post, and many were incensed that she didn’t get it.

Bry had endorsed Montgomery Steppe and publicly joined the move to recall Campbell after the vote. All three are Democrats.

“This is a council member who is completely out of touch with her community,” said Bry, who added that the council president dispute made the recall a matter of citywide concern.

Venus Molina, Campbell’s chief of staff, called Bry an “opportunist” and said the former council member had failed in her attempt to rein in STVRs, which remain essentially unregulated across the city.

“It’s so unfortunate for people to come at her for making bold decisions,” Molina said of Campbell.

If enough signatures of registered voters from within District 2 are submitted in support of the recall, a special election likely would be held in the fall. If it qualifies, only voters in District 2 could vote in the election — and the concurrent replacement election — but volunteers and financial backing could be drawn from outside the district.

What kind of support a recall would attract is unclear. The coalition that came together to support Montgomery Steppe for council president does not plan on backing it, though individual members might. Montgomery Steppe said she intends to stay out of the recall, a spokeswoman told Voice of San Diego.

The San Diego County Women’s Democratic Club and the La Jolla Democratic Club have voted to support the recall, according to Bry.

Still, there are political crosscurrents that could make it a challenge to build a broad campaign against Campbell. Many of the progressives who supported Montgomery Steppe did so largely because she has led social justice and police reform efforts at City Hall.

But they also tend to be young, diverse and may have different views on issues such as boosting housing density than those launching the recall, who are generally older homeowners who want to preserve their neighborhoods.

That dynamic could be an issue for the organization of neighborhood groups Bry is talking about, depending on its focus. While the groups may have common grievances, they also may have conflicting concerns.

Bry said she thinks if the recall qualifies for the ballot, Campbell will be voted out.

However, a lot of powerful forces — from business and development interests to labor leaders and the San Diego Police Officers Association — helped Campbell become council president. Already, lobbyists and political consultants representing some of those interests have met to organize an anti-recall campaign. ◆