All five candidates "” which also include Floyd Morrow, Eric Bidwell and James Hart "” answered questions about specific issues that affect the beach communities, such as parking congestion, the beach alcohol ban and funding for park and beach maintenance.
The San Diego Beach Area Coalition "” made up of nine business and community groups from Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, Bird Rock and La Jolla "” sponsored the debate.
One representative of each group presented a question for the candidates, who each had one minute to answer, with moderators Clyde Fuller and Susan Farrell threatening to cut candidates' microphones if they went over the one-minute limit.
The event got off to a bumpy start with a number of audio issues, with microphones either feeding back or not working at all. Following a quick rundown of the rules by moderators, Pacific Beach Town Council President Ruby Houck asked the opening question.
"How will you judge the success or failure of the beach alcohol ban? If it is deemed successful by your standard, would you consider a permanent ban?" she asked.
Morrow, Sanders, Hart and Francis all agreed they would support a permanent beach ban if crime and littering has decreased and the communities support the permanent ban.
Only Bidwell disagreed. "I personally think as long as people are responsible drinking at the beach, they should be able to do so," he said. "I think with a little bit more training, our police officers should be able to handle it without having to punish everybody."
The candidates differed on the issue of parking and traffic congestion. Bidwell called for measures to reduce individual cars and an increase in mass transit. He is against paid parking at the beach.
Sanders said it's important that the communities make the decision on paid parking. He also called for increased parking enforcement and using ticket revenue for parking solutions.
Hart said he would like to see a solar-powered monorail built that could service the beach areas. He returned to his monorail plan several times throughout the debate.
Francis labeled paid parking a tax increase.
"The arrogance of the [La Jolla Community Parking District Advisory Board] was stunning," he said.
Morrow, who is against paid parking, called for resident parking permits and time limits for parking spaces. He said another solution would be to set up parking lots away from the beach and provide a beach shuttle.
Denny Knox from the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association asked the candidates if they support an oversized vehicle ordinance (OVO), and if so, if the mayor would make it a priority.
Sanders described the two ordinances currently moving forward through city hall. The first is a pilot program that would restrict oversized vehicles, detached trailers and heavy equipment vehicles from parking on streets in the coastal areas. The second ordinance would expand the ordinance citywide. Sanders said the citywide program would be more problematic because of resources needed for enforcement. He said any ordinance should include a provision that would allow motor home owners to park near their home when preparing for a trip.
Both Hart and Francis basically said if the people want an OVO, then it should be implemented.
Morrow began his answer with his repeated theme, pointing out his previous experience as a city councilman and deputy mayor from 1965 to 1978, and dealing with similar issues. He said a total ban wouldn't be fair because "not one size fits all."
Bidwell said the 72-hour parking limit already covers the oversized vehicle issue.
"If this is for the sake of chasing out vehicles to keep house values up, then I think this is the wrong thing to do," he said.
Jim Heaton of La Jolla Shores questioned the candidates about what they would do to improve water quality at the city's beaches and bays.
Hart said the city needs to capture, treat and store all runoff from the city streets.
"Nothing should be allowed to go into the ocean at all," he said.
Morrow said the city needs to both conserve and reclaim runoff and wastewater. Bidwell agreed with both Morrow and Hart and said more trashcans and ashtrays are needed at the beach so litter doesn't wind up in the ocean.
Francis used this question to launch into one of his main platforms: city finances. He said water quality is part of the bigger infrastructure problem due to the lack of city funding. He said as mayor he would get the city's financial house in order and would make environmental issues a priority. He also pointed to his endorsement by the Sierra Club.
Sanders mentioned the progress the city has made in stopping wastewater spills and the money spent on street sweeping. He then quickly switched gears and attacked Francis' record as an environmentalist and pointed out that Francis won't release his water bill.
Darcy Ashley from the La Jolla Town Council asked the candidates how they would restore funding for services such as park maintenance and recreation centers. Francis was the first in line to respond and he spent 45 of his 60 seconds responding to Sanders' attack saying, "I'm not going to respond to those silly attacks that mayor always seems to throw at me at these debates."
He used his remaining 15 seconds to say he would get the city out of its financial mess so city services and infrastructure repairs will be funded.
Morrow took a jab and the two bickering candidates, saying the other candidates have been ignored because they don't hold daily press conferences or have a million dollars.
Sanders spent the first half of his response talking about his work to save city money by eliminating positions and paying down debt. He then returned to Francis' record on the environment and accused him of flip flop on the illegal immigration issue. As the back and forth continued, the audience started to become annoyed at the two leading candidates straying from the questions.
When asked how the candidates could help small businesses, Morrow took a macro-economic view, saying the government needs to stop spending $1.5 billion a week in Iraq and solve the problems people are facing at home.
Bidwell talked about his own experience trying to start an online business, suggesting the city could work harder to publicize the services available to help small businesses survive.
Hart suggested the city let business-license applicants know if an area has become oversaturated with specific businesses.
Sanders pointed out how his administration streamlined some of the regulations businesses face and increased city revenues through a low business taxes.
Francis avoided answering the question and used his time to attack the mayor.
"One of the good things about this mayoral race, we can see just how mean-spirited this mayor really is," he said, drawing a loud round of boos and hisses, mostly from the large contingent of Sanders supporters. He then joined Sanders in the "What you said on the "˜Hedgecock Show'" game, which made both of them sound like they were more interested in pleasing talk-show host Roger Hedgecock than addressing beach-area issues.
Jim Musgrove from the Ocean Beach Town Council lightened the mood of the room by pointing out the sorry shape of the restrooms at the beach and asking the candidates if they would dare to use them.
Bidwell had the audience laughing by pointing out he does use the restrooms at the beach.
"Just this past Wednesday at the OB farmers market, there was the usual stew of unflushedness in the men's urinals," he said. "I don't like using them, but I do. I think there's definitely a lot of room for improvement. As much as this hits the finance issue again, I don't know how much effort it would take to maybe have the lifeguards go and flush them now and then. It's really bad. Even a little bit of improvement would probably go a long way."
Like Bidwell, Sanders said he uses beach restrooms when he's in the area. He pointed out that the summer schedule begins May 17, so the restrooms will be cleaned twice a day and extra maintenance crews will be assigned to the beach areas to pick up trash. He then spent the remainder of his time resuming the back-and-forth regarding Hedgecock.
Surprisingly, Francis didn't take the bait and returned to his theme of solving the financial issues so the money needed to maintain beach restrooms would be available.
Jasmine Kung from the Mission Beach Town Council prefaced the next question with a stern reminder to stay focused on the questions. She wanted to know how the candidates would engage the younger generation.
Sanders said it wasn't a problem for a politician to solve, but he, along with Hart, Francis and Morrow, said volunteer work is one way.
"I don't know what kids were like when the rest of these guys were young," Bidwell said about his opponents, "but I'm pretty sure that kids these days don't think that hanging out with business people and cops is really all that fun."
Sanders couldn't contain his laughter at Bidwell's humorous dig at him, which had the audience laughing just as hard at the mayor.
Joe LaCava of the Bird Rock Community Council closed out the coalition's questions, asking a follow-up question about improving public transportation during a time when bus service is being cut.
This opened the door for Hart to talk about his proposed monorail line. Francis pointed to the rapid bus system in Brisbane, Australia, as an example San Diego could follow. Bidwell expanded on Morrow's idea of using shuttles to the beach from remote parking lots, while Sanders talked about lobbying both the federal and state governments for more transportation funding.
When the moderators opened the floor for quick questions, the audience asked about the beaches' homeless population, the possibility of raising taxes and the idea of raising taxes to solve San Diego's financial problems.
As for taxes, Bidwell took a playful jab at Francis, suggesting that people earning more than $100,000 a year need to be taxed.
"Taxing filthy rich people is probably very called for," he said.
Sanders quipped, "Eric, you'll be pleased to know I don't make over $100,000."
The mayor said the issue of taxes would eventually have to be decided by the voters.
"When we get to the point where we can't streamline anymore, the public has to make that decision about whether they'd like to see higher levels of service or whether they're comfortable with what they have," he said.
Francis said a tax increase is out of the question.
"I would never in my wildest dreams ask the citizens of San Diego to pay more taxes," he said. "I'm just not going to do that because the heavy lifting has not been done."