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Top three candidates vying for San Diego County Board of Supervisor District 3 seat join us.

May 16, 2012 1:10 p.m.


Steve Danon, endorsed by San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders

Dave Robertss, endorsed by Pam Slater-Price

Carl Hilliard, endorsed by Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

Related Story: District 3 San Diego County Supervisor Race Heats Up


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Our top story, for the first time in years, there's an open seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. District 3 supervisor Pam Slater price, who has held that seat for nearly 20 years is not running for reelection. The three candidates vying for district 3 in the June primary are Steve Danon, Carl Hilliard, and Dave Roberts. District 3 is located in northern San Diego County. It includes the coastal cities of Encinitas, Solana beach, and Del Mar, plus much of Escondido, and San Diego communities up I-15 north of state route 52. Now, we'll hear from all thee candidates today on Midday Edition. And let me introduce them one by one. Steve Danon has been the chief of staff to Congressman Brian Bilbray and worked in both the public and private sector, endorsed by San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders, and former California governor Pete Wilson. Welcome to the show.

DANON: Maureen, thank you very much for having us.

CAVANAUGH: Dave Roberts is currently the deputy mayor for Solana beach and is a senior manager for an international nonprofit. He's endorsed by outgoing Pam Slater price, and the San Diego City firefighters. Welcome.

ROBERTS: Thank you for having us today.

CAVANAUGH: And my third guest is Carl Hilliard, currently the mayor of Del Mar, and a businessman, endorsed by the Howard Jarvis taxpayers' association, and retired San Diego County sheriff, Bill Kolender. Welcome.

HILLIARD: It's a pleasure to be on.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I'll ask you to keep the length of your responses to no longer than a minute, if you would. And let me pose the first question to you, the same question to everybody, but I'll start with Steve first what. Do you see as the biggest challenge facing district 3.

DANON: The No. 1 challenge in our entire region, which includes district 3, is creating an environment so that jobs can be created. With nearly 1 in 10 San Diegans out of work, it's important that we work together as a region. One of the things I'd like to do is reform the department of planning and land use so 12 does not take 5-seven years for a business to get their permit. The county just concluded a red tape task force to address some of the reforms that are needed, now it's time to implement those recommendations.

CAVANAUGH: And Dave Roberts?

ROBERTS: For the first time in 20 year, we're not going to have an incumbent on the county Board of Supervisors, and our text supervisor really needs to focus on what are the core services that the county should be providing? How can we create a healthy economy that creates jobs, works with our military and veterans' communities and really promotes our quality of life? I'm planning on focusing on these activities. And I believe they're the largest challenges facing us in the next four years.

CAVANAUGH: Carl Hilliard, are the biggest challenge facing you if indeed you represent district thee on the San Diego County supervisors?

HILLIARD: Well, both of the issues raised by Dave and Steve are important ones. But I'm afraid of realignment and what that may do to us financially. The state is sending down state prisoners to us, it's going to cost us about $100 million. We don't have the facilities to handle them. And it's a huge issue. I'm not in favor of releasing 2-time murderers onto the streets of San Diego, I'm not in favor of convicting people who have sold 3 pounds of horse meat and sending them to state prison where they will meet up with gang bangers and learn how to be criminals themselves in a greater way. And I think we have a number of challenges, and I've got a number of solutions that I propose. But basically it is to reduce the in-house jail population that we already have, which consists of people that have not been convicted of a I crime, for example, people that wrote a hot check for $2,500.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, and we will be talking more about prison realignment as we go on in our discussion here. I want to move onto another topic right now. And the supervisors' use of discretionary funds has been controversial for years. Each supervisor gets $1 million a year to use as a choose for investments and improvements in their districts. Some people call that a slush fund. And I'm going to start with you, Dave Roberts, ask each of you, do you support keeping the discretionary fund, and if so, how would you use it if you're elected?

ROBERTS: Well, the San Diego County grand jury has looked into the neighborhood reinvestment program twice in the last six years, and both times they commended the county overall for the program. Almost all 18 cities in the county have what's the equivalent of a community grant program. The purpose of this funding is to really identify close needs 789 I've been on the Solana beach City Council for eight years. We have a very proactive community grant program to target specific needs. What people don't like, they want to make sure there's clear transparency, they want to make sure that this funding is used appropriately, and that it really is targeted to needs. Throughout my discussions around the district, I've heard people say keep the fund, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater, but make sure it's transparent, it's fair for all, and it is not a way to promote a specific cause.

CAVANAUGH: Carl Hilliard, would you keep the discretionary fund if you were elected, and if you do want to keep it, how would you use it?

HILLIARD: I'm opposed to slush funds. I think everybody is. I'm in favor of the neighborhood reinvestment fund because that gives each district an equal share of the funds to be used within the district for things like infrastructure improvement. I'm in favor of full transparency with respect to those funds. I'm against attaching a name of a particular supervisor to those funds.

CAVANAUGH: So I'm sorry, I wasn't clear about what you just said. So you wouldn't --

HILLIARD: I would not have a banner that goes up over a new roof or a bridge that says thank you, Carl Hilliard.

CAVANAUGH: I understand. Okay. And Danon, to you.

DANON: I would not keep it. There has been a lot of abuses with this program. Those, and the incumbent, especially has used this, it was $2 million. I actually worked with the Union Tribune reporter Jeff McDonald in exposing the abuses. You had a supervisor that was using this $2 million to purchase political patronage. It is dead wrong. When she went ahead and eliminated, and this is Pam Slater price, the after-school program known as critical hours in Escondido at the same time funneling millions of dollars for the oil and -- returns for tens of thousands of dollars of gift, it is dead wrong. We should abolish it. We're in a need situation in our state and county. And not a want situation. Now, if I don't have the support to abolish it, then it absolutely has to be transparent and had an independent committee that they could vet every organization that is going to receive taxpayer funds.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. Let me move on again to another subject. Prison realignment. It is a challenge for San Diego County. I'd like to hear from each of you about the new policy that is prison realignment. And let me tell our listeners, if they are a little sketchy about what that means, it keeps more low-level, nonviolent prisoners here in San Diego County instead of having them serve their terms in state prisons. I'm going to start with you, Carl. What do you think the county should put in place to handle this new reality?

HILLIARD: Is I think the county should not build more jail cells. That's a failed state policy is that hasn't worked, for sure. And we have a terrible recidivism rate in the state, right around 70%. Of I think we need to release people that have not been convicted of a low-level crime, confine them to home environment if that's necessary. Put a ankle bracelet around them if that's necessary. That would clear out a lot of the cells and make them more available. I'm strongly in favor of faith-based programs that have proven to be successful. A prom at Los co-Lynnace has an 85% rate because they provide women who are transiting out of jail with homes to live in during the interim period and give them access to their children and get them off drugs. Of those are the kind of programs that help.

CAVANAUGH: A response now from Steve Danon. What do you think the county should do to make realignment work?

DANON: It's also called AB109, when was the assembly bill. I'm proud to have the support of the deputy sheriffs association, the probation officers association, San Diegans against crime, as well as the San Diego police officers association. This is a huge liability for our region. We absolutely have to work together. We must hold Sacramento accountable on that to insure that the county does not get short changed financially. We are going to have to do things differently. Our No. 1 priority is to keep the bad people behind bars.

CAVANAUGH: And Dave Roberts?

ROBERTS: I've been an elected official for eight years and officials in public service are forced to make tough decisions. This is one of those decisions that has been forced onto the counties. And recently as the president elect of the San Diego division of the league of California cities, we brought all the stakeholders together, sheriff bill gore, Bonnie Dumanis and others to talk with us about it. We learned that currently the way the state does it, we have a 70% recidivism rate, which means these prisoners have a 70% chance when they're released to go back. I think the county can do better. I've sat and talked to sheriff gore about this, and what I think we need to clearly focus on is building that relationship with Sacramento to make sure we get the funding, but do the programs here locally in San Diego. The No. 1 issue for an elected official is public safety. And we have got to make sure that everybody understands that, and that we watch outside for our folks.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, thank you all for that. I want to move onto wildfires. They remain a huge threat for the county. San Diego County is one of the only large California counties that does not haves it own fire protection force. What it has is a patchwork of local forces. Steve Danon, what would you do to strengthen fire protection in the county?

DANON: We need to create a regional firefightering authority like they have in Orange County. We start a consolidation with Del Mar, Solana beach, and Encinitas. Their former fire chief has endorsed my campaign. Diane Jacob has done a decent job working on consolidation for the rural fire districts. We have more than 50 fire districts. If we could consolidate them under one umbrella, then the county could continue to put skin in the game, firefighting helicopters, boots on the ground, and engines. But having cal fire serve as the county fire department, I think control needs to be done locally, and cal fire isn't necessarily cutting it, and we really need to form a regional firefighting authority.

CAVANAUGH: And Dave Roberts?

ROBERTS: Fire protection is another one of those critical issues, because what happens in the east county affects us in the third district. I actually serve on the quasi joint powers authority with Solana beach, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe, and Encinitas, where we consolidated the management of fire authority. The issue is the county used to have a fire authority, and they threw it out. The pensions were unsustainable, the costs were unsustainable. The county has a regional fire authority now. It's called cal fire. I have met with supervisor Diane Jacob, if the voters humble me my electing me, I'm looking forward to working with her to insure that we provide the tools and resources for our firefighters who have endorsed me in this race to make sure that we can protect our residents. The No. 1 investment for most of our residents is their homes, and we've got to be able to protect them with adequate fire service. There's a lot more we can do want

CAVANAUGH: Carl Hilliard, fire protection for San Diego.

HILLIARD: Yes, I just finished my term of four years on the Lasco commission, which took up the issue of consolidation of fire departments. The last two year, I was vice chair and chair, and we held extensive hearings with all the various fire departments that Dave and Steve are talking about. And we found a great disparity between resources,a I great disparity between what would have to be done in terms of rank and file, how it would have to be structured. It's not an easy task. But I agree that it has to be done. And we came up with a proposal that was eventually modified and adopted by the county. And that's the best I think we can do at this point in time. It just -- the fire comes as Dave says from east to west, and it's everybody's problem.

CAVANAUGH: Well, we'll take a break here then. It seems like a good time to do that.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. I'm back with the three candidates running for the district 3 seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. They are Steve Danon, Carl Hilliard, and Dave Roberts. Now, all of you are running for the seat being vacated by Pam Slater price, who's represented that district for about 20 years. In recently years, there's been a lot said about the makeup of the Board of Supervisors, all the supervisors serving now are white Republicans. You three gentlemen are all white, two of you are Republicans. As San Diego's population becomes more diverse and more heavily Latino, how do you plan to represent that diversity? Let me start with you, Dave Roberts.

ROBERTS: That's a great question, and I appreciate it. I am looking forward to serving on the Board of Supervisors. I am a registered Democrat. But I have phenomenal support across the political spectrum, including supervisor Pam Slater price, the incumbent, one of George bush's cabinet secretaries, secretary of veterans affairs. People know I work in a bipartisan fashion. There is not a Republican, Democrat, or independent answer to the problems facing San Diego County. What folks are looking for is a leadership that will work across the political spectrum to get these problems solved. Specifically on the Latino question, I have a national record working on Latino issues, particularly in the healthcare field. 1/4 of the county budget is healthcare related, and I've got the expertise to work specifically with the diversity of our county.

CAVANAUGH: And Carl Hilliard, how will you represent the diversity that is now part and parcel of San Diego?

HILLIARD: I don't see any problem in representing the diversity. I am endorsed by sheriff bill col-I understander, and the Howard Jarvis foundation on one hand, and the Sierra club on the other. And that just is an illustration of how I'm able to work across boundaries. And by the way, when I was an attorney practicing law, I devoted 10% of my time on a pro bono basis to the Hispanic community. And I've been able to accomplish quite a bit with that community. And I look forward to continuing that kind of relationship and dialogue. Of

CAVANAUGH: And Steve Danon, to you? How do you represent diversity on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors?

DANON: Our diversity is our greatest strength throughout this entire region. But I would very concerned during the last three redistricting period when the supervisors were basically going to take out a crayon and draw their own districts. I wrote a board letter to establish an independent citizens' commission to draw the lines. I strongly believe that the voters should elect their county supervisors and not have county supervisors selecting their voters. What has been wonderful, and through the help of KPBS and KCET up in Los Angeles, Greg Cox ended up carrying my proposal, and Christine Kehoe, a Democrat, is carrying the legislation to move San Diego County to an independent commission so they could redistrict the lines in the next census. But working with our diverse community is our greatest strength, and I'm looking forward to that opportunity.

CAVANAUGH: Okay then. Let me start, back to you, Steve, for this question. The governor's revised budget is going to mean less money for counties to provide social services. Cuts are going to be made to aid to the disabled, homecare for the elderly. Some other counties backfill those programs with their own reserve funds. San Diego County has more than $1 billion in reserve. So would you vote as a supervisor to backfill social programs cut by the state?

DANON: Maureen, this is a very clear difference between me and the other candidates. When I talk about abolishing that $5 million slush fund, we're in a need, not a wants situation. And one of the reason why I've earned father Joe carol's endorsement is because of working with the community when is it comes to social services and healthcare. In 2008, a lot of folks ended up losing their jobs. When they lost their jobs, they lost their healthcare insurance. Father Joe provides these mobile health clinics. He shared with me that we have people using those clinics that never in their wildest dreams thought they'd be using them. Not not only have the right but a responsibility to help those in needs, not a handout, but to create a better environment. And if it means looking into those reserves, we have to look at that.

CAVANAUGH: Dave Roberts, what about the idea of digging into the San Diego County reserves to try to backfill some of those programs for the needy that are being cut by the state?

ROBERTS: Well, you have to remember that this county has an almost $5 billion budget. A majority of it comes from outside of San Diego County, federal and state funding. And we have to look at how we can get our fair share of funding, and we've got to focus it on core services here in the county. I'm not going to talk about these minor programs, but what are the core services that people really need? We've got to figure out how to distribute food stamps, how to improve our foster care system, all the core health and human service programs. I've heard throughout this campaign that that's what people want us to focus on. The question around whether we should use the reserves or not, I'm the only one in that race that has a graduate degree in public financial management. We need to look at the books, we need to figure out what's the best source. I do not want to wreck our AAA bond rating, our fiscally responsible policies at the county. And so the question is going to be having the right leadership on these issues to make those tough decisions.

CAVANAUGH: And Carl Hilliard, to you, would you backfill social programs with dollars from our reserve fund in the county?

HILLIARD: Well, I'm the only one in the race whose city has a AAA bond rating that it achieved three years ago, and it went from not as great a status economically to a good solid status. So I know how to make these things work. People are hurting. People have lost their jobs. There's high unemployment out there. And it's difficult to get a job. So I think we need to take advantage of all state and federal safety nets. And to make sure that the funds that we actually extend, and I would extend the funds that are necessary to achieve these goals, to make sure that all of these funds do not fall subject to fraud, which inadvertently undermines our integrity.

CAVANAUGH: Would you however dip into those reserves?

HILLIARD: Yes, I would, to the degree -- I mean you can't -- I'm not sure that we've sized the program civil to see how much of the funds are needed. But those funds I would make available in order to get us through this rough patch.

CAVANAUGH: Okay then. Did you have a rebuttal, Steve?

DANON: No, Carl mentioned about fraud, and I was going to ask him if he wanted to join me calling for the whistle blowers unit at the county Board of Supervisors.

DANON: The county has 16,000 employees, and they had a whistleblowers unit, a commission where people could report waste, fraud, and abuse without the fear of being retaliated. There's a lot of information that the 16,000 employees have there, and it was the effort to eliminate that commission in the 1990s. And I think that's something that is drastically need said, and I was going to ask Carl if he wanted to join me for calling for that.

CAVANAUGH: I'll have all the candidates weigh in on that, then, Carl do you want to join Steve in that?

HILLIARD: Yeah, I do.

DANON: Thank you.

HILLIARD: And tweet tweet.

CAVANAUGH: And Dave, what do you think about the whistle blower program?

ROBERTS: Our employees are a critical resource in the county. I've tried meeting with many of them to understand the services that they provide. There was a reason this was done away with. Basically when Steve was there working and he -- for two different supervisors, the question is going to become, how can we provide a good work environment where people feel comfortable reporting problems that they see? But this has to be focused on the employees and making sure that they have that comfort level.

>> They're not comfortable. I've been doing these neighborhood listening tours and talking with folk, and they have an office of internal affairs, but when someone brings it forward, they are fearful, and they have been retaliated against. And I have e-mails from some of these employees. So there needs to be a component, an angle that these employees could come clean and share their concerns, and then have it looked at. If it's merited to move forward with the investigation, so be it. And if not, to take care of it.

CAVANAUGH: And Steve, at this point, we'll move on if we can.

DANON: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: I want to follow up on something that you brought up, Dave, and that is the food stamp program in San Diego County. Even with recent improvements to that program, San Diego County gets the federal food stamp program to only about a third of the people in the county who qualify for the program. How would you address that issue? I know the county has been working on that. What would you do if you were elected to the Board of Supervisors?

ROBERTS: I believe there's a lot more improvement that can be made in this program. The county has tried to make improvement, but it's my understanding that if you try to call in to see if you qualify for benefits, you don't have a very good chance of getting your telephone call even answered. I think we can use technology to prequalify people. I think we can move the benefits of verification out into the district, and not have it done centralized. There's a lot of things. This is a federally funded program created during the Nixon administration. We're leaving millions of dollars on the table. Unfortunately, we have the second worst are record of all the counties in California. And this is one of those things. Many people are hurt, falling over the edge, they need a supervisor that can understand how to make this program work effectively who understands how to work with Sacramento and Washington DC. I've got that experience, and I think using technology, and putting a real focus on this program can make tremendous improvements and really benefit those that need it and prevent the fraud from those that should not be getting it.

CAVANAUGH: And Steve Danon? Food stamps.

>> Yeah, as I shared with you, nearly 1 in 10 San Diegans are out of work, but it's actually higher than that because a lot of people have either expanded their unemployment benefits or are underemployed. And a lot of folks have a lot of pride and have not accessed this safety net that's there for a reason. And the county has failed with a capital F on getting the outreach. And as I shared, father Joe Carol other one of the reasons why he endorsed me is some of those social programs that you can work with some of those outside organizations. But the county is in the process of reforming that, and I hope they can meet that test and get the outreach done for those that need the food. You see so many food banks that are going deleted. If you come out to Encinitas, the community resource center, there is a line for people to access their food bank. So we need to do everything in our power to make sure that those that truly need it get the resources they need.

CAVANAUGH: And Carl Hilliard, what would you do to try to improve this food stamp program in San Diego County?

HILLIARD: There's a systemic issue here come goes beyond food stamps which is a culture on the part of the county to say no. And I think we need to change that culture. And that's something I've talked about before, something we experienced in the early days when I was elected in Del Mar. You have to get the staff to start thinking about ways to help the people that need help.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. Well, let me go back to you then, Carl, since that was such a short and sweet answer.

HILLIARD: I like the sweet part.

CAVANAUGH: Should the county contribute to the cost to build a new stadium for the San Diego Chargers?

HILLIARD: Well, yes and no. The question is is there a cost benefit that makes an investment that pencils out? And I don't know the answer to that. And the other part of the answer is is this an appropriate use of county funds in order to, if you will, promote a sports business that's owned by a wealthy man? I would take a good long, careful look at this issue before coming up with an answer.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. Let me go to you, Dave Roberts. Again, push to build a new stadium for the San Diego Chargers. Should the county contribute to the cost?

ROBERTS: Well, I think if you look at the dealt and the positive impact that Petco has had downtown, it should be one of the items to consider. And I would say that any options are on the table at this point. Two supervisors have been meeting, trying to figure out does this make sense or not. My push right now in this campaign is to focus on the core services that the county should be providing. But if this could add to the overall economy, the economic health, I'd be glad to sit down with the city and anybody else that wanted to and talk through this. Of but until I can actually see what the books look like and see what is going on, right now, I think the talk is right to try to figure out what options look like. I would keep that option on the table. And again, should the voters decide to send me down to the board, I would consider all the options and take a look.

CAVANAUGH: And Steve Danon?

DANON: Well, as Dave just mentioned there are two supervisors serving as a subcommittee, and I bet most of your listeners had no idea that for 2.5 years, they have been meeting. I think we need to bring this to an extra level of transparency, and form a JPA, joint powers authority. By forming one if does not commit the county of San Diego with any fund. What it will allow it to do is for them to do their due diligence publicly to see if the financing could work in order to keep the Chargers here. I do not believe that general fund dollars from the county should be spent toward it. But if we could leverage our resources, and it could create value for the taxpayers of this region, I think we do have a responsibility to take a look at it.

CAVANAUGH: I want to give you all three gentlemen time to sort of give a closing statement, although this has not been a formal debate, to bring your case to the listeners as to why they should vote for you to fill that district 3 seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. You have about a minute to make that case, and I would to start with you, Dave Roberts.

ROBERTS: Almost 2 decades ago, I was transferred here to San Diego County to work for a fortunate 500 company. I've been able to participate in the American dream. Since that time, my family has chosen to adopt five young children from San Diego County, and like any parent, we've learned the value of parks, the beach, hiking, biking, and the library. Through the library in Solana beach, I knot very active in my local community, got elected to the friends of the Solana beach library, the budget and finance committee, and then the City Council eight years ago. Through my public service at the local state, and federal level, I was both an appointee in the bush administration and now in the current presidential administration, advising the secretary of health and human services on Medicare, Medicaid, on programs and how to make it more stable. I think seeing the incumbent supervisor reaching across party line, people said all the endorses were eaten up by one of my opponents. I have over 120 endorsements. And we need to continue the personalized service that supervisor Pam Slater price has offered, and I want to build upon that because I know we can do a lot better.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you very much. Carl Hilliard, make your case to the voters. You have about a minute.

HILLIARD: Well, prior to being elected in 2004 to the Del Mar City Council, my wife and I built a company starting in 1981 to 165 employees. We did it without any outside investment, and it's a real learning curve, let me tell you, when you have to meet a payroll out of your own back pocket. You learn how to watch pennies, nickles, and dimes. When I got elected in Del Mar, I thought I'll spring the same background and experience to the council. And I found out there's a world of difference. It's a real steep learning curve. You can't translate that easily to business experience. But as all of us have noted here today, it's very important that you be able to pencil things out, that you be able to do a cost benefit analysis, just like we did in business, and it's very important that you have the voters along with you in making a final decision with respect to that money.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that. And Steve Danon, your case to the voters.

DANON: I love San Diego County. And we have so much potential throughout our entire region. I live in Carmel Valley, I have a 7-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter, and I want them to have all the same opportunities that we had growing up in a phenomenal community. I'm proud of the endorses from mayor Jerry Sanders, the mayor of Escondido, are the mayor of Solana beach, and the mayor of Encinitas, as well as father Joe carol, and most of all law enforcement. I want to take my private business experience and my public sector experience and put it to work. I've been on the board for the San Diego county taxpayers association, and I believe working together as a region is important. It people like to have more information, they can go on my website But I'd also like to read what the Union Tribune when they endorsed me said. "We think Danon is the best choice, he has a consistently business-friendly approach to policy matter, his support for pension reform, the elimination of red tape in the county permitting process, the elimination of the political slush fund," and I want to work for the residents of this region. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Steve Danon, Carl Hilliard, and Dave Robert, thank you all very much.

DANON: Thank you Maureen.

ROBERTS: Thank you very much.

HILLIARD: Appreciate it.