Report on the Mayoral ‘Debate’ for San Diego’s Coast

by on September 23, 2019 · 6 comments

in Election, Ocean Beach, San Diego

Barbara Bry, Todd Gloria, and Tasha Williamson

By Geoff Page

There was a mayoral “debate” on Wednesday, September 18 at Mission Bay High School.  The word debate is in quotations because, although these candidate events are called debates, no actual debating takes place.  It’s time to call these events what they are, question and answer sessions where the actual questions are often ignored.

Barbara Bry, Todd Gloria, and Tasha Williamson are all running for mayor and they responded to questions posed by moderators for two hours while a packed auditorium listened and applauded. The choice for mayor comes down to Gloria, a man who has lived the life of a politician, Bry, a private citizen most of her life until her successful run for city council, and Williamson, a political novice but an experienced, passionate community activist coming from the outside.

Gloria was clearly the most polished of the three. He is a career politician, and it showed.  He managed to avoid answering many of the questions.  He appealed to the audience emotionally and directly, including them several times by asking a question for the crowd to respond to. It was a clever way of drawing people in by making them feel included. But, substance was lacking.

Bry was well spoken but not polished like a career politician.  Bry’s first venture into politics was to run for, and win, the seat she occupies on the city council now. Before that, Bry was a business person and a journalist for some time.  She did not use any devices to generate appeal.  Her complete, apparently heartfelt answers were effective.  Bry came off as a basically regular person who was convinced to run for city council and, once there, was appalled at what she saw.  She wants to fix what she has seen.

Tasha Williamson was at the other end of the spectrum from Todd Gloria.  Not a novice to public life as an activist, but a novice politician. She was also well spoken but, like Bry, did not have the polish of a career politician.  Williamson answered the questions honestly and brought in a different perspective. She is clearly a champion of the less fortunate and those who suffer the effects of racism. Her goal is inclusion, making sure everyone, not just a select few, has equal access to government. For someone who is not well known, she made an impression judging by the audience reaction.

The auditorium at the high school is good-sized, probably holding 200-300 people and it was mostly full. It was a warm night and with the body heat of the audience and no air conditioning, people were uncomfortable judging by the amount of hand fanning. The candidates stood behind separate podiums on a raised stage. The moderators sat to the candidate’s left at a table along the side of the stage.

Debate moderators: Sherri Lightner and Brian White. Photos by Geoff Page

Former city council person Sherri Lightner was one of the moderators. Brian White, the president of the Pacific Beach Town Council was the other. The moderators posed a series of questions that were apparently culled from a large collection of questions suggested by the community.

Each candidate was given three minutes for opening statements, and later, the same amount of time in closing.  After this, the questions were asked, and the candidates answered them, in an order set by the moderators. At first, they candidates were given two minutes to answer questions, but this changed later to one minute, which seemed too short.

The questions covered the gamut of the regular top issues.  The following paragraphs present the answers each candidate gave to the various questions.

Bry Responses

To a question about how to solve the affordable housing problem, Bry had a number of suggestions.

  • Require developers to build affordable housing on the site they are building or assess much higher in lieu fees.
  • Promote granny flats
  • Update community plans to allow much more housing
  • Require fifteen percent of units in the Morena building proposal to be affordable
  • Reduce permitting time.

On the question of STVRs or short-term vacation rentals, Bry said it was a housing issue.  Bry was involved in a compromise ordinance about this last year that AirBnB and others fought and got the council to rescind. She said that STVRs were illegal under the current municipal code and the law has not been enforced, which she said she would do. Bry said the mayor needs to enforce the law now not wait until a new mayor is in office.

On the question of how to recruit and retain police officers, Bry mentioned a housing fund that would help them buy homes in the city with what she called golden handcuffs requiring them to live in the city.  She also mentioned using cops to do police work and have others do some of the services the police are wasted on now.

A question was posed about the homeless, particularly mandatory treatment for those suffering from mental illness or drug and alcohol addiction. She did not respond directly to the mandatory part of the question.  She instead explained that the county had a part to play because it has substantial untapped resources. She also mentioned the San Diego Housing Authority and said there was no need for a new bureaucracy in city hall.

A question about planning groups and how the candidates would do more to ensure citizen input into government was considered. Bry said the planning groups were valuable but she focused on one aspect of the process that she said needed reform, the Planning Commission.  She said the appointments need to be reviewed and more people from the planning groups, regular community members, should be considered as voices on the commission.  This is a popular idea – the Planning Commission has a controversial history of being populated with developers, architects, and other professionals who favor development.

A question was asked if the candidates supported the lifeguards having their own department instead of being part of the police or fire departments.  Bry said yes, the lifeguards deserved their own independent organization. A secondary question about lifeguard pay was asked.  Bry said they needed to have competitive salaries and the city has the money – the city just needs to use the money it has much more wisely.  Bry said she sits on the budget committee and can see how money is not used well.

A question was asked about enforcing city ordinances and Bry said the first thing to do is not pass ordinances we can’t enforce.  Using police officers to enforce the scooter ordinance is not a good use of the police or lifeguard services.  The street vendor ordinance recently passed would require a real enforcement effort we can’t afford.

Another scooter question was about whether or not motorized traffic should be allowed on the boardwalk. Bry was passionate about scooters.  She said she told the mayor some time ago that the city should issue an RFP (Request for Proposal) and handle the scooter companies professionally.  The mayor ignored the suggestion. Bry said no to scooters on the boardwalk and called for a moratorium on all scooters until a reasonable policy was worked out.

There was a question about city lands and leases.  Bry said the city dearly needs a long-term real estate strategy because it does not have one now.  Bry held up the city’s ill-fated purchase of the old SDG&E building on 2nd St. downtown as an example of a failed policy.  The city spent a lot to buy the building and then found out it needed another $30 million in rehabilitation.

On the issue of wetland restoration, Bry said she would like to see parts of Mission Bay re-wilded but also believed land needed to be reserved for visitor accommodations.  There was a very large contingency of people wearing orange- ellow shirts that said Campland Forever who were happy to hear this.

A question was asked about the problem of storm water and the candidates were asked how they would work to improve ocean water quality.  Bry mentioned several specific things like treating the storm water, add swales around drainage facilities, creating retention basins in existing parks, and requiring developers to include run-off facilities in projects.

Also, along the same line of storm drain runoff, the candidates were asked if they would support some kind of funding, such as a bond, to make improvements on the storm drain infrastructure. Bry’s answer was that we needed to a better job of using the money we have now before asking for more money.

On a question of how to increase park funding, Bry made three points.  She said there have been new projects involving joint use of school district property with the city creating new park opportunities.  She said there is private sector funding that can be used.  And, she said much more citizen input is needed in the budget process to make sure the budget is used to do what the communities want.

Gloria Responses

On affordable housing, Gloria cited statistics saying that 27,000 homes for higher income folks and 4,400 homes for low income folks had been built but only 33 houses had been built for the middle class.  It was not clear where these figures came from or what they represented, the point seemed to be that the middle class was missing out.  Gloria also said community plans need updating.

On STVRs, Gloria said he supported home sharing. He said the main problem in San Diego was enforcement of the current code.  He said fees, taxes, and fines needed to be collected.  He did not mention the big businesses that are involved in this industry.

On how to recruit and train more police officers, Gloria said housing and childcare assistance are needed and money needs to be moved around to help.

On the question of requiring mandatory treatment for drug and alcohol afflicted homeless, Gloria did not answer the question.  He said more housing was needed and the county needed to help more.

On the question of what to do about planning groups and how to ensure that citizen input is considered, the answer was basically what Gloria has done and is doing now personally by being very accessible. While that is admirable, it was not an answer to the question. Later, Gloria said more community plans need updating and that takes money he said he would look to Sacramento for.

On the question of lifeguards having their own department, Gloria did not say yes or no.  He said he will “listen to them and take action.” About as indefinitely stated as possible.

When asked the question about lifeguard pay, said, yes, the pay needed to be raised but he didn’t stop there.  He said not just the lifeguards but also lots of other city personnel such as planners, engineers, landscapers, everyone else needs to be considered.  It seemed Gloria was promising all city workers a raise, if, of course, he is elected mayor. The question was about the lifeguards.

On the question of enforcing ordinances, Gloria agreed improvement was needed.  He referred to the what he saw as the city’s poor handling of illegal marijuana dispensaries by not enforcing the law until he got involved. He was critical of the scooter situation also and said the scooter and bike companies need to pay for doing business in the city.

Gloria did not directly answer the question of allowing scooters on the boardwalk.  He said they should not be allowed on sidewalks and then talked about limiting scooter companies.

When asked what his thoughts were about the city’s properties and leases, his answer was not non-responsive, mostly political speak.

On the question of restoring the wetlands in Mission Bay, Gloria responded by talking about sea level rise.

Another non-answer came in response to the question asking what the candidates would do to improve ocean water quality. Gloria had nothing specific to say.

When responding to the question asking if he would support additional funding to raise the money needed to fix San Diego’s aging storm drain system, all Gloria had to say was he would use the mayor’s office as a ‘bully pulpit.” He did not commit himself yes or no.

When asked how to increase funding for parks, Gloria responded that things like Business Improvement District, or BID, and Maintenance Assessment District, or MAD funds could be used, public private partnerships, and going to Sacramento for funds were ways to do this.

Williamson’s Responses

On the question of affordable housing, Williamson stressed that the existing stock of this kind of housing is very poorly managed by the city.  She said that there is not enough oversight of developers. She said tax incentives would be helpful. And she said the city should use its own properties to create some of this housing.  She also mentioned, at this first questions, something she repeated a few times, that this election was a popularity contest.  She seemed to be alluding to the idea that the contest was between two well-known candidates, Bry and Gloria, and encouraged people to look further, to a new face, her.

On the question about STVRs, Williamson spoke about being careful to not harm those people who are renting rooms in their houses to help pay the mortgage.  This is a legitimate concern but she did not mention the businesses that are exploiting this market.

In answer to the question asking what the candidates would to recruit and retain police officers, she agreed with the others that pay and benefits needed to be increased.  But, in the first instance of her special perspective, Williamson said she would look at removing some of the heavy presence of police officers disproportionally found in poor neighborhoods and redistributing them. She did not answer the question directly, but she made a statement in her answer.

Williamson’s answer to the question about mandatory drug and alcohol treatment was not a direct answer but addressed an obvious problem.  She talked about the prison system and said a lot could be done there by treating prisoners and providing them more help once they leave prison.  She did not provide a yes or no answer to mandatory treatment.

When asked what the candidates could do to ensure that citizen input from organizations like planning groups was considered by the city, Williamson did not have clear answer.  She did not appear to be knowledgeable about planning groups.

On the question of lifeguards having their own department, Willliamson replied that she agreed they needed this change and that they needed pay and benefit increases.

On lifeguard pay increases, Williamson again provided her unique perspective.  She said that for too long, the police have been considered first followed by the fire department and the lifeguards.  She said there should be pay equity among all three. She said one job should be enough, that first responders should not have to work two jobs to make ends meet.

On the question of enforcing ordinances, Williamson had a very unique response.  She said ask the community first before doing anything like allowing scooters.  It was a recurring theme with Williamson.  She believed there was entirely too much of city government dictating to the community when it was supposed to be the other way around.  She said the people are over the government and the people need to be asked before things happen, not after.

Williamson’s answer about scooters on the boardwalk was refreshingly to the point.  She said no, they should not be allowed.

On the subject of the city’s properties and leases, Williamson said she was not a fan of long-term leases because they seemed to always involve back room deals that benefit a few and not the general public. She said she agreed that Campland should have a presence, referring to that company’s controversial new lease for De Anza Cove.  But, that is only a five year lease, which Williamson seemed to think was acceptable.  She also promoted rewilding portions of the bay.

On the question about restoration of wetlands, Williamson appeared to have deep feelings.  In her opening remarks, she focused on the environment and our duty to preserve it. This was also a recurring theme in her remarks.

In response to the question about a plan to improve the ocean water quality, Williamson made one good remark about promoting the use of environmentally responsible products.  She then veered off into this being a humanitarian crisis and did not provide much more to directly answer the question.

The similar question about whether or not the candidates supported an increase in funding for dealing with the aging storm drain system did not elicit much of an answer from Williamson.  It would be understandable if a community activist such as Williamson, focused on social issues, may not have thought much about the aging storm drain system.

In response to the question about how to find more funding for parks, Williamson suggested collaborations with the school system and with the county.  This was one of several junctures where Williamson voiced criticism of the current city government when she said that there is lots of money when money is needed for “friends” and that a close look at the budget and where money is going would be a good idea. That garnered some real applause.

There were a few questions asking for a simple yes or no:

Have you served on a planning group?  All responded no.

Would you agree in a ballot measure for Green San Diego?  Gloria and Williamson said yes, Bry said no.  Bry’s position is conservative in that she believes there is plenty of money already available without a ballot measure.

Do you screen campaign donations? All said yes.

Have any of you rejected campaign donations?  Bry was the only one who answered yes saying she returned a donation from the company that owns Campland.

Do you qualify for party donations? Bry was the only no.

Are there any committees working actively for or against you? Williamson said no, Gloria said yes, and Bry said there was one committee working for her candidacy.

In the closing comments, Gloria again talked about his blue collar parents who worked hard to put their kids through college, that he stood up to the NRA, that he was heavily involved in creating the city’s climate action plan, and that he wants San Diego to be a world class city.

Bry said she was concerned about the future for the children, that city hall was corrupt and full of secrecy, and that what is needed most is transparency in city government.  She said the secrecy that surrounded the city’s ill-fated purchase of the old SDG&E building and the secrecy surrounding the SDSU West deal for the stadium property were just two examples of the problems.

Williamson made a stronger statement about the racism and corruption in the city government and promised that as mayor she would stand up to developers.

The evening ended with some silly questions of all three about when they last rode a bus or trolley, what their first jobs were, and what their comfort food was. After two hours in a hot auditorium, there was no energy left to record those responses.

 

 

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar Denine September 23, 2019 at 8:32 pm

I really appreciate this report as I was unable to attend the debate. I’m hopeful that the OB Town Council will support additional opportunities for our community to hear from these candidates.

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Avatar Rickey Owens-Smith September 27, 2019 at 12:02 pm

Todd Gloria all the way! No need to respond, you will be blocked!

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Avatar george glass October 1, 2019 at 2:28 pm

^ sounds just like a tRump supporter

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie October 1, 2019 at 4:16 pm

george glass – I think they were referring to the thought that anyone promoting Gloria on this site would “be blocked!” I think.

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Avatar Gary Wonacott October 16, 2019 at 9:48 am

Assemblymember Gloria seems not to be anchored on any side of the short term rental issue, giving him the flexibility to always position himself between his opponent and the listening audience. He comments that the San Diego City Council has failed to enact meaningful and reasonable regulations….which first is not true, but secondly begs the question, why did the Assemblymember not pursue short term rental regulations when he was on the City Council, or more importantly, when he was in the power position of acting mayor. It would seem that the opportunity to implement regulations then would have been much easier than now, when the platforms have grown to billion dollar corporations.

Either Assemblymember Gloria does not have an appreciation for the problem or he is spending too much time with the platform lobbyists. This is not an easy problem to solve, as many large cities around the world and in the U.S. have found in recent years. The regulations put forth by Councilmember Bry last year recognized and enabled the sharing part of the equation, which to a large degree has been abandoned by the platforms in favor of absentee-investor owned short term rental properties in San Diego that account for a substantial number of housing unit losses. This housing is lost to graduating students from our universities and retiring military who have the technical and managerial skills to stay here.

I attended a meeting in Mission Beach, a community that has been rocked by over-tourism during the summer months in particular, and then winter months when STR housing is left unused, during which Assemblymember Gloria attempted to answer residents questions regarding his no vote on the State Assembly Bill that would have limited platforms for STR bookings. Had he not been running for mayor against City Councilmember Bry, I believe his vote would have been yes, as he would have been working with the Councilmember to best integrate the State vote with local permitting and enforcement regulations. But, he failed to take advantage of that opportunity, opting instead to push responsibility back to the City Council.

He is quoted in a recent article in the Voice of San Diego saying, “I believe a solution can be reached that will regulate short-term rentals and be enforceable in order to preserve neighborhoods and quality of life.” Yes, Mr. Gloria, this could have been the case had your priorities been on a solution rather than on politics as usual.

I think it is becoming increasingly clear that a vote for Gloria is a vote for another four years of FAULCONER.

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Avatar Geoff Page October 16, 2019 at 8:33 pm

Very well said, Gary, and I agree with your conclusion.. We have a choice between a career politician or two other candidates that are not professional politicians. I think we have had enough of career politicians.

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