By JEFF CLEMETSON
Mission Times Courier & College Times Courier
Key differences between the two Democrats running for Mayor of San Diego were on display at a Sept. 23 mayoral forum hosted by Del Cerro Action Council in coordination with Allied Gardens-Grantville Community Council and San Carlos Area Council and moderated by the Mission Times Courier.
In introductions, Assembly member Todd Gloria highlighted his multi-generational roots in San Diego and a resume that includes past government work at the county Health and Human Service Department and Rep. Susan Davis’ office before being elected to the District 3 City Council seat. During his stint on City Council, Gloria was elected to serve as Council President and also served as Acting Mayor following the resignation of Mayor Bob Filner in 2013. Gloria was elected to state Assembly in 2016.
“From these experiences, I hope that it shows what my parents taught me growing up, which is if you care about something, you’re supposed to leave it better than when you found it,” he said, adding that he views his work to raise the minimum wage, provide paid sick leave and help pass the city’s Climate Action Plan as major accomplishments during his tenure in government so far. “I care deeply about this city. It has given me tremendous opportunities.”
Gloria stated that his goals as mayor would be to defeat COVID-19 and open the economy and schools; tackle the housing affordability crisis; create a “world-class” transportation system; and address the homelessness crisis, which he said was “unacceptable in a city as wealthy as ours. Cities across the country have successfully ended chronic homelessness and San Diego should have it as a goal to do the same.”
City Council member Barbara Bry highlighted a different resume.
“I never expected to be in politics, on City Council or running for mayor. I’ve had a very diverse career,” she said.
Bry moved to California in mid-1970s to work as reporter for the Sacramento Bee covering the economy and state government. She moved to Southern California with her first husband to work at the Los Angeles Times before leaving journalism in mid-’80s to work for UCSD Connect, a program that helps high tech companies get started in the region. After working at Connect for 10 years, Bry became an entrepreneur in tech-related companies.
“I ended up running for office because I was frustrated that the street in front of my business office had been torn up several times to have the same work done. I got to City Hall and was frustrated by a lack of accountability and transparency and that’s why I’m running for mayor,” she said.
Bry’s goals as mayor would be to lead an “inclusive economic recovery” with a focus on job creation, particularly in high tech and biotech; protect neighborhoods from state legislation; and address the mental health and substance abuse issues fueling homelessness.
On budget issues, Gloria said he would bring back fiscal responsibility to City Hall and pointed to his time as chair of the city’s budget committee during the Great Recession when the city went from deficits to surpluses and that after he left for Sacramento, the city had returned to deficit spending, even before the pandemic.
He said his “non-negotiable” priorities as mayor would be public safety, infrastructure, housing affordability and homelessness.
“It is more expensive to leave people unsheltered,” he said. “We have to do more to get people off the streets because that can actually help us save money in the long run.”
Gloria said the best way to raise funds for the city is through tourism taxes because they are “generated in San Diego and stay in San Diego.”
Bry also said she would prioritize public safety and infrastructure projects like parks and libraries, but had a different tack for raising money for the city.
“Over the long run, we need to grow our economy and be less dependent on tourism,” she said. “That’s why my focus is on creating a high tech and biotech center Downtown and a biopharmaceutical manufacturing center in the South Bay so that we can grow industries that are pandemic proof.”
On a question about defunding police, Gloria said he doesn’t support it.
“I think it’s a simplification of a concept that needs more refinement,” he said, adding that he would like to increase the police budget for better training and compensation.
“Many of them can’t afford to live in the communities they police and that creates a distance from the folks that they serve and the communities that they live,” he said.
For reforms, he urged voters to pass Measure B which would create an independent commission free of police involvement that would have to power to look into police misconduct and other issues with policing in the City of San Diego. Gloria also said he supports moving responsibility of responding to mental health and homelessness from police to other agencies.
Bry took a similar position, and said “police are doing more than they were trained to do,” and added that the city needs mental health responders. She said as mayor she would look at public safety more “holistically” and bring back neighborhood policing practices.
Bry also pointed out that she did not reduce police spending when the city negotiated the budget that took effect July 1.
“I believe that public safety is the number one responsibility of local government and it’s important to compensate our police officers fairly,” she said.
Both candidates said they would defer to the city’s police chief in the event of rioting.
On how the city has balanced safety and economy during the pandemic, the candidates had different criticisms.
Gloria said the city must enforce public health orders and follow the law, but said there could be better public education to foster proper compliance from businesses. He added that the city should have been better at coordinating efforts with the county to build public trust.
“There should be no daylight between the city and county responses,” he said. “The city and the county should be working collaboratively and saying the same message to the public.”
Bry said she is concerned that small business have paid a disproportionate price during the pandemic.
“You could go to Target or Costco during the early days of the shutdown to buy a book or a toy for your grandchild or a piece of clothing, but you couldn’t go to your neighborhood store,” she said. “And I thought that was very unfair.”
Bry also criticized Mayor Faulconer for not being visible in the community during the crisis, and promised if she was mayor she would “lead by example” and be out in public wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing and shopping local to promote safety and economy.
Both candidates said that federal money will be required to stave off an eviction crisis in the city.
“An eviction moratorium is basically an empty promise because the rent is still due at the end,” Bry said, adding that the city’s rental relief fund helps, but is “simply not enough.”
Gloria said the moratorium was the “sensible thing to do at a time when health officials are asking people to stay home,” but that back rent must be dealt with at the federal level.
At the state level, Gloria said he supported legislation to give relief to mortgage holders to avoid foreclosure.
“Unfortunately, that legislation was not successful, but we can still do a multitude of things to try and address this issue,” he said. “But right now, I think, it is very important to keep people in their homes at a time when that is one of the best ways we know of to keep people safe from the virus.”
The candidates addressed several questions related to housing issues in the city.
On the issue of maintaining single-family zoning, Gloria said, “Right now we’re in a housing crisis and what I would say is that excluding any housing whether it’s single-family or multi-family doesn’t make a lot of sense because we need to have a lot more housing to accommodate our people and get costs down.”
Gloria did say that he doesn’t support changing zoning in neighborhoods that are not near transit or job centers and that plans like SB50 would not work across the entire city.
“I believe we need to build a lot more housing but not anything anywhere,” he said.
Bry said eliminating single-family zoning will not solve the housing crisis, but instead lead to gentrification and neighborhood displacement. She said she would solve the housing problem by revamping the Development Services Department (DSD) and also promote adapting office and commercial buildings in the city to accommodate housing.
“This is much less expensive than building new,” she said.
Bry also proposed a down-payment assistance program in the city to help first-time homebuyers.
Both candidates voiced support for Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) and tiny home programs, and both recognized that those programs have code compliance issues — that ordinances are not enforced fairly across the city.
“After DSD, that is my next priority, because you all deserve fairness and equity, that everyone in every neighborhood is treated the same and that we don’t allow Joe to do something that we do allow Jane to do,” Bry said.
Gloria pointed out that the city adopted ADU and tiny home ordinance after state legislation, which was important because it made all cities responsible for expanding housing options, not just large ones like San Diego.
“So I do believe the state can play a role in making sure that we have an equitable response when it comes to the housing crisis,” he said.
Gloria said code compliance issues are mostly because the city’s enforcement department is underfunded, and he encouraged planning group members and residents to speak up at budget talks to encourage better funding.
On the issue of what should be done about STVRs (short-term vacation rentals) in the city, both candidates were critical of how the city has handled them.
Gloria said this was an issue most cities have figured out, and blamed the current problems with STVRs an a lack of leadership from the mayor. He said STVRs should be regulated and the city should adopt a “robust enforcement mechanism” using “fees, fines and taxes” to end parties and other nuisances they can cause.
Bry’s approach would be to enforce existing city ordinances that prohibit STVRs in neighborhoods, effectively eliminating most of them currently operating in San Diego.
“Our current municipal code prohibits short term rentals in residential neighborhoods and other California cities have enforced their existing code that is similar to ours,” she said, adding that she is frustrated that Mayor Faulconer isn’t enforcing existing law.
Bry also pointed out that STVRs have exasperated the housing crisis by taking 16,000 homes and hundreds of apartments off the rental market.
“These are units that are meant to be lived in by San Diegans, either as owners or long-term renters,” she said. “Many of [the STVRs] are in Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach, Point Loma — smaller units that were affordable to working families and young professionals when they were available on a long-term basis.”
Following a few questions on local projects specific to the Navajo neighborhoods, the candidates made final statements on why each would be best as mayor. [Editor’s note: To view the entire Zoom forum, visit delcerroactioncouncil.org.]
Gloria again pointed to his long record of public service, as well as his personal background as the son of a gardener.
“I think you want the person in the mayor’s office to know what it’s like to struggle, to understand the life experiences of the people they’re trying to represent,” he said.
He said his experience in public office is a benefit and pointed out that he already has experience running the city as Acting Mayor.
“I have already done the job for eight months, I think I can do it for eight years,” he said.
Bry again countered that her experience in the public sector and diverse career background is a strength.
“I can read a contract,” she said, and pointed to the controversial Ash Street agreement that the city lost money on as a reason city officials should have business experience.
“Our city has to do things in new ways. We can’t continue operating the way we have,” she said.
— Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.