Mateo Camarillo, a businessman and longtime social activist in the Latino community
Marti Emerald, former radio and television investigative reporter and current San Diego City Councilwoman representing District 7.
Related Story: Candidates Square Off Over San Diego City Council District 9
CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, it's Monday, May 21st. This is KPBS Midday Edition. Our top story on Midday Edition, the race to represent the City of San Diego's brand-new district 9. Many voters will find themselves in new district this is year because the district boundaries have been redrawn. The voter-approved strong mayor system moves the mayor off the City Council and district6 to avoid 4-4 deadlocks, the new 9th district was created. It extends from Kensington and Talmidge to the north through city height, down to mountainview, and south crest. The two candidates are Mateo Camarillo, thank you, welcome to the show.
CAMARILLO: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: And Marti Emerald, current San Diego City Council member. Welcome to the program.
EMERALD: Thank you very much.
CAVANAUGH: Why are you running in the ninth district rather than running for reelection in the seventh?
EMERALD: When the redistricting commission finalized its new detail, the boundaries, I was districted out of my current district.
CAVANAUGH: So you don't live in district seven anymore?
EMERALD: No, I do. The college area here, San Diego state is part of the current seventh district. And this doesn't change over until a new ninth district member is sworn in in December. So yeah, I've been living here right in the heart of the seventh district. And the redistricting commission divided D seven in half, right along interstate 8, and being south of TI'm here in the 9th. And I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to represent these neighborhoods. The diversity is astounding. We have some of the wealthiest communities in the city and some of the poorest, some of the safest neighbors, and some that are living in the greatest fear. And this diversity of issues is an opportunity to create meaningful change here in the mid-city.
CAVANAUGH: Let me ask Mateo, why did you decide to get into this race to represent district 9?
CAMARILLO: Marty just described my life experience. I've lived in City Heights and I've lived the last 20 years in Kensington. The opposite polarities. I've been working in the City of San Diego since I was age 10 and still working. And the point is that after, you know, I applied all my energies and skills to advance, I believe I've had the golden opportunity to achieve things others haven't done. But I think that some of them encounter barrier, and I'm -- I went into business to try to eliminate some of those barriers of people that can't fully participate, be it language, culture, economics, a lack of information of how to participate.
CAVANAUGH: Let me get to that. That's part of my next question. The 9th district is what's called a majority/minority district.
CAVANAUGH: Its demographics are over half Latino, 20% white, it includes the largest population of immigrants in the city. What do you say, Marty, are the major priorities of this complex district?
EMERALD: Well, getting people involved in the process, empowering the community is very important. We've got 50% Hispanic in the new D9, but fewer that happen a quarter of them vote for many reasons. And we need to get at those reasons and start working on that issue to get people registered to vote, and make sure that they express their voices. Within the district as a whole, there are more than 60 languages spoken in the schools in City Heights. And we need to get to those different communities and engage them as well. And again it's about empowering these communities to be part of the change that they're looking for. They came here for a reason, to create better lives. Now it's, I think, government's job to empower them to find ways to create those better lives for themselves and their children.
CAVANAUGH: And Mateo, what do you see as the major priorities for district 9's complexity?
CAMARILLO: Well, Marty was talking about civic engagement and getting people involved. I've been doing that since the '70s. In conjunction with the southwest board of registration process out of San Antonio Texas. So we had national funding to include native American, Asian-American, to register to vote. Because it is difficult for immigrants like myself to understand and believe that a vote makes a difference because they don't see it. They don't see their quality of life improving. And that's because the politicians respond to voters as opposed to the residents, and that's unfortunate. And that's why many don't participate.
EMERALD: And this is true that many people don't -- who perhaps are immigrants to this country or who have felt disenfranchised don't step up and become part of the process. And what we hope to do, my staff and I, and the resources at the city, is to restore some faith and trust in government, that we are a tool for you. And we will follow through. And my record has shown that I've done that the last four years. Sort of the old reasoning of the troubleshooter. You call your right, we jump on it, get on it, and show that government is responsive. And that's important here in San Diego.
CAVANAUGH: Let me move onto the redevelopment because the state has stopped redevelopment money from flowing into local projects. And I'm wondering, let me start with Mateo. How do you plan to get these planned project, projects that were supposed to be completed with redevelopment money, how do you get them finished in district 9 now? I'm thinking of stonecrest trails park. Where is that money going to come from? Is that going to be one of your priorities?
CAMARILLO: Yes, the thing about redevelopment, what existed was the views of the system, the intent of redevelopment is to redevelop neighborhoods that are blighted. Downtown isn't blighted. That's where the bulk of the money was going to. And so it should have been going to communities like City Heights, communities in district 9 that were getting the crumbs. But what needs to be done is a City Council policy that gives priority to the highest need. And so the distribution of whatever resources are available, the first thing in line should be the neediest. You go to City Heights, sidewalks are broken, roads need repair, at night in dark alleys, no street lights. You don't see that in other communities and because of the city's financial problem, you're now beginning to see roads that need repair and so forth. But city heights has lived with that for a long time.
CAVANAUGH: So how are you going to get money to finish these planned projects now that the redevelopment money is gone?
EMERALD: This is going to be a great challenge, and there are still more questions and answers. But I'm glad you mentioned southcrest because this last week, we gave some money from our council office to that project to help keep it going. The planning is done, but whatever happened down there needs to be explained. And there have been problems with redevelopment statewide of funds that are used in areas that aren't blighted. For example, the entire city of Coronado is a redevelopment area. So let's look at that. We, meaning the city, the city's successor agency, it has submitted a list of projects that we believe we're obligated to pursue or finish. And we're waiting on the California department of finance to give us a thumbs up or thumbs down on whether or not we can spend that money. In the meantime, we are all holding our collective breath because if the state says you can't spend this money going forward, for example, to pay ball park bonds, to pay bonds from the last convention center expansion, that's going to be a drain on our general fund. Now, priorities going forward, the general fund will need to finance more of these projects that were being paid for with redevelopment money. And we already have created a system to prioritize, and one of them is a laser study of every street in the City of San Diego. And then prioritizing those streets from the worst, the absolute worst to those that are in the best shape, and to depoliticize that process so that more affluent neighborhoods don't get moved to the top of the list. Tell be the older neighborhoods. And remember in a world after redevelopment, we will still have property tax money coming into the general fund. And that could be substantial, especially as the economy improves. Also the City Council has just approved another bond offering at very good interest rates because we have done so much to improve the city's credit rating. And that $75 million will be in the bank this summer, and we can continue hopefully seamlessly the current historic street and sidewalk repair campaign that we've been involved in.
CAVANAUGH: A quick question to you both. Do you support prop B, which would eliminate city worker pensions for most new hires?
CAMARILLO: Yes, I support prop B. It's an initial step, not a perfect step, but it's a first step. There's several elements that have been done a long time ago. For example instructing the civil service commission to only issue job announcements to create job positions when there's a justification. The City of San Diego in comparison by factoring in for population to another city in Californiaical like San Jose where I was a university professor and served on the budget committee, they have 30% less employees than the City of San Diego. There needs to be a number of steps taken and that proposition improves.
EMERALD: A definite no on Prop D. B. It's a bait-and-switch scam. And our auditor and analyst have said this is going to cost the city money. It's not going to save us money. In the last three years, this City Council has reformed pensions and retiree healthcare at historic levels. We have eliminated more than a billion dollars worth of taxpayer liability on pensions and retiree healthcare, and one City Council member voted against --
CAVANAUGH: Well, let me ask --
EMERALD: These reforms consistently, and you can guess who that is.
CAVANAUGH: Then who do you support for San Diego mayor?
EMERALD: I enforced Bob Filner from the very beginning. And I support him because he's the one candidate who actually has the experience necessary to come into office and continue all the hard work and the great advancements this current City Council has made since 2008.
CAVANAUGH: Mateo, who do you support for San Diego mayor?
CAMARILLO: Just last week, I was in my front yard in Kensington community church, there was a debate, all the candidates were invited, two showed up, Filner and Fletcher. And of that's the first time I met Nathan Fletcher, and both candidates were outstanding. I've known Bob Filner since he first ran for School Board. So I think that they have some good choices to make, the voters do.
CAVANAUGH: The San Diego -- I want to squeeze in a couple more questions, if I may. San Diego water ratepayers are looking at possibly a 9.6% water rate increase in the coming year. As a member of the City Council, what would you do about water rate increases?
EMERALD: Well, I voted against the last water rate increase because I felt as though this passthrough was unreasonable in light of previous increases. Also our public utilities department does have a reserve fund for rate stabilization. The City of San Diego, and I support this, is also involved in litigation with Metropolitan Water District to challenge their formula for the rates they charge San Diego County and the City of San Diego. And I will continue to support that. We need to set an example of the city for water conservation and find ways to save money in the way we deliver water as well.
CAVANAUGH: Water ratepayers are looking at this possibly big 9.6% water rate increase. As a member of the City Council, what would you do about water rate increases?
CAMARILLO: Well, first of all, it needs to be justified. The current proposal isn't just -- I was the general manager at the Otay district and worked with the City of San Diego. In the south bay, they were throwing water away into the ocean. What I work with is to take recycled water, and we distributed that water for irrigation, outdoor irrigation. Why is the city wasting money? Wasting precious resources? It's wrong and you can't turn to the rate payer and say we're doing it right, give us more money. That's wrong.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. We're up against the clock. I want to give you both a chance to sort of make an argument to the voters about why they should vote for you. So let me start with you, Mateo Camarillo, what makes you the best person to represent the brand-new 9th district?
CAMARILLO: I'm a businessman. I have been in business since 1976. I know how to balance a checkbook, including the City of San Diego. That's what the city needs. The perspective of someone that understands how to run a big operation which I've done several. The other factor is that I understand, I am a member of the majority of the residents of the community, from Kensington where I live to Highway 5 in the south. Thank you. And Marti Emerald, your summation, what makes you the best person?
EMERALD: Well, I've got some experience now on the council, and four years of balancing multibillion dollars budget, and helping to cut our deficits. It's been a lot of hard work, but it's been an important and productive collaboration. And that's the same kind of an effort I'm going to carry forward in the next four years. To work as a collaborator, to bring organizations and communities together, to listen to their priorities about public safety, the need for jobs, to rebuild roads and schools and parks, and find ways to make that happen. And there are ways. Just because redevelopment has gone gone doesn't mean that all redevelopment or all new initiatives have to stop. They don't. We need to prepare our children for the job market and the job market of the future. And we have great opportunities collaborating with private industries and our schools to help children be successful in school. And that's going to be a major push in this new 9th district. Through price charities and city heights and their initiative kicking off in the fall, or working in the neighborhoods of mountainview and southcrest to show young people that there is something beyond this. That they have reason to hope for a better future, and then to work with them and make that happen. So I'm very excited. And thanks for giving us all the time on the radio. Appreciate it.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you. I wish we had more time. Thank you both so much.
CAMARILLO: Thank you.