Column: A peek at President Biden’s visit to Rancho Santa Fe

President Biden rides in one of two helicopters, escorted by Ospreys, from the San Diego airport to a Rancho Santa Fe event.
President Biden rides in one of two helicopters, escorted by Ospreys, from the San Diego airport to a private Rancho Santa Fe event.
(Howard Lipin-Howard Lipin Photography/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

$50,000 to $100,000 per ticket event was held at biotech executive’s Rancho Santa Fe home on March 13


As is customary, the location of the private Democratic National Committee fundraiser Monday evening for President Joe Biden didn’t appear on the invitation. It remained a closely guarded secret until just before the event.

As many as 40 guests, including a few from Los Angeles County and the Bay Area, showed up at the Rancho Santa Fe home of biotech CEO Allan Camaisa and his wife, Megan, a philanthropist and movie executive producer.


11:34 a.m. March 19, 2023Notation added regarding subsequent COVID test of Megan Camaisa.

The president joined attendees and spoke as they casually relaxed on sofas and chairs in the living room.

Camaisa’s company, Calidi Biotherapeutics is dedicated to researching innovative cancer treatments for advanced, incurable cancers. Many of the attendees were involved in medical research, biotechnology and health fields.

Greg Banner, who has a financial planning company, said his attendance and that of several other guests wasn’t related to politics, but rather because they are Camaisa’s friends and appreciate the administration’s commitment to fighting cancer. “That’s important to all of us,” he said.

“We were there in a nonpartisan way,” said Banner, who is a Republican. “I knew about half of the people there, and they were not necessarily Biden supporters.”

It wasn’t surprising that the president’s talk touched on medical research, including the Cancer Moonshot program. In early 2022, Biden had re-ignited the 2016 program to fast-track cancer research. He announced a goal of reducing cancer death rates by half within 25 years.

Banner described the president’s stamina as incredible, noting that Biden talked for “a solid hour,” using no notes, after a busy day that included a banking crisis and coming to terms with prime ministers of Australia and the U.K. on an agreement to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.

“I couldn’t have been more impressed,” Banner said. When he shook hands with the president, he confided to Biden that he is in a men’s prayer group that meets weekly and, without fail, they include prayers for the president and the country.

“You know, Greg, I’m a believer,” the president responded as he took what he called his Irish rosary — a ring with a cross on it — from his pocket.

State Sen. Toni Atkins was at the gathering, as was San Diego Congressman Scott Peters, who was with his wife, Lynn Gorguze.

Peters confirmed a CNN report that President Biden mentioned during his talk that former President Jimmy Carter, who is in home hospice, had asked him to deliver his eulogy. Biden then sheepishly added, “Excuse me, I shouldn’t say that.”

Banner described the president as warm, congenial and relaxed as he interacted with the crowd. He sprinkled his talk with occasional jokes, including a one poking fun at his own surgeries.

The reception was expensive, with tickets running $50,000 and $100,000 — higher than most local political fundraisers. “The photos better be good,” chuckled Peters.

Upon arrival, visitors congregated in the Camaiso family’s back yard where they were served Filipino-themed appetizers and took the required COVID-19 tests before entry into the home.

Sadly, Megan Camaisa tested positive and was unable to greet guests at the reception she had so carefully planned and was co-hosting. (However, the result of a PCR COVID-19 test by her Scripps doctor shortly thereafter was negative, leading to the belief that the earlier test was a false positive.)

Camaisa is highly accomplished in her own right as CEO, founder and publisher of a faith-based, family-friendly publication, Risen Magazine. She focuses much of her charitable work on Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander equality in the United States as well as the poverty epidemic in the Philippines.

She was thanked by attendees in absentia. But there was a hint that something far more positive than her diagnosis is in the wind. Biden, saying he felt horrible about her COVID test results, vowed: “We’re going to make it up to you.”

After the event, Banner said he was pleasantly surprised. “I have a different view of the president, honestly, in a good way.”

Meanwhile, Peters made a dramatic shift of venue from the presidential accord signing and reception on Monday. The next evening found him in a far less formal environment. He joined his staff members at Lips, the transgender cabaret show bar in North Park.

The stop was during a staff retreat Tuesday dedicated, in part, to visiting new portions of his district, which was redrawn after the 2020 Census. Early this January, his District 52 changed to District 50, adding new constituents in Hillcrest, North Park, Rancho Santa Fe, San Marcos and some of Escondido, while it lost a large swath of central San Diego.

Earlier in the day, they toured newly added sections of San Marcos and Escondido. In the afternoon, they introduced themselves to new constituents stopping by the LGBT Community Center and various shops and small businesses, including a beer garden, in North Park.