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March 3, 2020 — Primary Election
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Party Committee

Democratic Party County Central Committee — Democratic PartyCandidate for Member, Assembly District 78

Photo of Jonathan "Cody" Petterson

Jonathan "Cody" Petterson

Central Committee Member
10,766 votes (3.9%)
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My Top 3 Priorities

  • Protection of our environment and immediate transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
  • Full, equitable funding of public schools, with universal pre-school and adoption of the Community Schools model.
  • Public investment in affordable, transit-supportive multifamily housing.



Assistant to the Member, California State Board of Equalization (2019–current)
Governing Board Member, San Diego River Conservancy — Appointed position (2018–current)
Board Member, Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego — Appointed position (2018–current)
Director, Sequoia Foundation (2014–2019)
Senior Scientist, Impact Assessment, Inc. (2009–2014)


University of California, San Diego Ph.D., Anthropology (2010)
University of California, San Diego Master of Arts, Anthropology (2003)
University of Iowa Writers' Workshop Master of Fine Arts, Creative Writing (Poetry) (2001)
UC Berkeley Bachelor of Arts, English (1996)

Community Activities

President, San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action (2018–current)
Executive Committee Member, Sierra Club San Diego (2019–current)
Trustee, La Jolla Town Council (2018–current)
Executive Board Member, California Democratic Party (2019–current)
Voting Member, San Diego County Democratic Central Committee (2017–current)


I was born and raised in La Jolla, California. I spent my youth swimming, reading, and hiking. San Diego was sprawling into its remaining valleys, canyons, hills, and mesas, and many of the places I looked for lizards or tadpoles are now malls or office complexes. In 2003, the Cedar Fire burnt nearly every tree in the 26,000 acre Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, where I grew up hiking. A lot of my feelings and thoughts about nature and conservation are rooted in this experience of loving threatened or disappearing places.

I attended UC Berkeley, where I received a BA in English, then built a bed in the back of the family car and convinced my dad to drive from San Diego to Ushuaia, Argentina with me. Back home, I flew out to DC for a stint as a White House Intern for Bill Clinton, working for the National Economic Council and its Climate Change Task Force in the run up to Kyoto. I then did an MFA in Creative Writing at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I spent the next seven years in a doctoral program in UCSD’s Anthropology Department. My dissertation work was in land use, municipal politics, and ethnic conflict in Peru’s southern highlands. Upon receiving my PhD, I took over the directorship of the Sequoia Foundation. We primarily do grant and contract work for state and federal agencies, including fisheries management, marine protected area analysis, nuclear energy policy, community resilience, superfund site remediation, and socio-economic impact of environmental disasters. In November 2016 we drafted the nation of Tuvalu’s Climate Migration Policy. 

Around 2012, I began getting much more involved in California native plants and land stewardship. In 2013, I was able to acquire the first parcels of a large property on the north slope of Volcan Mountain, north of Julian in east San Diego County. I eventually put together a coalition of state and federal agencies--including NRCS, CALFIRE, USFWS, and USFS--to assist in cone collection, seedling propagation, site prep, and reforestation. We’ve planted nearly a thousand seedlings over the last five years and collected hundreds of thousands of seeds for propagation throughout southern California.

Starting in 2016, I became heavily involved in Democratic politics. I ran successfully for a seat on the Democratic State Central Committee, then for the remainder of a four year term on the San Diego County Democratic Central Committee, then for Executive Board of the California Democratic Party. I’ve spent the last three years organizing, advocating, and writing on environmental, public education, and housing issues. I testify regularly at San Diego City Council and San Diego County Board of Supervisors against sprawl development, general plan amendments, inadequate climate action plans, underfunding of urban forestry, and disinvestment in communities of color.

I’m currently President of the San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. In addition, I serve as Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon’s appointee to the San Diego River Conservancy Governing Board. I’m a Director of the Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego, a member of the Volcan Mountain Foundation Stewardship Committee, a member of CNPS San Diego’s Conservation Committee, and a Trustee of the La Jolla Town Council. I live with my wife and two children in my hometown of La Jolla, where I am Director of the Sequoia Foundation, a nonproft social science research firm dedicated to assessing the socio-economic impacts of environmental disasters. 

My true passions are reading, writing, land stewardship, and family. My wife and I have two young children--Bardot and Sequoia--and if I weren’t trying to save their world, I’d be spending every possible moment sharing time with them.

Questions & Answers

Questions from The League of Women Voters San Diego (LWVSD) and the League of Women Voters of North County San Diego (LWVNCSD) (3)

If elected, how much time and energy will you be able to devote to this volunteer position over the next four years, given your other personal and professional obligations?
Answer from Jonathan "Cody" Petterson:

I currently serve in this role. The time required fluctuates depending on where we are in the election cycle. I think it's fair to say that I am one of the members most involved in whipping votes and speaking before the Committee on endorsements and other business. Averaged over the course of a 2 year election cycle, I probably spend 20 hours a month specifically on Central Committee-related business.

What is the most significant challenge facing this party in the next decade, and if you are elected, how will you help the party prepare to meet it?
Answer from Jonathan "Cody" Petterson:

The party is at a crossroads. The challenges our county, state, country, and world face cannot be solved without dramatic changes in our way of life. None of the solutions currently being considered to the myriad crises we face--climate, housing, inequality, wage stagnation, global decline in the quality of democracy, loss of habitat and biodiversity, great power conflict--are close to being adequate to the problems. I believe strongly that the Democratic Party will have to confront these challenges virtually alone, with the Republican Party at best defending a failed status quo and at worst actively pushing toward the abyss. Unfortunately, with California a one-party state, and San Diego increasingly a one-party county, all of the reactionary interests that once supported Republicans will begin to invest in internal Democratic Party elections, primary fights, and Dem-on-Dem general elections. It is now more important than ever to elect party members who will represent the interests of rank-and-file Democratic voters. I have whipped dozens of crucial environmental and progressive votes on the Central Committee, and have taken point on many of the most important. I was Kimberley Ellis's San Diego delegate whip for her 2017 race for Party Chair. I was Kevin de León's San Diego delegate whip for his successful, insurgent quest for the party endorsement for US Senate. I've built the relationships and the credibility to get critical votes across the finish line. I believe if elected I will continue to play a vital role in the Party's process of deliberation and debate.

What public figures, past and present, do you believe have given the most postive examples of what this party stands for? Please explain your reasons for thinking so.
Answer from Jonathan "Cody" Petterson:

I was raised by Jesse Jackson Democrats, and I still return often to his speeches and writings. I believe in the value of strict personal virtue in the service of the struggle to bring our principles--of equality, compassion, solidarity, reason, popular sovereignty--to power. I harken back to FDR, and even Teddy Roosevelt in his Bull Moose days: "In every wise struggle for human betterment one of the main objects, and often the only object, has been to achieve in large measure equality of opportunity. In the struggle for this great end, nations rise from barbarism to civilization, and through it people press forward from one stage of enlightenment to the next. One of the chief factors in progress is the destruction of special privilege. The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows." There is a powerful, liberating thread running through the American tradition, in constant tension with the forces of slavery, indigenous genicide, and conquest--which calls us to mutual responsibility and respect, to preservation and stewardship of the natural world, to live more fully, more authentically, our foundational principles of liberty and equality.

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Source: MapLight analysis of data from the California Secretary of State.

Political Beliefs

Position Papers

American Sunset


It is time for the United States to end its 40 year war in the Greater Middle East and invest in rebuilding our country.

Ours is the path great nations take to ruin. Young nations demand that revolution yield liberty. Thriving nations demand that war be beneficial to their citizens. They use their armies to defend their borders, or to extend their borders to their advantage. Empires, in their youth, demand that military expenditure and sacrifice yield extravagant profit. Dying empires bleed themselves out in wasteful, counterproductive, impoverishing wars. They are bled out by their own bloodsucking elites, who are happy to hasten the end, so long as they and their families can enjoy the brief, terminal opulence.

Ours — the most powerful nation the world has ever seen — has spent the last half century stumbling into distant, mind-numbingly stupid conflicts across the globe. We’ve beat our ploughshares into swords. Instead of investing in the American people — our infrastructure, our education, our industry, our democracy, which are the ultimate guarantors of our security and prosperity — we’ve used the windfalls of seven decades at the apex of the global capitalist system to put the world to bayonet, with no enduring benefit to working Americans.

Did we win or lose in Vietnam? In Iraq? In Afghanistan? In Libya? In Syria? What does it mean to win or to lose a war, when there’s nothing to gain? When you’re pouring your nation’s unimaginable wealth into the abyss? Did we lose in Iraq? Yes, we lost in Iraq. We lost 4,000 mother’s children. 30,000 thousand men and women came home with broken bodies. A hundred thousand more haunted by their deployments. We’re still losing 6,000 veterans every year to suicide.

We lost four trillion of our hard-earned dollars. Cash that single mothers scraped together waiting tables. Cash small business owners stayed up nights sweating over. Missed their kids’ little league games over. Did we lose? Damn straight we lost. We lost everything we could have built with that money. We lost roads, rails, affordable housing, hospitals, bridges, schools. We lost adult education programs, and school lunches, and emergency services, and college debt relief, and career counseling, and music programs, and job training. We lost universal pre-school, and paid family leave, and Medicare-for-All.

And for what? To hand a shattered Iraq to the Iranians, give ISIS a vacuum in which to grow, plunge Syria into the bloodiest civil war of the 21st century, destabilize liberal democracy in Europe? Was it worth it? I don’t know, is it worth it to mortgage your home to finance a heroin addiction? No, it wasn’t worth it.

We tried to occupy Afghanistan. Afghanistan. The most time-testedly futile military endeavor known to man. We sent American kids — raised on Iowa corn, Nebraska beef, and Kentucky bourbon — out to godforsaken outposts to get ambushed by the poorest, most battle-hardened peasants on Earth. To momentarily hold a ridge, or bridge, or mountain valley. A few yards of high, dry dirt. To get their beautiful running-back legs blown off by IEDs on roads from nowhere to nowhere. Roads we never should have put them on.

And now the same Strangeloves in Washington clamor for war with Iran. They insist we can’t afford $66 billion in Supplementary Nutrition Assistance or $8 billion for public housing, but think nothing of saddling us with $3 trillion in bad debt to kill a half million Iranians in a war that promises no benefit whatsoever to our country. When we could collapse every petro-dictatorship in the world — Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela — simply by decarbonizing our economy.

This inconceivably vast waste of life, wealth, and opportunity must eventually come to an end. More likely than not that will mean great power conflict. It is therefore important to remember a fundamental truth: great power conflicts are not ultimately won by armies, but by economies. In 2018, for the first time in history, our total defense-related spending topped $1 trillion. A nation that spends a trillion dollars a year keeping standing armies in the field in time of peace does far greater damage to its economy and society than any enemy could hope to. Every dime thus spent is a disinvestment in the productive economy. Heaven forbid the time should come to use those armies to actually defend our nation, we will no longer have the economy to wield them.

Great power conflicts are not ultimately won by armies, but by economies.

If we are to confront the towering challenges of this still-young century, we must project US power. Project our power to build rather than destroy. Project it into the crumbling steel towns of Western Pennsylvania, into Ferguson, into the flooded fields of the Midwest and the fire-ravaged Sierra Nevada, into Baltimore, and St. Louis, and El Centro. After a century of perpetual war, it is time to bring our soldiers home. It is time to reallocate the lion’s share of our military spending to rebuilding our country, to investing in our people and our homeland. It is time to nurse our nation back to health with Medicare-for-All. It is time for massive federal investment in green infrastructure and jobs in order to hasten the decarbonization of our economy and increase productivity and aggregate demand. It is time to foster US dominance in the capital-intensive industries of tomorrow and to invest in the research and development that was a cornerstone of our meteoric ascent in the 20th century. It is time for progressive taxation to fund our common priorities and remedy the wealth and income inequality that is smothering our economy and destabilizing our democracy.

We must do these things not only because they will increase our prosperity and improve our quality of life. Not only because they are essential to combating catastrophic anthropogenic global climate change. Not only because they are equitable, and just, and right. But also because investing in America and its working people is the only thing that will ultimately keep us safe. With all of her imperfections, this nation — the world’s first and oldest liberal democracy, a new thing on this Earth — is yet a project worth saving.

Support for Strict Regulation of Short Term Vacation Rentals (STVRs).


In 2017, Councilmember Barbara Bry presented her compromise ordinance on STVRs to the San Diego City Council, which mandated that only primary residences could be rented, and then only for 6 months at a time for the whole house, or continuously for individiual rooms if the owner was present. I delivered these remarks on behalf of La Jolla Town Council before full Council. The ordinance was adopted but unfortunately later referendized by the STVR industry and withdrawn by Council.

"I’m here today as a citizen and as a trustee of the La Jolla Town Council.

Contrary to popular belief, La Jollans are not close-fisted. The representatives we elect--Our Councilmember Barbara Bry, our Assemblymember Todd Gloria, and our State Senator Toni Atkins--have strong progressive values and platforms. The majority of us believe that it is appropriate and right that our affluence should help to improve the lives and opportunities of those less fortunate. We show up to these meetings, to protests, we organize, we care about issues that only affect us insofar as we are members of the larger community of San Diego. I come here routinely, I come to planning commission, I come to the County Board of Supervisors, to advocate for policies that rarely affect me or my family directly. I don’t come here to complain about potholes in the Village, or about the seals. I come to fight for criminal justice reform, and habitat conservation, and affordable housing, and transit-oriented infill. You will never, ever hear me say the words, “Sorry, it’s not my problem, it doesn’t affect District 1.” When it comes to this City’s nine districts, the only honorable guiding philosophy is, “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

So it gives me enormous comfort and pride when Councilmembers from districts that are less impacted by STVR listen to our pleas, and come to the aid of our threatened coastal communities. 

And for those who say the threat isn’t serious, or isn’t real, you are wrong.

San Diego is not just buildings by the beach, which can be filled indifferently with residents or bachelor parties. These are human communities, that endure and evolve over time. These are parents and children, these are teachers, and plumbers, and small business owners. These are planning group members, and beach clean-up volunteers, and Eagle Scouts, and parishioners. As an anthropologist and a native of San Diego, I am acutely aware of the importance of community. Our neighbors have a right to rely on their City to enforce its zoning laws and protect them from uses incompatible with residential life.

And as families are displaced in favor of tourists, so are our community’s children. And with each child lost to STVRs, enrollment drops and funding declines at our local schools, until they can no longer sustain administration, and go the way of Mission Beach Elementary.  

Furthermore, illegal lodgings deepen our housing crisis, and push coastal residents to inland communities, where they in turn displace residents of those communities, and so on. And when this game of musical chairs is done, it will, as always, be the most vulnerable left standing...or sleeping under an overpass as it were.

And to those who say the problem isn’t critical and will resolve itself without municipal intervention, you are wrong. Without enforcement of zoning laws, the logic of residential conversion is inexorable. Each new STVR reduces the value of nearby units as residences and increases their value as potential STVRs. This isn’t theoretical. Unless these new ordinances are adopted and enforced, it will become increasingly irrational to purchase any coastal unit as a residence.

STVRs are illegal--just as illegal as putting any other incompatible use in a residential zone--and the so-called crisis is not an inevitable consequence of changing economic norms, but a direct effect of Mayor Faulconer and the City’s consistent failure to enforce its own zoning ordinances."

Opposition to March Ballot for the Convention Center Expansion Initiative (Measure C)


I delivered these remarks before San Diego City Council in opposition to the March ballot placement of the Convention Center Expansion initiative. The item passed and the Expansion ultimately became this year's Measure C.

"Let’s start with obvious: it is self-evident that the intent of voters in approving Measure L was not to encourage the Council to play political games with the placement of initiatives. That it was not to encourage Council to manipulate the placement of initiatives in order to benefit their own preferred initiatives. That’s self-evident. They wanted the largest, most representative electorate to weigh in on initiatives. Period.

Proponents of a March placement are correct, in their manner, that Measure L gives Council the authority to do so, but it doesn’t absolve members from weighing the benefits of such a placement against its costs.

What supporters of the Expansion want from a March election is plain. A smaller, less representative, more favorable primary electorate, on a clean ballot. The hoteliers want more public monies to subsidize their profit-making enterprises. Labor council wants more jobs for its members.

What some progressives on the Council and their supporters want--many of whom may be neutral or opposed to the Expansion per se--is to keep additional revenue measures from crowding the Housing Federation and MTS revenue measures in November. Which is laudable in its own way, but which I think rests ultimately on an underappreciation of just how bad the Convention Center Expansion would be for working San Diegans. 

Improving the electoral math for a measure that would saddle generations of San Diegans with a $3.5 billion dollar debt to line the pockets of wealthy downtown interests is a cost grossly disproportionate to any electoral benefit an MTS measure might thereby obtain.

The Convention Center Expansion initiative is theft. Not because it’s a tax, but because it allocates that tax to padding the profits of the wealthy and the powerful, to giving Scrooge McDuck more gold to dive into, rather than to infrastructure and services of enduring and sustainable and equitable benefit to all San Diegans.

The argument that local taxpayers won’t have to pay for the Expansion is for children. Anyone sophisticated enough to make that argument is sophisticated enough to know how ridiculous it is. TOT funds are a precious resource. When you spend TOT on nonsense instead of desperately needed services and infrastructure, it is local taxpayers that suffer and local taxpayers that will eventually be forced to pony up to cover the shortfall.

TOT is precious. It should be used to address the things that keep San Diegans up at night. Health, debt, housing, employment, education. I’m sorry, but no one, not a single person in our city of 1.4 million, lays awake at night worrying about the size of the convention center. “What’s wrong honey, why can’t you sleep?” “It’s just that Convention Center. It’s just...not big enough.” Maybe the Convention Center Board members lay awake worrying about it. But probably not even them. They have mortgages, and family struggling with addiction, and that freckle on their back that might be melanoma, and 40 minutes of morning commute. Just like the rest of us. Raise the TOT to solve that: healthcare, early education, transit, housing. 

We have a looming climate catastrophe that this $3.5 billion does nothing to address. Worse, the Center is already pumping seawater out of its basement around the clock and the Expansion wades further out into the bay, in spite of dire warnings about sea level rise. Don’t just use homelessness and transportation to bait the hook. Give us a measure that is dedicated in its entirety to confronting San Diego’s most pressing crises. Confronting what keeps San Diegans up at night.

Do not give hoteliers and other downtown interests the edge they crave to leverage public funds for their private profit. I’m sensitive to the needs of working people. But I’m not climbing into bed with the downtown interests just because labor’s in there telling me the sheets are Egyptian cotton. I don’t care. That’s not intersectionality. That’s not solidarity. Solidarity doesn’t mean helping one another do the wrong thing. 

It doesn’t make any sense. Why fight for jobs doing the wrong thing? When you’ve got an army of allies to help ensure you have good union jobs doing the right thing. If we spent that TOT on what we ought--on mass transit, on transit-supportive, mixed-income public housing, on universal pre-K, on permanent supportive housing and wrap-around services--we’d fight for PLAs, local hire, prevailing wage, card-check neutrality, on all those too.

I have no beef with my sisters and brothers in labor. I love ‘em. I love labor. They just happen to be wrong on this. This violates our shared values...and they know it. I know them. Personally. And they are sophisticated enough to know that trickle down economics is wrong, that WEALTHfare is wrong, that indebting working San Diegans to give to the powerful is wrong.

They know! Some of these people helped teach ME how valuable TOT funds are. Of all people, they know.

Give San Diegans a TOT measure that has $2 billion for mass transit, $2 billion for mixed-income, transit-supportive, public housing, and a billion for universal pre-k. I’ll fight for that. Address our climate crisis, our housing crisis, our equity crisis. All good union jobs. PLA that to the moon. But please, do not give the Expansion the March ballot the hoteliers crave. It’s not worth it.

The Convention Center Expansion doesn’t deserve to be on ANY ballot. It is entitled, however, by law, to be on the November ballot. Let it fall where it is entitled to fall. Thank you."

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