District 1 City Council candidates duke it out in La Jolla
by Mariko Lamb
Published - 09/26/12 - 02:46 PM | 4123 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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District 1 city council candidates — incumbent Sherri Lightner and challenger Ray Ellis — went head to head in their first debate at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla on Sept. 19. The Q&A-style debate was moderated by associate professor of political science at UCSD, Thad Kousser. In case you missed it, here is an abbreviated version of the event, which hit on issues like traffic congestion, infrastructure projects and financial priorities in the La Jolla community and citywide.


Q: What do you plan to do to ease traffic congestion along Torrey Pines Road?

Sherri Lightner: What we are working on is to slow the traffic down. We have $1.2 million we’ve have managed to get in grants to get going on that, and we have a design prepared, and we’re working on Phase 4 initially. We will be doing some improvements on the north side of Torrey Pines, the south side and we look forward to slowing it down a little bit.

Ray Ellis: We need to look at the possibility of a pedestrian walkway at Princess Street — a pedestrian light that would allow people to cross. We also need to reach out to WalkSanDiego. There are ways to narrow the lanes which have a natural effect and vested improvement to slow people down. We also need to look at where we can pull money in TransNet dollars, possibly, so we can implement this $26 million ticket to redo the whole Torrey Pines Road corridor.

Q: Are you for or against a Regents Road bridge to cross over Rose Canyon?

Lightner: I do not support a Regents Road bridge, nor do I support the widening of Genesee. I would much rather see the traffic in University City be emptied through north University City than treat south University City as a freeway onramp to Highway 52.

Ellis: We need to be very cognizant of the fact that we have a billion dollars worth of infrastructure — either roads, water or sewer — that we can’t take care of now. Before we can even have a discussion about solving some of the issues in south University City with traffic, public safety and others, we’ve got to address this other larger issue.


Q: The worsening odor from bird excrement [at La Jolla Cove] has hurt both the residential quality of life and the commercial vitality of that area. How would you propose solving this problem and working with the Regional Water Quality Control Board, or do you think it’s the city council’s role to take on issues like that, or is that something the La Jolla residents should work on individually?

Ellis: I absolutely think the city needs to play a role here and the District 1 councilmember needs to take a leadership role here. Some of the other things I think we need to introduce into the conversation is, is there a way for us to safely allow people to have access to that area again and the birds will move along? Is there a way we can do pressure washing of that area without using a chemical? Let’s get some of our environmental people involved with the issue.

Lightner: The Parks and Beaches Committee here in La Jolla have been talking about it, and we’ve been working with them. We have discovered that this is a Coastal Commission issue, and we look forward to dealing with them. Turns out that we have a local resident who has a company that has a product that may be less invasive than the product we were thinking about using. It does mean making sure the permits with the Regional Water Quality Control Board are secured, so we envision having this meeting with everyone around the table so we get an answer right away … Pressure washing would be a violation of the stormwater best management practices and I would not encourage that.


Q: The La Jolla Community Foundation was starting to improve infrastructure but were frustrated at every turn in working with the city. How can the city work with private groups such as these to improve their communities?

Lightner: I was just as frustrated as they were to discover that an Encroachment Maintenance and Removal Agreement was required to beautify the median down there at the Teardrop. I do applaud their patience and note that the La Jolla Village Merchants Association did step up to sign that agreement, and that was huge.

Ellis: When donors in our community step up like this, we have to make it easy for them, and we have to make it work. Donors look at a return on investment — are my dollars and good will producing a good outcome? The Teardrop is a painful example of city government. When they go out and get a bid to do something over $350,000, and a private organization can go out and do that and it’s barely $60,000. Something’s wrong with that equation.


Q: The Belvedere Promenade is part of the La Jolla Community Plan that we replace this one-way section of Prospect Street between Herschel and Girard with a pedestrian promenade. Do you support this economic revitalization plan? What other measures would you implement as District 1’s council representative to further stimulate La Jolla’s tourist and local consumer economy?

Ellis: I think the Belvedere Plan is one that needs to move forward. I think we need to go through the process and we need to go through all the community input. It will have an impact on the Village area. I think it’s a great idea to create an environment in the Village that will support the businesses there, but it’s got to go through the process and we need to make sure the community has an opportunity to weigh in on it.

Lightner: The Belvedere is a great idea. It’s been around for a long time and it’s about time it’s going to come to fruition, and I think a big part of it coming to fruition is the fact that the Village Merchants Association is doing an amazing job. They are passionate about the Village, bringing people in, bringing dollars to the Village, and this Belvedere will help. As far as economic development, I remain committed to the Village Merchants Association … That is also the purpose of the Economic Development and Strategies Committee. We are working on a better future for the city of San Diego. We need to close our job skills gap here in town, and, number one, cut red tape down at City Hall so that we can do everything online.


Q: Following the overwhelming passage of Proposition B — the city’s pension reform initiative — there’s still many critical decisions to be made by city leaders to implement this voter initiative. What are the guiding principles that you plan to follow in pension decisions going forward?

Ellis: I was a big supporter of comprehensive pension reform that turned into Prop B, the pension reform initiative, that seven out of 10 voters in our district voted for … I have made it very clear that I will not take a city pension if I am fortunate enough to be elected … We want to put our best foot forward. If Ms. Lightner thinks this is not about the unions trying to gum up the process and slow this thing down, she is either playing politics or very naïve. This is not about who is being defended. This is about saving taxpayers a billion dollars.

Lightner: We are implementing it right now. I would hope that we get it implemented by the end of the year. We are already laying the groundwork on the 401(k), we are in negotiations with the unions on it, and things look very good for implementation of the most beneficial portion, which is capping the salaries. That is what we’ve already done, and it is what saved us so much money to start with.

Q: If recent history teaches us anything, it is that we will face budget deficits. If during the next council term the city faces budget deficits, how would you weigh cuts to spending, efficiencies or revenue enhancements in order to solve a deficit like that?

Lightner: I started with a $200 million deficit. We now have a surplus in the city of San Diego because of the cuts we made and the pension. That was a result of sacrifices by our taxpayers and by our city employees … If we have a deficit, we will do it the same as last time, which is to reach out to you and find out how you want to see us adjust it … The Economic Development and Strategies Committee is working on how to get our job situation stabilized here, create more middle income jobs, and stabilize that moving forward.

Ellis: Our city passed managed competition over six years now. This city council has only implemented five exercises through finishing up. Each time, they’ve saved millions of taxpayer dollars and the city employees have kept the job … My question is, why in the world would we have to force a city department through a process to self-identify millions of dollars worth of your money that we could be putting in our community? … We need to make sure managed competition goes throughout the city in every department we can put it through.


Q: Arts and culture have suffered with the economy, but are a vital part of sustaining a vibrant city. At present, localized organizations must vie for city funds through a request through the arts commission for budget appropriations. Would you favor the creation of a special tax designated for key San Diego cultural organizations?

Ellis: Right now, we do get funding from the [Transient Occupancy Tax] that goes to the arts and culture commission. I am a big believer in a vibrant arts and culture committee. It’s the right thing to do from an education standpoint to supplement our school system, culturally for our community and it attracts and keeps businesses and attracts professors to our universities because of the quality of life. Another thing is, it is a great economic driver, so I think we need to support the arts and culture community. I would not favor an increase in tax in order to do that because I think with good fiscal management and with good people on City Council who are willing to be diligent about these issues, we can find the money to support the arts and culture.

SL: I support a penny for the arts, and I have since 2008. We haven’t ever gotten there. The Arts and Culture Commission reports quite frequently on their return on investment, and the outreach they do to the various communities. It is a stellar organization. It works with nonprofits, children and disadvantaged youth. I remember the last time I heard, it was about a 23-to-1 return on investment. As we can grow our arts and culture here in San Diego, we will become a cultural destination. It is much the same with the historical resources we have that we need to promote as well and protect them, because we can become a historic destination. It is an economic driver and it is important to our quality of life.


Q: What specifically will you work on to help attract businesses and jobs to San Diego, and what should the Economic Development Committee’s role be?

Lightner: The red tape that we all experience in dealing with city hall, and that can be as simple as the public-private partnerships that we’re trying to make work and work efficiently. This is something that I know the La Jolla community has been frustrated with forever. I see a closure of the job skills gap as being critically important. That’s what I’ve been working on, that’s why we have our roundtable discussions and the career fair a number of weeks ago — to try to connect folks here with the jobs that are here, but they might not have the right training for it. I want good jobs.

Ellis: One of the things we need to do is to make sure our business community has a sense of clarity, so they know what the rules are. Uncertainty is the kiss of death for small and large businesses. First thing we need to consider is to freeze all fees related to small business for at least 18 months to give them a roadmap, to give them some clarity. If I wanted to expand my facility, and I’m a small business owner, by 20,000 square feet, I would go into development services, and right now, I wouldn’t know how long it would take and how much it would cost. We need to clean those things up and we need to have proactive leadership to get it done.

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