Skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon
Visit the Midday Edition homepage

A Conversation With San Diego Mayoral Candidate Mike Aguirre

October 9, 2013 1:16 p.m.


Mike Aguirre, San Diego mayoral candidate Mike Aguirre was San Diego's City Attorney from 2004 until 2008. He's now a partner in the San Diego law firm Aguirre Morris & Severson LLP.

Related Story: A Conversation With San Diego Mayoral Candidate Mike Aguirre


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: We continue a series of interviews with candidates for San Diego mayor. The special election on November 19th is set to choose a successor to serve out the term of former mayor Bob Filner. There are ten candidates in the race. A recent 10 News survey found the top-4 candidates to be in alphabetical order, Mike Aguirre, David Alvarez, Kevin Faulconer, and Nathan Fletcher. My guest side is former San Diego City attorney Mike Aguirre. He served from 2004 to 2008. He's now in private practice. Aguirre is one of three prominent Democrats running for mayor. He has received no major endorsements. Welcome to the show.

AGUIRRE: Thank you for allowing me to be here today.

CAVANAUGH: Why are you running for mayor?

AGUIRRE: Because I want the people of San Diego to be strengthened, I want them to have the neighborhoods that they can raise their families in, I want all San Diegans have an opportunity to participate in their city government, and I want to advocate for them. They have to endure a very burdensome cost of living. And I think I can be a good advocate when it comes to water rate, electricity rates, and other things, and to make sure that we're providing free public services. Because when you have a high cost of living, it's so important to have access to libraries and parks and rec centers and those things because that is what makes it possible to have a quality of life, in many cases where people can't afford the private assessment

CAVANAUGH: Now, as mayor, what would be your top-3 policy priorities?

AGUIRRE: Well, as I said, rebuilding our neighborhoods, and what I mean by that is getting the libraries open, the rec centers, the things that we need to get done, and getting the roads and the sidewalks repaired. My second will be to make sure that all San Diegans have an opportunity to participate. And that means in the boards and the commissions and making sure that the budget is allocated in a way so that all the neighborhoods are treated fairly. And then No. 3 is to become their advocate. I want to advocate with SDG&E and say let's get-together and talk about alternatives to these high rates. In June I want to open up San Diego to direct access so the city is buying much less expensive power, not through SDG&E but through alternative sources similar to what the county is doing. And also to go to community choice aggregation so we can give the public the opportunity to buy less expensive electricity. I always tell everyone I want to see solar panels on every roof, and an electric car in every driveway. Those would be some of my priorities.

CAVANAUGH: Now, one of the ironic things about your campaign is that last year, candidate Bob Filner was most often compared to you for his aggressive style, his confrontational style. Is City Hall, San Diego, ready for another aggressive mayor?

AGUIRRE: Well, see, people don't know what a loveable person I really am. And I know that sounds really fun.


AGUIRRE: My dog knows, the people that are closest with me, my children know. But when I went in, remember this, I had three council members that were under indictment. The city manager resigned, all the city financial staff resigned, the mayor resigned. We had the sec investigation, nobody liked anybody. My policy was to tell all my attorney, we're giving back these million dollar pensions. That went over like a lead balloon. The difference is from these circumstances and these circumstances is that running for main is a lot easier than running for city attorney because you don't have to enforce the law, you don't have to threaten anybody if they're not complying with the law. You just have to be involved in building consensus. When I was in student government, I was the student body vice president of Arizona university, student body vice president of UC Berkeley, and ASC copresident. That was my background. I wasn't a prosecutor mentality type. I was someone that always worked with people, always put coalitions together. And just as I was known as a combatant as an attorney, which you probably need to be, I'm going to be known as the No. 1 consensus builder because that's really the only tools you have as a mayor. Unless you get 5 votes on the council, unless you get public opinion behind you as Lincoln taught us and Cesar Chavez taught us, you can change nothing. And I think that's exciting. It's so much fun to run for mayor. I tell people I'm the happy warrior now. And we'll do some real positive things. And people are starting to see the debates, what I'm really like, and I'm looking forward to a good outcome in the race.

CAVANAUGH: Now, you mentioned as several other candidates have mentioned, that they want to put more attention toward San Diego neighborhoods. Do you think it's important to have a vision for downtown San Diego? And if so, what is your vision?

AGUIRRE: Well, first of all, I like and love the east part of downtown San Diego and seeing what's going on there. I'm a Jane Jacobs fan. I believe in many things that she talked about, diversity, pools of economic opportunity, that we grow our best by growing what is indigenous and already there. And I do have a vision for downtown San Diego, and it's really one that sees it as a primary residential community. No more big, massive buildings in downtown San Diego. I think we can do better than that. And one of the things I also see is we have to have a secure water source. And that's going to -- I want us to start off on what I call the San Diego water project. Of a 20-year plan to get us water security, which means conservation, it means bringing folks in from Australia and Israel, and learning from then about how they've done it. It mean res claiming our watersheds. It means that we are going to no longer live under that little thin thread that holds the sword of dam close over our head, connected to the Colorado River basin when there's no water in attached to it in the future.

CAVANAUGH: So are you opposed to the convention center expansion and the proposed multiuse stadium for the Chargers?

AGUIRRE: Well, the Chargers, to their credit, have indicated they're going to submit that to the public. That's going to be a decision for the people of San Diego to make. If they make the decision to go forward with it, then I will honor the decision, and I was the cochair of Prop C. We got the downtown baseball park built. I know those big kinds of projects and what's required for them, and if the voters vote for that, I want to move forward. But the thing I want to tell folks and have them consider is this, economics and economic decision-making is about the allocation of scarce resources amongst available alternatives. And when you decide on one alternative, the opportunity cost is that you can't spend it on anything else. We have decided to have Cadillac pensions for our baby boomers. And we have people getting $300,000 pensions, we've ballooned the pension debt to $275 million, not $161 million. So I'm going to talk with the people to say, look, we don't have enough money to pay the money we need to keep our roads from deterioration. 50% of the thoroughfares are reported poor. We don't have enough money to do that, we don't have enough money to keep the libraries, the rec centers open, and make the pension payments, and clearly not enough money to subsidize anything else. What do you do? And one of the things I want to reintroduce is we have to think in some ways when we're making these budget decisions as people that use economics to make decisions. You have an opportunity cost, you spend money on one thing and not the other, and part of it is to get that information out to the public and involve them in the decision-making.

CAVANAUGH: Is one of the alternatives you might suggest relitigating those pension benefits? That's what you did while you were city attorney.

AGUIRRE: Right. We had some success with that. We were able to save the city with the service credits that people got and didn't pay for, and the Courts said, no, you have to pay for all of them, and --

CAVANAUGH: But largely that litigation was basically thrown out of court.

>> Well, are at the trial level. But then our current city attorney made the judgment, and I'd Jan to not have tried to do it on appeal. And that was an effort to do what basically is going on right now in Stockton and San Bernardino and Detroit. We know we don't have the money to pay these pensions. Mayor Sanders in some of his moments, Stanford has done an analysis. There is no way that we will be able to pay the full costs of the 18,000 people in the system. And none of the reforms have really any -- anything more than a marginal impact on those obligations. The number is going to swell well over $8 billion. What do you do? In Rhode Island what they did, the treasurer got everybody together, forced everyone to look at the facts, got a consensus built, and people sat down and said, okay, we see there are some tradeoffs. We don't need to pay people $300,000 in pension fist they're getting them for retroactive benefits or drop programs or things they never earned and never paid for. So we're going to have to do some readjusting. But that can only be done with consensus building. Of I don't see it being done in court. But I do see that it was done in Rhode Island, and I think if they can do it in Rhode Island, they can do it in San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you a question about one of mayor Filner's priorities. He made homeless issues top on his list. Would you support year-round funding as he did for the downtown homeless tent?

AGUIRRE: Absolutely. The homeless problem has to be broken down in a number of different ways. But one of the things I want to see us do is have caseworkers assigned to the homeless. That's something I learned from the downtown outreach homeless folks. There's a lot of good idea, but we have to proactively manage it. One of the problems we have with the homeless is we have some really violent people who are actually threatening the lives of people. Police officers have been severely injured, so we have to have a way to catalog our homeless. The ones that just drop out of the economy, we got to get them and keep them through our system back into useful jobs and employment and moving back into the useful endeavors, and the ones that are chronic, that are threats to the safety of people, they need to be basically committed. But we need to proactively manage that problem. And as city attorney, I issued a legal opinion that prohibited the police have arresting the homeless unless they could show that there was no shelter. And I think we need to be humane. But we also need to be dynamic and make an all-out effort.

CAVANAUGH: I'm kind of running out of time. So I'm going to ask you two quick questions.

AGUIRRE: Go ahead.

CAVANAUGH: You've been quoted as saying you would prefer to grow the businesses that are here rather than attract new businesses to San Diego. That's a rather provocative statement.

AGUIRRE: Well, are I think Jane Jacobs who is the great economist, American city economist, I think recognized as the foremost authority, her research thoughed that it was much better to grow what we have to compete with other cities, rather than businesses playing off one side of the other. If there is a chance to do that, I'm in favor. But I think we do better by growing what we have here and strengthening it.

CAVANAUGH: And you haven't received any major endorsements. How do you generate campaign donations and keep that enthusiasm going for your campaign without endorsements from business or labor former politicians that you worked with?

AGUIRRE: My motto is endorse Nathan, endorse David, endorse Kevin, and vote for Mike.



CAVANAUGH: And your strategy therefore is that people are going to see the three other candidates and decide on you?

AGUIRRE: Yes. In the debates, are and I think that process has already started with the POA, and I think people found that refreshing.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much.

AGUIRRE: Thank you so much.