Last Tuesday’s forum for candidates for the Third District Supervisor’s race was sponsored by the Escondido Chamber of Citizens, and moderated by the League of Women Voters North County San Diego. Compared to recent Republican Presidential forums, it was a very civil, sedate affair. Too bad the national debates are no longer moderated by the LWV. All questions were in writing from the audience of around fifty people.
The first question was about the Gregory Canyon Landfill, were the candidates for or against it? Supervisor Dave Roberts answered no. Mayor Sam Abed equivocated with something about needing to insure the supply and safety of water, but he felt the voters who had twice approved the landfill should be respected. Of course the problem with both those votes was that they were county wide, basically allowing the southern county folks to vote for a landfill that was definitely not in their back yard. It is in Escondido’s back yard. It will be built over San Diego County’s largest aquifer. It will endanger Oceanside’s water supply. Mayor Kristin Gaspar was for the landfill, somehow believing that this will help keep trash out of the sea.
The Next question was about the county supervisors’ Neighborhood Reinvestment Program, a special fund that allows supervisors to grant money to organizations and projects at the individual discretion of each supervisor. Actually the questioner referred to the fund by its usual nickname, the slush fund. Abed took the opportunity to take a jab at Roberts, saying Roberts used the fund for political use. He felt there should be a third party oversight committee. Gaspar said that quality organizations should be supported. Roberts noted that the rules for using the fund had been tightened considerably during his time in office, and lauded the benefit of the fund to the Boys and Girls Club.
The next question asked what the candidates would do to make sure their committee appointments would represent the demographics of their district. Gaspar said that diversity was very important to her. Roberts said he was known as Mr. Diversity. Abed noted that Escondido was very diverse, 50 percent Hispanic, and said that he had been endorsed by the Latino American Political Association.
What was their vision for the county? Roberts wanted to improve the quality of life and reduce congestion. The county’s general plan was a roadmap that should be honored. He had been endorsed by the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, the Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley and more. Abed bragged about his nine years on SANDAG. He repeated his refrain that the population was growing at twice the rate of housing. Abed’s statement is not supported by the facts—but that’s a topic for another blog. Gaspar echoed Roberts’ concern for the quality of life. She was concerned that her children would not be able to afford housing, and that good housing projects should be welcomed.
What is the most important economic issue facing the county? Abed said that in canvassing 15k homes for his campaign (he may have only mentioned his walking three times during the debate, but it seemed like he mentioned it about fifteen times,) he had noticed how much the landscaping had been affected by the drought, and felt that water availability was the most crucial factor. Without elaborating, he insisted that under his leadership, Escondido had ensured there would be water availability. Gaspar said that to fail to plan was to plan to fail, and that there was a failure to implement the climate action plans. She too mentioned the blight of congestion and advocated diversifying transportation. Roberts said the number one economic issue was global warming, which was tied to the increase in greenhouse gases. Electric vehicles should be promoted, and the county was doing so. It was also important to site housing in logical areas, not miles away from infrastructure. He noted that he had disagreed with the decision to appeal the court decision that had found the county’s climate action plan wanting.
What to do about the mental health problem? Abed went off on a tangent about how the state was shortchanging the county, and that AB 109 had released thousands of mentally ill into the county. I guess Abed thinks it’s better to lock up the mentally disturbed in jail. Gaspar felt that the problem stemmed from the difficulty people had in navigating the system. Roberts noted the $2.5 billion public health budget of the county, and the county’s negotiation with Palomar and Tri-City to provide mental health services where they are needed. He added that Abed had voted against proposed mental health facilities in Escondido.
How did they feel about the proposed housing developments along the Interstate 15 corridor? Both Gaspar and Abed said that any such projects should mitigate any environmental impacts. Only Roberts insisted that the county’s general plan should be followed. He noted that Escondido had been eager to gobble up peripheral county property for housing.
How would the county achieve water independence? Abed said it would be a challenge (mentioning his walk again) noting that he had seen beautiful drought tolerant landscaping, and bragging about Escondido’s leadership in recycling water for agricultural use. Gaspar said that San Diego County had done a much better job than the rest of the state in their water conservation and storage efforts, and the state did not recognize this. Roberts pointed out that California had a very complicated form of government, and the S.D. Board of Supervisors (BOS) had no control over the water they received. He advocated working to increase water sustainability by converting sewage into potable water.
All three candidates expressed their support for biking trails, full energy independence, and pension reform.
When asked what they thought about developers who sought to dodge the county’s General Plan through General Plan Amendments, Gaspar said she respected the document and the thousands of hours that had gone into its development, but there needed to be flexibility. The proposed amendments should be given higher scrutiny, and there had to be infrastructure. Roberts said that any exception to the General Plan must be a truly unique project. Abed repeated his notion that any environmental concerns must be balanced with the need for housing and respect for property rights. Developers’ rights must be respected.
What should be done to protect against wildfires? Roberts said it was a top priority and the county fire departments were working together now. Abed said that there was a need for efficiencies in County government, allowing more funding for public safety. Gaspar said we needed to get creative, so there would no longer be a shortfall in communication, as had happened.
Both Abed and Gaspar were not supportive of the new Transnet sales tax proposal. Roberts noted that it was a complex decision, and that only the BOS could put the measure on the November ballot. He recognized that there was a tax weariness among citizens, but he say nothing wrong with putting the measure on the ballot for the voters to decide.
They all seemed to agree that homelessness was a complex, difficult problem, with no ready solutions.
What were their priorities? Gaspar said there should not only be balanced budgets, (noting with a dig at Abed’s continual bragging about Escondido’s balanced budgets, that such budgets were required by law,) but also prioritized budgets. Quality of life issues, parks, beaches and open space were high on her list. Public safety was also high on her list, she wished to make it more efficient. Roberts said that fiscal responsibility was always a top priority, and the County had a triple A rating. Reducing congestion, and improving the quality of life. expanding libraries instead of closing them down. (A definite dig at Abed’s part in closing the East Valley Pkwy. Branch of the Escondido Library.) Abed responded that the county had a triple A rating before Roberts was elected, then went into his old themes about financial stability, looking for efficiencies. (There were so many departments in the county!) Public safety, traffic and water availability concluded his list.
So the forum had progressed pretty civilly until the closing statements, when Abed cited how honorably he had served his community, and that integrity mattered. Roberts did not have integrity, he did. (I disagree.) Gaspar did not have the experience, he did.
Roberts cited his successes and positions in state and national supervisorial associations. He hoped to continue his good work for another four years.
Gaspar responded that no one had ever accused her of not having enough experience. Character did count. She ended with a request for the votes of those in the audience.