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District 1 Race Outcome Could Shift Political Balance On SD City Council

May 24, 2012 1:18 p.m.


Ray Ellis, businessman.

Sherri Lightner, City Councilwoman, District 1.

Bryan Pease, public interest attorney.

Dennis Ridz, SANDAG representative and member of the San Diego County Redistricting Committee.

Related Story: District 1 Race Could Shift Balance Of Power On SD City Council


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: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, it's Thursday, May 24th. Our top story on Midday Edition, a conversation with the candidates for San Diego City Council district 1. Redistricting has not affected district 1 greatly. About 94% of the district remains the same. But its representation on the City Council may change as the incumbent council member faces three challengers in the June 5th primary. District 1 includes coastal communities including Pacific Beach, La Jolla, Del Mar height, inland, Carmel Valley, Sorrento valley, and university city. Ray Ellis, Sherry Leitner, Bryan Pease, and Dennis Ridz. Let me start by asking each of you to introduce yourself and tell us why you're in this race to represent the first district. You'll have about a minute. Ray Ellis?

ELLIS: Good morning. Thank you for having us. I live in Carmel Valley with my wife, Gina, and our 10-year-old. I also have a daughter, Jessica, who just graduated from college, and my son, Matt, who lives and works in LA. I'm running for San Diego City Council because I want to bring my over 30 years of business experience, and over 20 years of a wide range of community volunteer work to bear on council to introduce results for taxpayers. That's our objective, and we've got an agenda that falls in line with that.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you very much. Sherry Leitner, you're the incumbent in this race, why are you asking for four more years on the City Council?

LEITNER: To continue what I started. My goals and objective are the same as they were before. We have delivered on a lot of those. It was to represent the neighborhoods, to bring the neighborhoods to City Hall, to restore confidence in city government, and trust in City Hall as well, to actually do some work on commitment development. We wanted to restore the fiscal stability. And as you noted probably or most folks noted yesterday, the mayor had a very impressive press conference where me congratulated the council for working with him, and the wonderful city employees to get us to where we are today. I want to have some of the fun. I want to be able to restore the services and do it responsibly, because I don't want to be in the abyss again.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. And let me move to Bryan Pease. Why are you running?

PEASE: Thank you, Maureen for asking, and thank you for having me on the show. I'm a public interest attorney living in La Jolla colony, my law office is in Banker's Hill. And I work on a variety of cases that benefit the public, free speech cases, environmental protection cases, I'm the lawyer that helped protect the La Jolla seals and saved city millions of dollars by preventing the dredging and the seal dispersal plan that had been proposed. And I'm running to provide a progressive option for this election. I'm the progressive candidate, I'm prolabor, proenvironment. I think one of the really interesting things is that even though Dennis and are boost political party, we probably have more in common than the two establishment candidates. I think that's interesting if folks want to look at the issues that we stand for, you'll find that there are clear distinction, and we'll probably get more into that as the program continues.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that. And Dennis Ridz, what are your goals in running for the first district seat?

RIDZ: First thank you for having me here. This is great to get the group together to talk about this. I've been chair for the Torrey Pines planning board for four years. I've been appointed commissioner redistricting in the county, and I worked on the SANDAG 2050 project, representing the north coastal communities for about 2.5 years. I've seen various things go on at City Hall. I am really as a grassroots candidate tired of the bibbingering between the parties. And that's why I'm putting myself out there as sort of a difference maker, someone who will solve issues, be innovative, reach across the aisle to get things done as opposed to what we have. We have a lot of issues beyond the pension and that and I just actually finished this morning writing a draft ER response on Juan paseo major development.

CAVANAUGH: We're going to start with that question. So let me start you there. And just so we're not confusing our listeners, I hope you don't mind for this nonpartisan office if I do talk about your respective political parties. Bryan Pease and Sherry Leitner, Democrats, and Dennis Ridz and ray Ellis Republicans. ; is that correct?

PEASE: Sure.

RIDZ: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Let's start with the first question. Traffic congestion is a big concern in district 1, and this top sick going to come up in several of the questions. I'd like to start out with the specifics on the Juan paseo development in Carmel Valley. It's a huge development promoted as a new main street for Carmel Valley. Critics say it will create a traffic jack nightmare. Of the project needs City Council approval. I'd like to ask you each your position on that project, starting with you, Sherry Leitner.

LEITNER: Unfortunately I'm not allowed to take a position on this project because it is a project that is on city attorney's advice that you do not take a position or you will have to recuse from decision at council. However, I note that I am very anxious to have the comments of my community. I have represented my community on several other development issues, and I will go with what the community wants on this, and it is what got me into this was actually being involved in development projects and working for the community's interests.

CAVANAUGH: Since you feel as if you can't come out one way or the other on the paseo project, let me just ask you one follow-up, if I can. And that is, have you been listening to the comments from your constituents about this? Or is that something you're also keeping away from?

LEITNER: We have heard from a lot of constituents, we do have a special e-mail list in the office. If you're interested in this project, please contact the office. We'll make sure that you get the frequently asked questions sheet. We are having a forum this evening at Carmel Valley middle school. It will be -- we made the arrangements for the venue so there's enough room for folks. We will be looking at all the comments. And any questions or needs for information, we have provided those am we've made sure the library has both the hardcopy, and the CDs available. We've requested an extension of time. We weren't granted the original longer time we wanted, but we did get additional time for the community.

CAVANAUGH: Let me move onto the other candidates. If I may. Bryan Pease, your stance, if you will, on Juan paseo development in Carmel Valley.

PEASE: I think that the development is going to create too much -- it's going to create too much traffic, it's going to create too much congestion in that area. I don't think it's a good idea. But the main issue to look at is who am I going to listen to as a council member? And the answer is I'm going to listen to the community and community members. I'm not going to have backroom meetings with developers, and if you look at the campaign contributions and where campaign contributions are coming from, I'm not supported by developers, unlike two of my opponents here. And so I would be listening to community concerns, and looking at what's best for the community and not helping developer friends as other candidates may do.

CAVANAUGH: Dennis Ridz?

RIDZ: Just having finished the board's response, we have no objection to something being done with the property. But on a much, much smaller scale. The issue that we have read continually in the plan is that basically it's outside the control of the city. Until I find the 56 plans are finished or even started in 2020 or later, all the mitigation doesn't work. So there will be emergency response problems, there will be traffic jams. Basically it's ill-conceived at the size it is, and in Torrey Pines, we're extremely concerned about the issues of safety for our residents when both the police and the fire cannot get through the jammed roads.

CAVANAUGH: Let me move to ray Ellis. Your motion on the development.

ELLIS: My position has been pretty clear from the get-go. I like the idea of going to -- from pure commercial to a mixed use. I think it gives us an opportunity to have people live and work in the same community. So I like that part of the plan. But there is a problem with the scale. It is too robust for the area. The issues with traffic are certainly a major concern. They are now in that area. I live in Carmel Valley, I don't live too far from there. I've been to the complex across the street at Highlands, and sometimes during lunch and evening hours, that can be difficult. I would have liked to have seen a little more -- I know Ms. Leitner can't take a position on this, but I would have liked to have seen a little more proactive and engagement, and getting the stakeholders early on. I feel we've got this train coming down the track, and I don't know if it's going to end up with the best outcome for the community, but if we have an early gathering of stakeholders, I think that's very, very helpful to producing a good outcome for the neighborhoods.

CAVANAUGH: Let me see if I've understood your answers correctly. Sherry Leitner, you have been advised not to give an opinion. Bryan you do not support this?

PEASE: Correct.

CAVANAUGH: And Dennis, you do not support this?

RIDZ: That's correct.

CAVANAUGH: And ray, you do if we can get stakeholders today?

ELLIS: Well, I do not support it as it is today.

CAVANAUGH: Got it. A quick roundRobin question for you all. You can give this a yes or no with a little clarification, but I want to keep it short if you would. Do you support San Diego City's prop B, which would elimination pensions from most newly hired city workers?

PEASE: Prop B is a fraud. It throws city employees under the bus, it will not save the city money. We need to cap pension, that's a good thing, that's something we need to look at. We should not be forcing our city employees into a 401K system which is going to cost the city money. We're not going to have people paying into the pension system anymore, but we're still going to have to pay out old pension, and it is not a substitute for Social Security to expect our future employees to west their futures on the stock market.

CAVANAUGH: That would be a no.

PEASE: Correct.


RIDZ: Well, I sort of agree with Bryan on this thing. I do support the ballot measure, but only as a entry point to starting real discussions with SD SERS, and the unions. I don't think they want this imposed upon themselves. I also feel that the gimmick here of a five-year pay freeze really is a 17.5% pay cut for the city employees. And I work with these people. I know them. They don't deserve that kind of treatment, but as a city, we have to dig ourselves out some way. And this would be at least a starting point for more discussions.

CAVANAUGH: Qualified yes. Ray Ellis?

ELLIS: Yes, I support prop B. I've been involved with pension reform since joining the pension board as part of the reform group in 2008. There are some -- misinformation here with regard to some of the comments that Bryan made. It does save money. It's been looked at thoroughly, there are some costs to move to a 401K to set that up, but there are also some accounting issues which moves some payments forward which in the long run saves money because that debt is not accumulating at a 7.5% rate. It's like making an early payment on your home loan. This is good for taxpayers. We also need to make sure we're going to elect people that are going to implement this and have a dialogue with city employees. We cannot throw them under the bus, and this is not an attempt to do so. We need to make sure it's in balance with taxpayers. And our currently City Council, they could have done about 80% that was on the initiative, but unfortunately they didn't do that. So it had to go before the people.

CAVANAUGH: Ray Ellis with a yes, and Sherry Leitner?

LEITNER: Yes, I spot prop B, and ray alluded to, are the devil will be in the details with the implementation to make sure it occurs in a way which is fair to the employees and to the city, and the taxpayers as well. We note that it's actually what the city -- one of the big cost savings is what the city has been doing for the best 4-6 years, and its achieved remarkable results for us. To continue that onward is something that we know will work. But we have some other aspects that will need to be worked on.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I had another longer question, but if I ask it, it's going to take us past the break. So I'm going to try for another short question, okay? Who are you supporting for mayor of San Diego, ray Ellis?

ELLIS: I'm kind of an anybody but Bob Filner guy. I think he's a nice man, but we do not need him leading our city. My campaign has been endorsed by Nathan Fletcher, it's been endorsed by Carl DeMaio. Bonnie Mayo doesn't do enforcements. I think we've got three great choices there.

CAVANAUGH: Sherry Leitner?

LEITNER: I'm not endorsing anyone for mayor. I know with a strong mayor form of government, I will be very interested in making sure my constituents' needs are met. I would be glad to work with whomever the folks in San Diego elect.

CAVANAUGH: And Bryan Pease? Mayor of San Diego.

PEASE: I'm supporting Bob Filner. He's the gone that's going to get the special interests out of San Diego, and stop this deadlock of special interests controlling the strangle hold it's had over City Hall. And he's won 25 elections in San Diego without the Union Tribune's endorsement, and without endorsements from Republicans. I think he'll do all right.

CAVANAUGH: And Dennis Ridz?

RIDZ: 2-part question here. Nathan Fletcher, or anybody but Carl DeMaio.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, all right. Well, thank you all for that. We'll take a short break. More from the candidates running to represent San Diego City Council district 1. This is KPBS Midday Edition.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Welcome back to our district 1 candidates forum. The four candidates are Sherry Leitner, ray Ellis, Bryan Pease, and Dennis Ridz. As I start asking you questions on this segment, I wonder if we could keep our answers just a little bit shorter because there are a number of issues that I know our listeners would like us to get to. So let me start by talking about the proposal, are the long delayed proposal to build a bridge across rose canyon in university city. There are strong feelings for and against this plan. Supporters say it's needed to ease terrible traffic congestion in the area. Opponents say it will destroy the environmental of the canyon. Sherry Leitner, you worked to stop this bridge being constructed. Why did you take that position?

LEITNER: The bridge is not really needed for traffic relief, and I think as we do more things with the transportation in the north university city area, the golden triangle area, when we add the direct access ramp, when we have the trolley when to university city, and we are working right now on the off-ramps in the north part of university city to facilitate traffic actually getting on the freeway in north university city rather than using south university city as a freeway on-ramp. Thing traffic counts that have been -- the traffic counts that have been done recently show 1983 traffic levels. There is no traffic demand need for this, and we are working to see how best to phase the traffic in north university city at this point in time.

CAVANAUGH: Bryan Pease? Would you work to revive the region's road bridge proposal?

PEASE: I would not work to revive it. I'm opposed to the proposal. I think we need to protect our environment and open spaces. But I would be willing certainly to listen to the community member who is have very compelling concerns about why a bridge is needed and recognize that it's being proposed as a bridge over the canyon, not a road through it. Who I would not listen to would be special interests, and that means developers. I would listen to the community and what the community wants.

CAVANAUGH: Dennis Ridz? What is your feeling?

RIDZ: I would not support the project. I happen to agree Ms. Leitner on this. We only have the rose canyon, I've been on the community planning groups, listened to their concerns there. Find some other way to do it. I also agree that there are transportation solutions coming that should resolve the need for this bridge. Of

CAVANAUGH: And ray Ellis? The region's road bridge proposal.

ELLIS: I think first and foremost, you do need to listen to the community, and obviously Ms. Leitner hasn't been talking to the folks near gen see. They are very concerned that the bridge hasn't been built. It's been in the community plan for over 40 years. We have over $800 million on deferred roads and infrastructure in San Diego. I think it's not appropriate at this stage to build new infrastructure when we can't even talk care of the infrastructure we have. So my first octive would be to focus in on getting a solid plan in place that we can deal with these ongoing infrastructure issues, and then open it up to the community again. I'm not saying no, I'm not saying yes, I'm saying let's get our priorities straight and come back and talk to the community because there are public safety issues, disaster recovery issues, and there are also very passionate people about the environment. I understand that. But let's get our priorities straight.

CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you all a question larger than district 1. San Diego water ratepayers are looking at a possible 9.6% water rate increase in the coming year. And that's in addition to the more than 60% increase in water rates in the last five years. As a member of the San Diego City Council, what would you do about this pending water rate increase?

RIDZ: I think we need to look at the source of where this is coming from, why we're being in effect taxed without having a great deal of input on this. We need to go back to some of the water boards that are setting these rates. At the same time we've lifted our sanctions for conservation, and I think we need to really go back and look at that. And there are several projects whether it be purple pipe, the refill traited waters, and find other solutions for long-term impacts here. But the rates, as long as they're being passed through to us will continue to rise.


ELLIS: That's certainly an issue, and we need to address it comprehensively. It needs to have a multifaceted solution. Conservation is No. 1, and we've got a rate structure that doesn't reward conservation. So one of the things we also need to do is make sure our supplies are varied and diversified. We also need to look at the public utilities department. That budget alone is over a billion dollars. And that's the water department. And we need to take a look and make sure we've got the efficiencies we need to represent taxpayers correctly. That has not been looked at, and that would be one of my top priorities.

CAVANAUGH: Bryan Pease?

PEASE: We need to implement recycled water, and we need to do it immediately. We live in a desert. We don't have access to water in San Diego. It has to be shipped in at cost, it's extremely expensive. A report came out a few days ago, the Republicans on the City Council as well as the incumbent in this race said they needed to be able to move forward with it. I think the science is already in, and we've shown we can implement recycled water, and it's cleaner and safer than the water we have now and cheaper.

CAVANAUGH: And Sherry Leitner? Water rate increase, what will you and have have you done?

LEITNER: This is one of the things that bothered me the most when I first came on council, knowing how long it would take to replace water and sewer infrastructure, how long it would be before we could actually control our water destiny. And as a consequence, we're developed the water policy which was approved last fall. It's a comprehensive policy for sustainable water supply in the City of San Diego. It put all the tools in the tool box from conservation rate steeply tiered rate structures, public/private partnerships, desal, everything recycled water, and we just have now appointed the implementation task force. We're looking forward to those results. And it's critically important for the City of San Diego to recognize that it's our job to make sure we have water in the future. We can't continue to import 90%. As long as we're willing to do that, we're going to have to pay the piper because we're at the end of the pipe. And I can't wait to get their results. We hope to have them within the year.

CAVANAUGH: I have another quick round Robin question. Keep your answers to a sentence in length? That would be marvelous. Do you support the construction of a new downtown Chargers stadium? Let me start with you, ray Ellis.

ELLIS: Well, you certainly ask some for complex questions for one sentences.

ELLIS: I support moving forward with examining a multiuse facility that would include the Chargers. But it can't be on the backs of taxpayers.

CAVANAUGH: And Bryan Pease?

PEASE: I think having the Chargers here is great. Just not at taxpayer expense.

CAVANAUGH: And Sherry Leitner?

LEITNER: I love the Chargers, but no money, and no land. And it should go to a vote of the people.

CAVANAUGH: Dennis Ridz?

RIDZ: I'll start by quickly saying, I've been a season ticket holder for 22 year, and I do support my Chargers. But the city at this point can't really afford to get involved in this issue. The NFL and the owners certainly have enough to do this.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you all for that. Let me talk more about one of the main things we've been talking about, infrastructure street repair. It's a big issue in the first district. Businesses in La Jolla say some streets and sidewalks are falling apart. How quickly do you think you could get those street repairs accomplished?

PEASE: Under the strong mayor form of government, the mayor has the most control over that. That's why I think it's important to get Bob Filner elected as our mayor. As a member of the City Council, it would be my priority, seeing streets fixed, are it not only makes sense just having it done, but economically it makes sense because we're avoiding property damage and personal injury that's being caused by people falling in pot holes and suing. It's a lot cheaper to fill it in than settle a lawsuit.

CAVANAUGH: Dennis Ridz?

RIDZ: It would be a priority, but I would also question why the streets are falling apart. Is it because of the increased traffic? The size of the trucks? We need to get to some of the root causes. But yes, filling pot holes certainly keeps our commerce going here. I would work as hard as I can, and we probably need increase in our bond issues to do this.

CAVANAUGH: And Mr. Ellis?

ELLIS: I think we need to address the underlying issue, which are financial issues. We need to pass proposition B, and then we need to aggressively and thankfully implement it. We also need to get much more sense of urgency about implementing managed competition. This is a tool that needs to be used much more aggressively throughout the city. So we can move those taxpayer dollars from inefficient, wasteful areas and get them into our communities where they belong.

CAVANAUGH: And Sherry Leitner? Let me change the question a little bit. What has delayed street repair in district 1 and throughout the city?

LEITNER: I wouldn't say that street repair in district 1 has been delayed. We've repaved over 34 miles in district 1 since I took office. We have hit a point where we're doing more now than we had in the previous ten years. We were successful in having two pot hole roundups, and we didn't just say where the pot holes were, we actually filled them. We filled over 1,200 pot holes last year, and as we move forward and are able -- now that we're able to bond, we can tackle our deferred maintenance. It is what is going to make a lot of people very happy, to get smooth streets once again.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. Well thank you all for that. Several San Diego mayoral candidates have floated plans to get involved in San Diego's public schools. 1,500 staff layoffs are planned, and the city's finances are at the breaking point. What if anything can the City Council do to help upon San Diego City schools?

ELLIS: I think as the father of three children, it's very important to me too. Of we need to make sure that our libraries are open, the hours they need to be. Our rec centers are open, that we have a vibrant arts and culture community, and we provide the proper funding there. We need to encourage public/private partnerships with our business community. And I've worked diligently on this.

CAVANAUGH: And Sherry Leitner?

LEITNER: We need to remember that the City of San Diego services a number of school districts, not just San Diego City schools. The ways we can partner with all of them is through joint-use agreements. We could partner on the library side, we could -- definitely already partner on the parks and rec side. We can be cheerleaders for our schools. And try and get more folks to volunteer at the schools to help out. The financial aspects of it are really related to the school district. But the education process, mentorships, internships, those are critically important to our future here.

CAVANAUGH: Bryan Pease? The question is can the City Council do anything to help San Diego City schools?

PEASE: There's a lot that City Council can do. Primarily it would involve providing better after-school programs, and activities, and we need to have the libraries open when it's convenient for people to use the libraries, and not just when it's convenient for employees to work there. If we're going to cut back library hours, which I don't think we should do, we shouldn't be closing them on a side or an evening. That's when most people would be able to use the library if they're in school or working. So we should make sure the hours they're open are reflecting what the community need, and not just what is more convenient for the employees.

RIDZ: First this is a financial issue of the various school districts. I'm not sure how much the city can get involved other than lending a helping hand from staff, from trying to find other financial sources for them, after-use hours of the schools. They are closed in the summer. Maybe there's other ways to use those facilities to raise funds. We want to help our kids. We want to see that the teachers stay employed. But there are so many other things in the city, I'm not sure this would be a first priority.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. We are at the point in our conversation here that we're going to be wrapping up rather soon. I want to make sure that all of you have a chance to make your final cases to the listeners. So if you would, in the time remaining, just tell San Diegans in district 1 why they should vote for you. And let me start this the way I started our whole program, and start with you, ray Ellis.

ELLIS: Thank you again for having us here. And I want to take my business experience. Came to San Diego 25 years ago and started a small business with four employees and grew that into a large operation with over 200 employees. I know about job growth, and economic growth. I served on the pension board as a reform volunteer. I've been working on pension reform before Ms. Leitner was elected. And I want to carry those experiences. I realize I could do a lot more on City Council than I could as a volunteer. And I want to bring those experiences to City Council. I also know how to run businesses and lead organizations and collaborate. On the pension board I was elected by six union folks and seven appointees like myself to be president and vice president because they know me to be a level-leaded, common sense kind of person. And I want to take those collaborative skills to City Council because we have challenges, but we have tremendous opportunities. And I think we can move this forward much quicker for our community, taxpayers and city.

CAVANAUGH: And Sherry Leitner?

LEITNER: As a longtime resident of San Diego, in that I graduated here, worked 23 year, raised my family here, I have a strong commitment to the city. I worked in the community as an activist for over ten years. And as a consequence, I really wanted to bring the communities and neighborhoods to City Hall, to represent their voice at City Hall, and to serve the communities. I've done that. I want to continue doing that. We've actually implemented pension reform. We've been doing that since I took office. The mayor has complimented -- I guess congratulated would be a better word, congratulated the council, his office, and the city employees and taxpayers for all of the sacrifices that have been made to put us in the position today where we can actually begin restoring services and look to a brighter future here in the City of San Diego. I want to be part of that. I want to make sure that the water policy gets implemented, and another burning issue for me during my first campaign was economic development. I thought that the City of San Diego had to spend much more time working on a plan to assure our economic stability here. And we do have that committee now. We are going to have results at the end of this year, and we will then once we have that strategy, we'll need implementation of that. I want to follow it up.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that. Bryan Pease?

PEASE: Thank you. I believe in open government, transparency, accountability, accessibility. I want to be there to listen to community needs and not to special interests. I'm not going to, for instance, allow the hoteliers -- or I wouldn't have allowed the hoteliers to vote on a public tax that would then be used to build a convention city. I do not want to see our public employees thrown under the bus and put on a 401K system which will in fact cost the city money. The other part of prop B is that it caps pensionable pay, and I agree with getting rid of the 6-figure pension, but SD SERS gave out pensions that were found to be unconscionable when ray was president of SD SERS. I am going to be on the side of protecting public employees, and taxpayers. And I am the progressive in the race am

CAVANAUGH: Thank you very much. And Dennis Ridz?

RIDZ: Thank you for having us here today. Something I haven't stressed, I spent 18 years in senior management in Johnson and Johnson. Both at world headquarters, and running some of their smaller operations. So I have the background, I have degrees in accounting, master in finance, and science degrees. So I understand our biotech community. But more than anything else, I think we need a change, a grassroots, getting away from the political infighting that's going on. I've been working for four years doing all this various things that are required of a chair of a local planning board and not getting paid for it, and basically only having volunteers helping. Just think of what I could do if I actually had a staff and a couple bucks to work on these things. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you very much. I just want to let listeners know, all 4th District 1 candidates are on the June primary ballot for the City of San Diego. If no one gets more than 50% of the vote, the top two candidates will face each other in a runoff election this November.