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District 3 candidates answer 11 tough questions

Posted: May 6th, 2016 | Feature, News, Top Story | No Comments

By SDCNN Editorial Board

Voters in District 3 will be electing a new City Councilmember this year to replace the termed-out Todd Gloria, who is running for the California Assembly. Voting by mail begins May 9, and the primary election will take place on June 7.

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(l to r) Anthony Bernal and Chris Ward, the leading candidates in the City Council District 3 race. (Courtesy of the candidates)

San Diego Community Newspaper Network invited the three candidates — Anthony Bernal and Chris Ward, both Democrats; and Scott Sanborn, an Independent — to answer 11 questions of vital interest to residents of Downtown and Uptown who live in District 3. Sanborn, who has kept a low profile during the campaign, did not respond to our request. Here are the questions and answers:

What do you think about the Chargers’ proposed Downtown Convention Center expansion and stadium (aka “convadium”) effort?

Bernal: I’m opposed to the Chargers’ efforts to put a stadium in the East Village. I believe an innovation district would create more high- and middle-income level jobs and would be a better use from the land in East Village. Over the course of my 32 weeks on the campaign trail, I have knocked on 26,000 doors and talked directly with residents about this issue in addition to many others. Consistently, I have heard that D3 residents want the Chargers to stay, but not at the taxpayers’ expense. So, I love the Chargers and I do hope they stay in San Diego, but I love our neighborhoods even more. It is in our neighborhoods that we should invest and not in a sports franchise owned by billionaires. 

Ward: I have strongly and repeatedly expressed my opposition to the proposed project. The plan’s requirement of substantial public dollar investment, and the difficulties of integrating a stadium facility use into the urban fabric of Downtown without severe community impacts and at the expense of higher and better development opportunities make it inappropriate. I am proud to be the only candidate in this race who has been opposed to public financing of a stadium effort throughout this campaign — showing leadership on this issue is a critical test of candidate’s principles. It does not make sense for the taxpayer, and we have more pressing neighborhood needs to fund.

A recent SANDAG initiative suggests a half-cent sales tax increase that prioritizes public transportation over highway funds. What is your position on this ballot proposal?

Bernal: I’m in favor of the SANDAG Quality-of-Life measure. I believe that our city must expand its transportation options and give both residents and visitors more mobility options when considering how to get from place to place, and I believe this measure can help us achieve that.

Ward: I am generally supportive of the proposal to get funds now for mass transit and alternative transportation networks we desperately need. It could use further refining in the upcoming committee work to continue to prioritize funding away from freeway expansions, however the funding ratios proposed to date are encouraging and a well-negotiated balance.

Where do you stand on the “Rebuild San Diego,” Councilmember Mark Kersey’s ballot infrastructure measure that would shift spending priorities within the city’s general fund? 

Bernal: I think it’s a fine idea, but I’m not sure how feasible the proposal actually is at solving the infrastructure deficit that we have today. Currently, the city of San Diego has an infrastructure deficit estimated at above $5 billion. What Councilmember Kersey is proposing is getting us to that point about 25 years from now. The longer we wait to address our infrastructure problems, the more it will deteriorate. I believe we must find a steady revenue stream to address our infrastructure deficit today, and I am hopeful to work with the mayor and the entire City Council to accomplish that.

Ward: I do not support Proposition H. It actually does not shift spending priorities — we are already doing that today. Indeed, the draft FY2017 budget dedicated 70 percent of increased revenue to infrastructure-related spending, above the 50 percent model required by Prop H. It does not address the serious multibillion dollar backlog of infrastructure needs facing the city; it makes it feel like the city is addressing this, when in practice, it is something future councils would be doing anyway. It further ties hands of future councils to make responsible choices for unforeseen, greater priorities should emergencies arise.

Do you have an opinion on Councilmember Gloria’s idea for the sale of the historical Truax House on Union Street in Bankers Hill and the development of a park in nearby Maple Canyon, where an AIDS memorial would be built? 

Bernal: Councilmember Gloria has shown great leadership and consensus-building on this issue. Personally, I would like to see the house preserved and transformed into some form of HIV/AIDS memorial that would testify to the role the house and Dr. Brad Truax played during the HIV/AIDS crisis in San Diego. I think the community has made it clear that the house should be preserved, and I believe that’s exactly what we should do. 

Ward: I attended the committee hearing where the item was initially discussed and spoke against the sale. I believe that the city should not sell assets in times where there is no urgent need for cash, and where potential public benefit could exist on a parcel. The test here is not met; the opportunity to preserve a historical asset as well as enhance a parkland opportunity on site into Maple Canyon is lost through this sale, and an AIDS memorial in fact could be incorporated on site at a rehabilitated Truax house. Further, members of the broader Bankers Hill community were surprised through the process to learn last minute of the sale, and there are mixed feelings about the renaming of Olive Street Park for Truax. The engagement of community groups into this kind of decision-making is important for me to do better.

What should be done with the marijuana dispensaries in San Diego?

Bernal: In February 2014, the City Council gave approval for medical marijuana dispensaries to operate legally in San Diego. They are not allowed within a thousand feet of schools, parks, and churches and can’t operate in residential neighborhoods. Only 36 total within city limits, four per council district, but none in council District 3 because it is primarily zoned as residential. I believe the current ordinance provides clear rules which result in access to medical marijuana for legitimate San Diego patients and safeguard neighborhoods from negative impacts associated with dispensaries.

Ward: We need to improve on the framework begun by the Medical Marijuana Task Force, which was meant to be a start on zoning regulations to allow dispensary businesses the right to operate in limited conditions, select sites throughout the city, and with strong community safety protections. In practice, some of the framework has been exceedingly onerous and created a prohibitively time-consuming and costly process just to get to the point of operating legally, while denying patients the right to access dispensaries. Fed up with this, many entrepreneurs are continuing the cycle of risking themselves and the community by opening unpermitted storefronts and watching law enforcement crack down on their facilities. Working with those in industry, law enforcement, and community stakeholders, we can find updates to the ordinance that improve the conditions for all.

How should the city solve the homeless problem?

Bernal: As a resident of Downtown and Councilmember Gloria’s representative to Downtown, I am dealing with the increasing homelessness rate in San Diego every day. But, homelessness is not just a District 3 issue, it’s a regional issue, and I am committed to working with community partners like St. Vincent de Paul, PATH, and the Rescue Mission as well as government leaders from neighboring jurisdictions to ensure that we put in place viable and dignified options for our homeless neighbors to get off the streets and have all of their basic needs met. The proven way to solve homelessness is through a housing-first approach. We are making every effort we can to work with our service providers and create new facilities such as Celedon and the historic Hotel Churchhill. I believe the missing piece at this point is how do we control the inflow of homeless individuals who are coming into San Diego. Other cities in our region and across state lines need to share in the responsibility of caring for our most vulnerable human beings or the federal government needs to adjust the funding for our city.

Ward: I invite you to visit my website, under “Issues,” to see a detailed plan of just some of the many ways we could be using our resources better and seeking out new approaches that test well in other cities to address homelessness. In general, getting a larger and more fair share of resources from federal and state authorities into the San Diego region allows us to have more to work with. Continual conversation with our nonprofit partners and the Housing Commission will allow opportunities to find gaps in service and a more efficient use of these resources. Creating programs like social impact bonds, establishing a mayoral director to coordinate the public management of homeless related impacts, expediting housing-first model developments, and many more pieces of a complex solution will do a quicker job of providing the services we know work to get people off the streets, into effective programs and not fall back into homelessness.

Where do you stand on raising the local minimum wage?

Bernal: I am in favor of the city’s Minimum Wage and Earned Sick Leave Ordinance that will raise the minimum wage in the city of San Diego to $11.50 per hour. I do have reservations about small businesses incurring more expenses with higher than an $11.50-per-hour minimum wage. I am hopeful that the ordinance will pass this June, but I would prefer that we examine the impact the new wage will have on our local small businesses before having it increase again.

In District 3, we have so many neighborhood commercial business districts that add to the unique fabric of the neighborhood. I think one of the worst things we can do is rid them of their community character, which includes our unique, local small businesses.

Ward: I support Proposition I to raise the local minimum wage immediately to $10.50 and to $11.50 in the next year; it also affords five sick days to local workers.

What would you do about the affordable housing crisis? 

Bernal: It’s important to recognize that affordable housing (or the lack thereof) is not just a concern for our homeless individuals or those living in substandard accommodations, but rather, it threatens the economic vitality of our entire region. The only way I believe we can address this issue is by offering developers incentives to create affordable housing. Our region needs to issue more building permits that is in our city and in neighboring cities in our region. We will do our part but it is important other communities share in the responsibility. We can bring housing prices down by abiding by three building mantras: taller, denser, and more inclusive.

Ward: This complex issue is one of the biggest challenges hurting San Diego families and making it difficult to establish themselves in San Diego. We need to continue to secure affordable housing funding opportunities from above in light of the loss of redevelopment dollars once available through the state. At the local level, we can further reform the city’s development services processes to reduce regulatory burdens that add time and cost of development, while expediting affordable housing projects where development opportunities lie in our community plans. For me, this is particularly critical for the growing senior community who are increasingly finding it difficult to make rent payments in this rising market and forcing them to choose whether or not to remain in the communities they have spent much of their lives or move out of the area.

Where do you stand on development density? 

Bernal: I strongly believe in density through design. As a City Councilmember, it’s crucial to know the population of whom you serve. I believe the City Council as a whole has the responsibility of ensuring that housing projects accommodate a range of incomes to alleviate poverty and revitalize neighborhoods. What residents have made clear to me is that if we are going to build more homes, people should be able to actually live there and not be forced into poverty because of high rent costs.

Ward: As someone who volunteered years of my time through my own community planning group, I do support the work of our community plan updates. Many of these guiding documents appropriately place increased density along transit corridors, downtown, and neighborhood nodes where we are hoping to invest in people and community infrastructure. As higher density projects are proposed I will look carefully to make sure they embed well with the surrounding environment, contribute to the fulfillment of visionary documents like our general plan and climate action plan, and incorporate public benefit investments as part of their proposal.

How do we solve the disrepair of the city’s crown jewel, Balboa Park?

Bernal: I think this solution goes along the same lines as that of our city’s infrastructure in general. However, I would like to see dedicated general obligation bond funding just for Balboa Park because it is such a regional asset that needs consistent care and maintenance. This would be something I would certainly champion if elected as the next City Councilmember.

Ward: I’ve committed to making a priority in my first 100 days to establish a public working group to take a fresh look at the totality of infrastructure need, prioritize the repair and new projects the city should invest in Balboa Park, and identify appropriate funding proposals to close the deficit gap and create a sustainable funding stream for the park in perpetuity. While others have made campaign promises to promote a general obligation bond as the solution, history shows that infeasible as one has never been approved by city voters because of its high two-thirds threshold required under law, nor are those funds lawfully permitted to sustainably fund ongoing maintenance needs. As someone who understands the broad range of municipal finance mechanisms more appropriate for this opportunity, I intend to engage the public with these solutions to present to the voters a thoughtful and reasonable solution to save Balboa Park.

Why should voters choose you over your opponents?

Bernal: I believe that I have more applicable experience than my opponent, which means that I am better equipped to execute the duties of a City Councilmember starting immediately on day one. Serving District 3 residents as a member of the Todd Squad has well prepared me to deliver results and continue a culture of accountability for taxpayers. I have worked at City Hall for the past seven years as a member of Councilmember Gloria’s staff. In that time, I have served as a representative to every neighborhood in District 3 and I know the communities well. I have also built positive working relationship with city leaders and I have the background knowledge on nearly every civic issue. My opponent comes from the highly politicized environment in Sacramento and does not have those connections or history. I can and I will continue the progress and level of service that District 3 residents have come to expect from their city government, and I truly believe I am the only candidate who can do that.

Ward: I bring nearly two decades of community engagement and well-developed relationships with many of our neighborhood, regional, state, and federal partners to the office in order to provide greater leadership and participate in solving our most pressing challenges. As a former urban planner in the private sector and current Senate Chief of Staff, serving as your City Councilmember connects two of my career passions I pursued after obtaining my education at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Trusted individuals and organizations like Toni Atkins and Christine Kehoe who served in this seat; Councilmembers David Alvarez, Myrtle Cole and Marti Emerald; my own boss Senator Marty Block; San Diego Police Officers and Fire Fighters; the Sierra Club; and hundreds more have critically evaluated the candidates and offered me their endorsement based on my ability to be successful in the role. I ask for the voters’ support as well on June 7 to allow me to help move our city forward.

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